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Dr. Robert Walton
Comments by David Solomon:
In 1937 Dr. Walton, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Mississippi,
prepared the following scholarly and comprehensive essay on the medicinal uses of hemp
preparations for his book Marihuana. Sensing that the irrational attitudes engendered by
the marijuana panic then in high gear - might inhibit legitimate scientific inquiry, he
The 1937 Federal legislative acts should be wholly effective in making these
preparations completely unavailable for any further abuse. More stringent regulations
making the drug unavailable for medical and scientific purposes would be unwise, since
other uses may be developed for the drug which will completely overshadow its
disadvantages. The drug has certain remarkable properties and if its chemical structure
were determined and synthetic variations developed, some of these might prove to be
particularly valuable, both as therapeutic agents and as experimental tools.
Dr. Walton's fears were well grounded: immediately after the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937t
was passed, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics issued and proceeded to implement 60odd pages
of "more stringent regulations." These harsh, complex administrative edicts
rendered it virtually impossible - except in limited instances, characterized by red tape
and harassment - to grow, import, buy, sell, use, prescribe, or experiment with hemp
The therapeutic application of cannabis is more a matter of history than of present-day practice. Synthetic analgesics and hypnotics have almost entirely displaced these preparations from their original field of application. The newer synthetics are more effective and reliable and, in addition, have been more intensely exploited by commercial interests. Cannabis preparations have come to occupy so minor a place among modern medicinals that it has been suggested that they be abandoned altogether, this latter point of view being based on the assumption that they represent a menace from the standpoint of the hashish habit. Such an action would certainly be too drastic in view of the circumstances. For one thing the therapeutic use of cannabis and the hashish habit are almost entirely unrelated. The drug has been readily available in this country for almost a century without developing more than a very occasional, isolated instance of hashish abuse. The marihuana habit came into this country by other channels, although it is true that once established as a practice, some few individuals have made use of the "drug store" preparations. The 1937 Federal legislative acts should be wholly effective in making these preparations completely unavailable for any further abuse of this sort. More stringent regulations making the drug unavailable for medical and scientific purposes would be unwise, since other uses may be developed for the drug which will completely overshadow its disadvantages. The drug has certain remarkable properties and if its chemical structure were determined and synthetic variations developed, some of these might prove to be particularly valuable, both as therapeutic agents and as experimental tools.
Essentially the same general opinion has been expressed recently by the committee on
legislative activities of the American Medical Association. They concluded that there is
positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as a medicinal agent or to show
that its medicinal use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at
the present time is slightly used for medicinal purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to
maintain its status as a medicinal agent for such purposes as it now has. There is a
possibility that a re-study of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be
derived from its medicinal use.
Although hemp preparations may have been used by the ancients to produce anesthesia, these drugs were not introduced generally into medicine until about 1840. At this time O'Shaughnessy, Aubert-Roche, and Moreau de Tours observed its use in India and Egypt and proceeded to experiment with its therapeutic possibilities. After using it in different sorts of conditions, they were each enthusiastic in representing it as a valuable therapeutic agent. Their activities resulted in a very widespread and general use of the drug in both Europe and America. During the period 1840-1900 there were something over 100 articles published which recommended cannabis for one disorder or another.
This popularity of the hemp drugs can be attributed partly to the fact that they were introduced before the synthetic hypnotics and analgesics. Chloral hydrate was not introduced until 1869 and was followed in the next 30 years by paraldehyde, sulfonal, and the barbitals. Antipyrine and acetanilide, the first of their particular group of analgesics, were introduced about 1884. For general sedative and analgesic purposes, the only drugs commonly used at this time were the morphine derivatives and their disadvantages were very well known. In fact, the most attractive feature of the hemp narcotics was probably the fact that they did not exhibit certain of the notorious disadvantages of the opiates. The hemp narcotics do not constipate at all, they more often increase rather than decrease appetite, they do not particularly depress the respiratory center even in large doses, they rarely or never cause pruritis or cutaneous eruptions and, most important, the liability of developing addiction is very much less than with the opiates.
These features were responsible for the rapid rise in popularity of the drug. Several features can be recognized as contributing to the gradual decline of popularity. Cannabis does not usually produce analgesic or relax spastic conditions with out producing cortical effects and, in fact, these cortical effects usually predominate. The actual degree of analgesia produced is much less than with the opiates. Most important, the effects are irregular due to marked variations in individual susceptibility and probably also to variable absorption of the gummy resin.
The reported therapeutic successes and failures of these drugs are briefly summarized below.
Among the miscellaneous conditions for which it has been used and recommended may be
mentioned cough, fatigue, rheumatism, rheumatic neuralgia, asthma, and delirium tremens.
Part of the early enthusiasm for cannabis was based on its presumed value as an antagonist of spastic conditions. It was used and highly recommended in the treatment of tetanus, hydrophobia, puerperal convulsions, chorea, and strychnine poisoning.
In the case of strychnine poisoning, at least, its value is slight. The author, with
the help of Horace Dozier, tested the influence of cannabis insofar as it affected the
minimal convulsive dose of strychnine in dogs. Even large doses of cannabis did not alter
the strychnine effect enough to indicate any significant antagonism. In tetanus and
hydrophobia, spasticity is more cerebral in origin and the cannabis antagonism may have
been more effective in such cases.
In combatting pain of various causes, cannabis preparations might be expected to be reasonably effective. See declared that it "gives relief from pain and increases the appetite in all cases, no matter on what causes the pain and loss of appetite may depend."
Hare says, ". . . during the time that this remarkable drug is relieving pain, a very curious physical condition sometimes manifests itself; namely, that the diminution of pain seems to be due to its fading away in the distance, so that the pain becomes less and less."
Mercer says that it does not arrest pain but has a "special power over spasmodic pain." Wood says that "as an analgesic, it is very much inferior to opium but may be tried when the latter is for any reason contra-indicated. In full doses, in neuralgic pains, it certainly often gives relief."
Aulde says that "as a remedy for the relief of supraorbital neuralgia no article
perhaps affords better prospects than cannabis."
Headache and Migraine
Farlow considered cannabis useful in "nervous headache." MacKenzie says that if continued for some time it is the most valuable remedy he has met with in the treatment of persistent headache. Marshall does not consider that cannabis is generally useful but says however that it appears to be useful in headache of a dull and continuous character.
Regarding migraine, Stevens say that Cannabis indica is "sometimes very useful.... Two drops of the fluid extract may be given every half hour until the pain abates or until slight dizziness or mental confusion appears. Even larger doses may be used if necessary."
Osler and McCrea have said that for migraine, Cannabis indica is probably the most satisfactory remedy. However, in the latest edition of this text it is only suggested that "a prolonged course of Cannabis-indica may be tried." Solis-Cohen and Githens consider that cannabis is of great service in certain cases of migraine not dependent upon or aggravated by eyestrain. Fantus recently recommended its use in migraine, prescribing doses of 1 cc. of the fluid extract in iso-alcoholic elixir; N. F. McConnell, Bastedo, Hare, Lewis, and Bragman have also favorably mentioned its use in migraine.
Beckmann on the other hand says that whereas the drug was once considered a specific
for migraine it has more recently fallen into "a probably deserved disrepute."
Sedative and Hypnotic Action
One of the earlier experimenters with hashish declared that "in its hypnotic and soothing effects on the nervous system, its resemblance to morphia is very great."
Fronmuller made about 1,000 observations on patients in which the soporific effects were compared with other drugs, particularly opium. He considered that the effect on the nervous system was much less dangerous than with opium. In most instances his patients are stated to have fallen asleep in about an hour without any particular side effects.
Bastedo remarks that it may promote sleep in the presence of pain. Poulsson and Dixon say that "sleep has often been seen to ensue without any, or with only slight excitement."
Miller, Berthier, McConnell, Shoemaker, Clendinning, Hiller, and Florshinger have also described its usefulness-in procuring sleep. Fantus and Cornbleet use it as a general sedative along with sodium bromide in the treatment of pruritis. Lees was very enthusiastic about the anodyne and soporific action of an aqueous extract, which he considered did not produce any of the excitement effects.
In current practice, the sedative effects are probably most used in veterinary work.
Milks and Eichhorn say that
cannabis is a distinct depressant to the brain and cord. In man, this may be preceded
by a brief period of stimulation but this action is rarely seen in the horse. It is a
distinct de pressant and hypnotic and probably ranks ahead of opium for this purpose in
equine practice. After full doses the animals feel drowsy, sleepy, have a disinclination
to move and may finally pass into a stage of narcosis, which may last from 12 to 24 hours,
and then recover.
One half ounce of the solid extract is cited as being sufficient to anesthetize a
horse. This drug is relatively safe if considered simply on the basis of its effects on
the circulation and respiratory center. It would seem however that a very real source of
danger exists in the possible development of bronchopneumonia during the long period of
Moreau de Tours was the first to advocate using the hashish euphoria as a means of combatting mental conditions of a depressive character. He reported a number of case histories of manics and melancholies which were improved after such therapy. His conclusions were immediately criticized by Rech. There have been a few other observations agreeing in general with Moreau de Tours and there have been some who reported adversely on such treatment. Straub recently suggested that small doses of a properly standardized preparation may possibly prove useful in depressive melancholias.
Edes found it benefited patients who complained of unpleasant, tiring dreams, and Birch
used it in the treatment of chronic chloral and chronic opium poisoning.
Some have been particularly enthusiastic regarding the value of cannabis in
dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia. Batho says, ". . . considerable experience of its
employment in menorrhagia, more especially in India, has convinced me that it is, in that
country at all events, one of the most reliable means at our disposal." Referring to
the use of Indian hemp in menorrhagia, Brown says, ". . . there is no medicine which
has given such good results; for this reason it ought to take the first place as a remedy
Effects During Labor
Willis recommended its use in "tedious labour where the patient is restless." Christison used the drug during childbirth and advocated its use as an oxytocic. He believed it stimulated uterine movements more quickly than ergot. Kobylanshi, Grigor and Savignac also reported on its effects during childbirth. These observations may be taken generally as evidence that cannabis does not depress uterine movements. The drug is so lacking in peripheral actions that any special stimulation or depression would hardly be expected.
The question as to the effects of cannabis during labor was recently discussed in the
Journal of the American Medical Association.
The sensation of pain is distinctly lessened or entirely absent and the sense of touch
is less acute than normally. Hence a woman in labor may have a more or less painless
labor. If a sufficient amount of the drug is taken, the patient may fall into a tranquil
sleep from which she will awaken refreshed. . . . As far as is known, a baby born of a
mother intoxicated with cannabis will not be abnormal in any way.
In South Africa the native women smoke cannabis to stupefy themselves during
childbirth. A requisite for the successful use of this technic would seem to be a previous
familiarity with the effects of the drug. The African natives no doubt use the drug at
other times and accordingly are not as likely to be distressed by the occasionally
terrifying phases of the episode. Also some experience is needed in order to regulate the
dose when used in this way. In such obstetric use, the drug has one important advantage as
contrasted with morphine, that is, the almost connplete absence of any depressing effect
on the respiratory mechanism.
There have been numerous suggestions that the hashish delirium may be used in psychiatric analysis as a means of removing the barriers to the subconscious. This was one of the purportedly useful features of the drug as declared in the recent legislative deliberations. Although such an application is not unreasonable, the few trials which have been made were not particularly successful. In contrast with cocaine and amytal, the patient usually becomes more absorbed and less communicative. Lindemann and Malamud observed this while studying effects in schizophrenics and psychoneurotic They reported that "new experiences are created which allow new presentations or new fantasies and an increasing neglect of the outside world in favor of experiences which are in keeping with the patient's desires." They did note that with schizo phrenics there was much less change in space and time perception than in psychoneurotic and normal persons.
There is a fictional account of the use of the drug to obtain confessions from
suspected criminals. In general, however, the usual effect of the drug is not such as to
make it very useful for such purposes. Von Schrenck described some rather inconclusive
experimentation involving the use of hashish in hypnotism.
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