Dr. Sanjay Gupta Regrets Demonizing Weed, Says It’s Worth Every Toke

Hey, even doctors can make mistakes.

In 2009, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a renowned neurosurgeon and CNN correspondent, wrote an essay for Time in which he suggested that smoking weed had very few benefits, and that it was maybe even addictive. He wrote the piece to encourage people to vote against weed in an upcoming election. Because he was against it.

From Time:

“But I'm here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good. And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger.”

Now, eight years later, Gupta says he regrets every speaking badly about weed. He’s been busy hunting down answers about cannabis and searching for clues to see if it could really be as life-affirming as some people (and research claim).

He’s put out three CNN documentary specials called Weed over the past few years, and there’s a new one coming soon. After talking to doctors and researchers, Gupta now believes that marijuana is wonderful and that it can successfully help with pain management and reduce opioid addiction.

He’s fully on board with cannabis, or at least has an open mind, despite being somewhat embarrassed by his original no-go stance. So if you’re canna-curious and looking for a doctor’s okay to get rolling, check out Gupta’s praise for weed, because he is a doctor after all.

On effects:

“Not only can it be of benefit, but sometimes it can be the only thing that is of benefit as we saw with the very refractory epilepsy and, maybe, even some of these cases of neuropathic pain. That’s really really powerful to me. And forget that I am a doctor, it’s probably immoral to not allow people to have relief from something—especially when they can’t find it in any of the existing modalities that are being prescribed to them. It probably borders on immoral, or maybe it just is immoral."

On demonization:

“The idea that the substance could be a medicine was the most surprising, and it sounds silly to almost say that, because to me, now that I have spent years really looking into this, I am a little embarrassed to have had that realization because—what the hell was I doing before? But I do think that there is a culture inflection with science in the sense that even if you are learning about the cannabinoid system and learning about the substance and the various neurotransmitters, it is still done under the context of this as a substance that is demonized and disparaged, and I fell into that camp.”

On marijuana research:

“The system was designed to find the harm and those were the studies getting funded, not studies that were designed to look for the benefit. You had a distorted picture of what marijuana could do. When you start looking at labs that aren’t dependent on some sort of state or federal funding or labs that are outside of the U.S., a very different picture emerged.”

“...admit that I made a mistake in not digging deeper earlier and, also, the idea that I am open-minded.”

On opioids:

“In none of my documentaries did I ever get into the concept of moral equivalence because I thought it was too easy, too cheap, right? I wanted everything to stand on its own merits. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t believe we have this substance out there that kills somebody every 19 minutes, and, yet, something that could have real benefit for people, and we could not find evidence of deadly overdose from, could not even be studied. That just wasn’t right."

On being open-minded:

“Frankly, when we first started thinking about “Weed” 1, I thought it was going to be looking at the science, and the science still wasn’t particularly compelling. I did not have a real preconceived notion other than what I had learned before about medicinal marijuana. I was not particularly impressed by the literature at that point. It was more of an eyes-wide-open experience, certainly for the first documentary.”

On politics and weed:

“You can’t completely disentangle those two issues. But I think we are still going to be leaning toward more of the evidence-based science behind this issue, to the extent that evidence-based science can and should inform policy. That’s going to be a big part of what we talk about and whether or not that is presenting things to the cabinet or elected officials, and seeing what happens with the CARERS Act (The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act introduced in March 2015) will be really important.”

On opioid overdoses:

“It’s a horrifying statistic to think about the number of people who die from opioid overdoses. It’s the number-one cause of unintentional death, of which 60 percent are made up from prescription opioids. At some point, somebody is going to come to us from another planet and look at us and say, ‘Let me get this straight: You guys are literally killing yourselves, accidentally, using a medication that is supposed to relieve suffering and pain?’ It makes no sense.”

More on opioids:

“The fact that there was data from other places around the world—and there was certainly a lot of anecdotal data within the United States—and the alternatives people were left with were opioids or even, frankly, the anti-seizure medications, which can also be very toxic, were so accepted and, yet, this was not even allowed to be studied. That didn’t sit well.”

On changing his mind:

“I think the idea of being synonymous with something is in a way being synonymous with the ability to, first, admit that I made a mistake in not digging deeper earlier and, also, synonymous with the idea that I am open-minded.”

All quotes are from an interview with Dr. Gupta and Elevate Nevada.