One of America’s first researchers to recognize the medicinal benefits of marijuana died from Alzheimer’s complications last month.
Pioneering cannabis researcher J. Thomas Ungerleider passed away at home on September 19 due to complications related to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the LA Times.
Through his clinical trials in the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Ungerleider was among the first of researchers to demonstrate marijuana’s therapeutic effects. In 1982, he found tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be effective for reducing the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. In other studies, he found THC to be therapeutically beneficial for treating glaucoma and the spasticity related to multiple sclerosis.
In the early 1970s, Dr. Ungerleider was one of 13 researchers to be appointed to President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also commonly referred to as the Shafer Commission. Over a year, Dr. Ungerleider and his co-researchers studied the effects of marijuana, eventually concluding that cannabis wasn’t a dangerous substance and recommending that personal possession be decriminalized.
In his paper, “Marijuana: still a ‘signal of misunderstanding’,” published in in 1999, Dr. Ungerleider reiterated cannabis as medicinally beneficial and argued that doctors, rather than laws, should decide whether a patient should have access to marijuana.
Early in his career, Dr. Ungerleider encouraged parents to not shy away from discussing marijuana with their children.
“Kids get frightened when we don’t tell them what to explore and help them do it. I’m against our ostrich policy, hiding our heads in the sand, refusing to discuss drugs with them, and even forbidding them to discuss the subject. That’s terrible,” Dr. Ungerleider said in 1967.
Dr. Ungerleider’s son, John Ungerleider, told the LA Times that his father was a Republican but would sometimes vote for Democratic candidates because he was opposed to the government’s “meddling in people’s private choices.”
Since Dr. Ungerleider’s work, research has continued to reveal cannabis’ exciting therapeutic potential. Studies have shown cannabis to be effective at alleviating pain, reducing the frequency and severity of seizures, inhibiting the growth of and even killing cancer cells, and slowing the progression of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Most recently, a survey conducted by renowned Mexico physician Dr. Carlos G. Aguirre Velazquez found cannabidiol (CBD) hemp oil to significantly reduce seizures in children with refractory epilepsy.
Unfortunately, President Nixon decided to ignore the recommendation from Dr. Ungerleider and the Shafer Commission, and instead went ahead with the nationwide war on drugs. Prohibition has proven to be ineffective and costly, with a recent report estimating that enforcing prohibition in the U.S. costs $3.6 billion per year. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe prohibition costs are more than they are worth.
However, thanks to the work of pioneers such as Dr. Ungeleider, 25 U.S. states have so far passed medical marijuana legislation and up to four more will establish programs by the end of the year. While the Drug Enforcement Administration recently refused to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, the administration did approve a clinical study into cannabis’s potential efficacy for treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) earlier this year.