There are not many people who can say they have the federal government's permission to smoke marijuana -- seven, to be precise -- but Florida stockbroker Irv Rosenfeld is one of them. This weekend will mark the 22nd anniversary of Rosenfeld's acceptance into the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Investigational New Drug (IND) program.
Like most people living with the disease, Rosenfeld originally treated it with a raft of opioid pain relievers and muscle relaxants. Never a social marijuana user, Rosenfeld tried pot in college in an effort to win friends, but what he found was that it worked wonders for his pain.
"I moved to Miami to go to college and moved into a complex with lots of students," Rosenfeld told DRCNet. "They always wanted to drink wine and smoke pot, but I always said no. I realized I wasn't making any friends and gave in to peer pressure and starting trying it. I smoked it and didn't notice anything, but about the tenth time I tried it, I noticed that I had been sitting and playing chess for half an hour. That was the first time in years I had been able to maintain a position for that long."
Somewhat skeptical of what he had experienced, Rosenfeld asked his doctor if there was any medical benefit. Like most medical professionals, Rosenfeld's doctor had no idea, but encouraged Rosenfeld, who comes from a medical family, to research it himself. From that point, Rosenfeld embarked on the years-long journey that eventually led to his becoming an official US government medical marijuana patient.
It wasn't an easy road, said Rosenfeld. "I found that prior to 1937, marijuana had a long history of medicinal use in the United States and, through trial and error, I found that it really was marijuana and not something else that was working for me. I wanted to be sure; after all, you don't want to believe an illegal drug is helping you. I called my doctor and said I wanted a prescription," the Florida stockbroker related. "He said he couldn't do that because it was illegal and I would have to win permission from the federal government."
Rosenfeld quit college and devoted himself full-time to getting federal approval for using medical marijuana. "It took me 10 years to get accepted," he said. "For the first five years, I wrote up my own scientific projects, but the FDA stonewalled me. But then I met Bob Randall, the first federally approved medical marijuana patient, and he convinced me to keep at it. We got the University of Virginia law school and medical school behind the effort, and after the law school threatened to sue the FDA, they gave me a 15-minute hearing."
Rosenfeld went in with no illusions that he would win FDA approval, but he was in for a surprise. "We were taping everything because we figured they would turn me down and we would go to court and sue. I gave my speech, I told them about how when I smoked marijuana it enhanced the effects of my opioid pain-reliever, and when I mentioned that, a visiting Venezuelan oncologist got up and said if marijuana might enhance the efficacy of opioids, that should be studied. At that point, everything changed. You could feel it in the room, you could see it on people's faces. My program was approved."
And ever since, Rosenfeld has been smoking as many as 12 joints a day of government-grade marijuana. "I feel great," he enthused. "I'm very fortunate," said Rosenfeld. I can take my medicine without having to worry about breaking the law. "Because of this medicine, I am a working member of society and a taxpayer," Rosenfeld said.
He is also in good health. At least, that's what a 2001 study of medical marijuana patients in the IND program found. Four of the seven official patients participated in the "Chronic Cannabis Use in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program Study" conducted by Dr. Ethan Russo in Missoula, Montana, that year. That study showed "very few adverse effects in the patients," said Russo in an interview last year. None showed signs of brain damage, immune system problems or hormone problems, Russo said. "The truth is cannabis is very effective for a wide variety of medical conditions including pain, spasms, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma," said Russo, who has been practicing for 20 years. "Irv's functioning has gotten better over time, not worse, as what you might expect in someone with his condition."
"Although Irv has had to smoke this stuff all these years, his lungs are just fine, or at least they were through 2001, when we studied him in Missoula" said Al Byrne of Patients Out of Time (http://www.medicalcannabis.org), a group with which Rosenfeld has worked for years and on whose board of directors he currently sits. "And the government propaganda mill says that if you smoke too much too long your brain shrivels up. All you have to do is look at Irv and the work he does and you can see that's bullshit," he told DRCNet. "These supposed adverse impacts of marijuana use are a longstanding claim of the government," said Byrne. "One of the reasons we formed Patients Out of Time in 1995 was to refute that government propaganda, one point at a time. That's why we entered into the Missoula study as well."
While Rosenfeld is one of the fortunate few who were accepted into the IND program before it was shut down by President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992, he remains committed to making medical marijuana available to whoever might benefit from it. "If we can change the law, marijuana could be used medicinally," he said. "The problem is that the government has not done any studies. The other side always says we need more research. My response is that they haven't wanted to research me for 22 years, but if they really want research, they need patients. Let's set up some compassionate care protocols in different medical centers, let each center have 50 patients each, and study it for three years. Then, if it is shown to be detrimental, we'll discontinue it. But if it is shown to be beneficial, the studies would not only continue but be enhanced and expanded."
It all sounds reasonable enough, but there is a problem. "The government really doesn't care about these sick people and it doesn't want to know if marijuana will help them," said Rosenfeld. "That's the problem."