03/27/11 Dr. Tom O'Connell

Dr. Tom O'Connel tends more than 6,000 medical marijuana patients in California + Steve DeAngelo the Dir of Harborside Health Center in Oakland CA

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Guest: 
Dr. Tom O'Connell
Organization: 
Physician
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Century of Lies / March 27, 2011

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The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

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(Long Inhale)

Man: This pot is so good that when I smoke it, the government freaks out.

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This is Dean Becker. You’re listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. We have here with us, on the phone, Doctor Tom O’Connell. My doctor, my medical marijuana doctor and we have much to talk about and I just want to go ahead and bring him on board. Hello Tom.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Hi, Dean.

Dean Becker: Tom, we’ve had a lot of great discussions over the years and several over the past week or so and what we’re going to focus mostly on today is marijuana edibles. Tell a little bit about what’s known and what needs to be known in that regard.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Well, there’s a great deal that is known but it’s limited and doesn’t embrace some critical differences between inhaled cannabis and the edible form. In fact, they’re so different that in some respects, they’re like two different drugs.

It’s easier to comprehend or start with the inhaled form because that’s how the majority of modern users learn to try cannabis. They try to get high, which I might add, not all of them succeed at it.

About half the people who try to get high don’t succeed the first time and many have to try three, four, five times before it happens. When it happens, it’s sort of an “ah-ha” reaction. It’s also a threshold that you have to get over, if you’re going to become a therapeutic user.

Dean Becker: Tom, I remember my first time. I was in Tulsa and some friends were smoking at a drive-in. I tried it. I told them that I felt it and it was really enjoyable but it really didn’t register that first time. I agree with you.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Yeah, I had the same experience. I was with some friends and it was as very friendly, jovial type of thing. I would have said later that I was high but when I got high about two years later, the difference was staggering.

Dean Becker: Yeah. My first time to actually get high, my friend and I read Life and Look magazine and saw all the stories about marijuana and we said, “Well, we’ve got to get some and see if we can get high.” We didn’t know anybody. We drove to Mexico and bought some and after about three cigarettes a piece we suddenly had the walls on the ceiling and we began to realize.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: So, it’s – in general, I don’t see anybody who hasn’t been able to get high. There are probably people who have tried several times and never made it, but they don’t apply for a cannabis application or cannabis recommendation in California.

Dean Becker: Now Tom, there are a lot of people that think that marijuana doctors are a bunch of quacks that don’t have real medical training and they are just gaming the system but you have decades of experience as a Thoracic Surgeon. You have served our nation in military service as well, right?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Yeah, I spent thirteen years in the army after I did my internship and before going into private practice. My entire career has been clinical. It has been with patients.

Dean Becker: And let’s talk about, I don’t know if there’s a Guinness Book of World Records but you probably have the record number of patients that you have recommended for, right?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Actually, that’s not true.

Dean Becker: Okay.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Only Tod Mikuriya, I think had over nine thousand before he died in 2007, all by himself practically for the first few years of Proposition 215 in California.

He was certifying or signing recommendations for the majority of parents and that’s what brought him to the attention of the California highway patrol and other police organizations who complained incessantly to the medical board and they finally investigated Tod.

They found nothing really wrong with his practice but charged him for the cost of the investigation, which was $75,000. It was a grossly unfair punishment handed out to a man that was literally on his death bed.

Dean Becker: Yeah.
Doctor Tom O'Connell: It leaves me with a very bitter taste in my mouth as far as the California Medical Board is concerned.

Dean Becker: Well, Tom I think you’ve heard me express this before but I have grave reservations. Hmm, I feel that the medical profession has missed the ball that they have not stood forth across the board across this nation.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: I would have to agree with you, Dean. I think it goes back a long way to the Harrison Narcotic Act in the teens. Thousands of doctors were arrested and not too many were convicted but their practices were interfered with. They became very leery in confronting the government.

Dean Becker: Right.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right of the government to practice medicine. Of course, the worst has been the Controlled Substances Act, passed under Richard Nixon in 1970 that intensified all the preexisting laws and gave the Attorney General the exclusive right to decide which drugs would be banned, so called “Schedule I.” If I get back to the numbers that you were asking about earlier.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: My current – my database includes 6300 patents, which is they have all been seen consecutively since 2001. Many are seen as renewals. There’s a peculiar requirement in California that patents with a recommendation have to get it renewed once a year. So, it is really like a renewable license.

Dean Becker: But once a year.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Yeah. The difference is that if you fail to renew your driver’s license, you are not arrested as a felon.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) Well, this is true.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: That was happening to people who were a week out of date on their pot license.

Dean Becker: Now—

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Uh, so there’s still a considerable amount of hostility on the part of police but it is regional. It varies a lot from place to place. I’d say that statewide its softening.

Dean Becker: Alright. Now Tom, I said were going to focus on edibles. I want to come back to – it’s been my experience that edibles are approximately 45 minutes to an hour after eating the cookie, brownie or whatever it might be that you feel those effects. It can stay with you for another three, four – maybe five hours. It seems to linger for some time. What do you think causes that disparity?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Well, there’s a huge difference between duration of effect, how long the high lasts, with the inhaled high it is generally about an hour. When it’s over, we know it but the good feeling that accompanied the high may easily last for another hour— plus if there’s no buzzkill.

Now with an edible, you don’t feel anything for 20-40 minutes and then all of a sudden it comes on. It’s not gradual. It’s all at once. The reason for that id that what we inhales is transported to the brain, toke by toke. So, we know what’s happening we can feel the therapeutic effect coming on.

Most people stop when they’re high. It’s a recognition that comes from experience. They’re not trying to get super-high or stoned. If you deliberately inhale more, you’re going to get stoned that’s a different condition entirely. Some people welcome it. That’s their destination and quite a few tolerate that very well but it’s a different level.

Now with edibles, we don’t have that the notification on the way in. It’s being digested in the gut and the gut has no sensors to tell you what is happening. So, those digested products get into the structure called the portal vein which doesn’t drain into the heart it drains into the liver.

So, the liver essentially reprocesses that pot on a molecular level and to my knowledge the details of that reprocessing have never been studied. What we do know is that the edible high is greatly different. Instead of lasting for an hour, it lasts for three or even longer. The relaxation is profound because your arms and legs become adverse to exercise.

Dean Becker: (Laughs)

Doctor Tom O'Connell: What is called “couch lock” sets in. you’d rather sit on the couch and contemplate.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: For that whole three hours. The bonus is markedly enhanced pain relief, especially for very painful neuropathic conditions or arthritic conditions with really severe pain. The people who get that are people who have the edible effect while they’re in pain.

So then, their problem becomes how do we arrive at a safe dosage or a dosage that they can manage. For them, it’s a trial and error process but clearly the process that cannabis undergoes in the liver is the secret to that edible effect and as I say, to my knowledge, it has not been studied in detail. Pot smokers are aware of it. Many avoid edibles completely for that. They don’t like the lack of control

Dean Becker: Yeah right like you say with the inhalation you can the word is – titrate – I guess, the dose, you know when you’re there like you said. Some folks choose to go a little higher but you can be aware of that change and with the edibles it’s going to do whatever it going to do, right?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Right there are other edible effects that are enhanced too. Some people with – who use cannabis for a convulsive disorder, swear that their anti-convulsive effect is remarkably enhanced with edibles.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: I’ve has too few of them. It’s too few of a population but the thing about cannabis is that it relieves so many different symptoms so effectively that it’s hard to get down to the one that is most important to the patient.

Dean Becker: Alright friends, we’re speaking with Doctor Tom O'Connell, a now medical marijuana doctor with decades of experience as a Thoracic Surgeon. Doctor O'Connell, I want to ask you a question here. I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac and yet for many of us, the use of cannabis can be quite an enhancement. Your response to that?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Oh, I think it’s not an aphrodisiac but it enhances your awareness of your body and your appreciation of your senses.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: So, anything pleasant that you normally find pleasant, you find more pleasant under the influence of cannabis, when you’re high. There is just no doubt about that and that includes sexual pleasure, as well. Because time slows down because you become, literally, more in touch with your body. That’s almost an automatic benefit.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) Indeed it is. I’ve got to agree with you. Now, Doctor Tom, the situation in California, it’s still kind of like the rest of the nation. There’s pushes toward projects and pullbacks toward aggression – from good actors to bad actors from my stance.

You’ve been observing this in California a lot closer than I have. Are things making progress? Do you think there is a chance of legalization? What is the mindset of the populace out there?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: There’s enormous progress, actually, but it’s been slow. Who knew that this was going to go on for fourteen years and still technically be in the same place? The changes are in the hundreds of thousands. We just don’t know how many.

People have acquired recommendations that allow them to use pot legally and also to purchase it in so called dispensaries. These are retail outlets that are technically illegal but tolerated and licensed and now taxed. How they’re run varies greatly from county to county.

It’s really up to the county sheriff and the law enforcement structure that exists in the county but in California the Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer. Of course, they don’t arrest people that the District Attorney won’t prosecute. So, he has to be on board. I will tell you that the attitude of those officials varies enormously from one part of the state to the other. So, it’s a patchwork. In general, the more rural area are more strict.

Dean Becker: Okay. Once again, we’re speaking with Doctor Tom O'Connell, my medical marijuana doctor. Now Doctor Tom, I know that over the years the 6000+ patients that you’ve dealt with, you complied a database, probably more a bigger database on patients and their aliments and so forth than anybody on the planet. What have these studies told you? What have you derived from these encounters?

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Well, interestingly enough, some of the most important finding are historical in terms of the timeline. They provide a picture of the marijuana market that existed before the Hippie Revolution and the one that has developed since and that was a bright spot when American youth discovered the benefits of cannabis, inhaled cannabis, in the hundreds of thousands and that was clearlly in the mid-to-late sixties. Before that the market was relatively small.

Only 240 of my 6300 patients were born before 1946. 1946 marked the beginning of the Baby Boom and of course the Boomers that were going to eventually try pot had to grow up first, a little bit. So, it was 1965 or 1966, before we begin to see large number of pot smokers.

An interesting fallout from that is that 2011 represents the 65th year since the Baby Boom began in 19467. So, the voter population this year, for the first time, will include a lot of Boomer who tried weed and whether stayed with it or not, they got high at one time in their lives. They are probably going to be a lot friendlier to the idea of legalization. So I expect with each passing year, there’s going to be an increased number. So, this is the political implication of the demographics I’ve been collecting.

Dean Becker: Now, I don’t know the exact date, I could find it, but the first time I got high on the weed we brought back from Mexico was, well, the day Hurricane Beulah struck the Texas coast.

We were surfing the Ship Channel there at Port Isabel that day just high as kites. (Laughs) Anyway.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Right.

Dean Becker: Alright, Doctor Tom we’ve got a couple of minutes left. I wanted to kind of turn it over to you, if there is a website that you would like to talk about or just some closing remarks.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: I’ve got a blog Doctor Tom. It’s pretty easy to find just google Doctor Tom or my full name, Tom O'Connell M.D. You’ll find it. I— it’s a book I’m sort of writing in public. It’s not well organized, yet.I fact putting the book together will be a big job to organize all that stuff. I try to comment on pot prohibition as it’s evolving, hopefully devolving.

Dean Becker: Right and that’s the case. It seems to be – more and more people understanding that there is this fallacy that is—

Doctor Tom O'Connell: There is a peculiar resistance. It’s the government’s policy is treated like the sacred cow. Everybody know its failing but nobody wants to admit it. There’s a reluctance on the part of media outlets to say much good about cannabis. So, its really underappreciated. It is a an amazing substance and it’s a tragedy that the pharmaceutical industry has not to study it. Of course, they’re not allowed to by law.

Dean Becker: Right.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: But what I confront every day is the tragedy, the loss of this valuable medicine represents to people who can’t have access to it or wouldn’t try if they could because it is illegal.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Alright, Doctor Tom O'Connell. Thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to bring you back here soon. Hopefully there will be more about the edibles, more information coming forth but it is—

Doctor Tom O'Connell: I think it is a testimony to the ignorance of the government.

Dean Bevker: Well.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: If they don’t know these basic things about the drug they’re trying to suppress, just what are they doing?

Dean Becker: Well, exactly right. Doctor Tom O’ Connell, thank you so much.

Doctor Tom O'Connell: Thank you.

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Dean Becker: You know, like the violent death throws of an animal, it seems that agents of the US Government are showing their true nature by many of the tactics they’re undertaking. They can’t fight the science, so they’re going after people’s bank accounts and going after them with the IRS. Here to talk about that and much more is the Executive Director and Harborside Health Center, Mister Steve DeAngelo. Hello, sir.

Steve DeAngelo: Hey Dean, it’s great to back with you here again.

Dean Becker: Yeah Steve, it’s to me in that thought I was relaying there, procedures, the tactics that the government is taking now. They’re just outrageous aren’t they?

Steve DeAngelo: Well, yeah. Unfortunately Dean, it looks like the government is trying to do through the back door what it has decided that it is unable to do or unwilling to do through the front door. So, even though the Obama Administration has said that they’re not going to authorize raids on medical cannabis organization in compliance state law, we are seeing them using other agencies rather than the DEA.

So, in case of Harborside Health Center we are under audit by the IRS. The IRS has examined all our books they are completely in order. There’s no evidence of any malfeasance, of course. The IRS has informed us that the balance of the audit is going to focus on the clause in the IRS called the 280E clause. 280E prevents any “drug trafficking organizations” from taking normal and usual business deductions on things like rent and payroll, etcetera.

Dean Becker: Despite the fact that you guys have tried you best to toe the line, to pay your taxes and be good citizens, right?

Steve DeAngelo: Oh yeah and we established Harborside as a model of compliance and transparency and we’ve faithful pay tax we believe is due. Of course, we reject the idea that we should be consider as a drug trafficking organization. The 280E provision was originally intended for cocaine kingpins, not non-profit community organizations such as ourselves.

Dean Becker: Last week, I reported about a gentleman up in Washington State. He wants people to know about it, Mister Adam Assenburg. He runs a tiny dispensary. I think he deals with about ten people per month.

Steve DeAngelo: Uh, huh.

Dean Becker: His wife had a bank account which received her disability payments and the IRS confiscated it just a week ago. Your response to that?

Steve DeAngelo: Well, I think that it’s just outrageous that the IRS should be taking any kinds of actions against people who are already in difficult in circumstances like that. It’s already egregious that they would launch an action like that against people who are really just trying to help people who are sick and suffering.

Dean Becker: Now Steve, there’s a new effort under way, the Angel Investor Network. Why don’t you tell us about that.

Steve DeAngelo: Sure. The idea behind the Angel Investor Network, basically, is to bring investors who are interested in the cannabis sector together with entrepreneurs who are building businesses in that sector. We put them all together in a room and introduce them and hopefully see some deals come out of it.

So, we’ve got a situation now where the investment community has really started to get excited about the prospect of a legal cannabis industry but they don’t really know how to analyze the industry, how to find the opportunities or pick the winner and losers.

On the other hand, you have many cannabis entrepreneurs who either have amazingly good ideas or already have successful companies posed for growth and they just need some capitol in order to make these ideas real or grow their companies to their full potential. So, we hope to bring those two groups together and make some deals happen.

Dean Becker: Steve, Harborside Health Center is perhaps the world’s largest cannabis dispensary and you guys have assisted other startups, if you will, to do it right over the years. Tell us about some of those successes.

Steve DeAngelo: We just heard that the applicants that we helped in the state of Rhode Island, the Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center, were awarded a license, which was really thrilling. They had a very, very rigorous, competitive licensing process in Rhode Island. It was a very intense process. It was interrupted a couple of times by changes in the procedure. So, we were really thrilled to see Thomas C. Slater Compassion Center be awarded a permit there.

We have also been successful throughout the state of California in helping people acquire licenses and open dispensaries, all the way from Los Angeles to Stockton to Napa County.

Dean Becker: This is indicative to the embrace that Californians have given to medical cannabis and this perception, this willingness to consider a better way is expanding across this country to many states as we speak, right?

Steve DeAngelo: It sure is. Well, you know California traditionally has served the United States as the laboratory of the future. California as were a lot of new things started in California. The Internet started in California. Yoga started in California. Organic foods started in California.

I think that what you’re seeing now with medical cannabis is the idea that we have in California about health, which is more related to the idea of wellness and holistic healing than it is in traditional western medicine. I think that that concept of wellness is also spreading across the county. The only other thing that I would mention right now, Dean, of course, is the issue that were having with banks.

The treasury department has been contacting banks that are doing business with medical cannabis organizations and pressuring them to close accounts. So, we have many, many collectives and other medical cannabis business across the country who are in essence being forced back into a cash economy.

It’s really terrible because on the one hand, we have taxing authorities like the IRS who want us to have complete records and on the other hand, we have another arm of the federal government making it virtually impossible for us to maintain those records.

So, it’s a challenging situation but you know, Dean, it’s been challenging for us for a long time. When I take a look back on the progress we’ve made, I think we’ve come a huge way. Now’s not the time to lose heart. Now is the time to dig in and just keep on working harder.

Dean Becker: Alight, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mister Steve DeAngelo, Director of Harborside Health Center. Their website

Steve DeAngelo: harborsidehealthcenter.com and we’ll have a beautiful new upgrade on the website in about another week.

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(Odd sounds)

This is the Drug Truth Network.

Drug truth.net

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(Sung to: Dream the Impossible Dream)

To dream, the American Dream
To lie still and hope
With both of your eyes closed
To ignore the nightmare that surrounds you
Just to try, try to reach the American Dream…

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Dean Becker: Yes, the American dream. Be sure to join us on next week’s Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be Margaret Dooley Samuel of the Drug policy Alliance and Natasha Frost of the Justice Policy Institute. They’ll be talking about a new report they’ve produced on the failure of the US drug courts.

I want you guys to do your part. You know the Drug War is a failure. You know it has no justification. Please, do your part help bring it to end. Please remember that because—no, there is no truth, justice, logic, no reason for the Drug War to exist.

Please visit our website: endprohibition.org.

You are the answer. Please give it a shot.

Prohibido istac evilesco!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com