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Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, one of the first medical marijuana researchers to prove its medicinal benefits, dies at 85

Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider

(NaturalNews) Dr. J. Thomas Ungerleider, one of America's first researchers to champion the medicinal benefits of marijuana, died from Alzheimer's complications at the age of 85 on September 19.

Dr. Ungerleider led clinical trials in the 1970s and 1980s that demonstrated marijuana's effectiveness in treating patients with glaucoma and those undergoing chemotherapy. His work under the Nixon administration was instrumental in helping to change attitudes about marijuana and drug use in general.

From the Los Angeles Times:

"In the early 1970s, Nixon appointed Ungerleider to the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, often referred to as the Shafer Commission. The 13-member group traveled around the world for a year studying the effects of pot.

"Surprising many, the commission concluded that marijuana wasn't a particularly dangerous drug and that people shouldn't be subject to criminal charges for possessing it, essentially making it legal for use in homes."

Dr. Ungerleider: 'a real pioneer'

Ungerleider was one of the first to recommend that drug use be treated as a health problem and not a criminal issue – a viewpoint that was years ahead of its time, but which became the "blueprint" for how drug use and addiction is understood today, according to friend and colleague, Dr. David Smith.

Dr. Smith, who founded the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco, called Ungerleider "a real pioneer."

Unfortunately, President Nixon ignored the commission's conclusions and forged ahead with the "war on drugs" – a failed policy that has cost the country more than $1 trillion, and continues to incarcerate otherwise law-abiding Americans.

Ungerleider's work with drugs began in the mid-1960s when he was an assistant professor at UCLA and was asked to investigate LSD – a relatively unknown drug at the time that was rapidly becoming popular among the counterculture:

"He began surveying people who dropped acid at love-ins and at Timothy Leary's ranch in Orange County. He became one of the first researchers to document the adverse effects of LSD, during a time when people like Leary were advocating for its beneficial effects."

Ungerleider's son John said he was told by a colleague of his father that his dad had coined the term "bad trip."

Dr. Ungerleider as a champion of personal liberty

John Ungerleider also said that – despite his Republican leanings – his father sometimes voted for Democratic candidates due to his strong beliefs that that the government should not meddle in people's private affairs.

Ungerleider continued his research into the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and in 1999 published a paper in which he wrote that cannabis had a "limited but definite role in medicine," and that the decision to use it should be left to physicians – not to the criminal justice system.

Although Ungerleider did not support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, he did believe that drug use should not be treated with a head-in-the-sand "ostrich policy," in which parents and children are reluctant to even discuss the issue.

In fact, he helped to run substance abuse programs in an effort to help people struggling with addiction, and his work paved the way for the reform of cannabis laws in the United States.

Sadly, to this day the federal government is still pursuing antiquated drug war policies, and marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug. Those policies may change soon, but the stubbornness of the DEA and Washington policymakers – largely at the behest of Big Pharma, which views marijuana legalization as a threat to its profitability – has made marijuana legalization an uphill battle, even though a majority of Americans support the idea.

But thanks to the work of pioneers such as Dr. Ungerleider, marijuana prohibition may finally be nearing its end – and not a moment too soon.

(Photo credit: Elizabeth Ungerleider)





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