Sanjay Gupta documentary outlines his marijuana research findings

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, apologized for his previous anti-marijuana stance after spending a year reporting on the subject. His findings are highlighted in a special called “Weed” that debuted Sunday and will be rebroadcast on Friday at 10 p.m.

Gupta called his research “stunning” and posted a mea culpa on the CNN website, “Why I changed my mind about weed.”

In 2009, he wrote a piece in Time magazine explaining why he thought marijuana should not be legalized. While Gupta doesn’t specifically espouse legalization, he said he finds plenty of positives about cannabis.

“We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that,” he wrote. “I hope this article and upcoming documentary will help set the record straight.”

The U.S. government for years has deemed marijuana a banned substance with no medical upside and highly addictive qualities. Gupta, after a year of study, said that is not the case.

Gupta’s new conclusion: “It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications.”

“In some ways,” Gupta said in an interview with The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution, “I expected more of a firestorm [to his essay.]. It’s obviously a controversial issue. It’s been placed on the ballot in a lot of states. People have strong feelings about it. But we predicated this special on science. It’s a fact-based documentary.”

The high-profile neurosurgeon, a faculty member at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said he was dismayed to find 94 percent of research papers in America focused on the negative impact of marijuana and only a few on the potential benefits. He traveled to Israel to talk to researchers who are doing more cutting edge work on the subject.

Gupta said many studies show cannabis can help those with pain-related maladies and seizures. He interviewed several people who take marijuana for medicinal purposes and provided compelling anecdotal evidence of its efficacy.

The most emotional story during the hour-long special is a 5-year-old epileptic girl, who he said was the youngest person to use medicinal marijuana legally in Colorado. She was having seizures hundreds of times a week and her use of marijuana reduced that to no more than once a week. She had gone from virtually catatonic to a bubbly young girl.

“As a father with three daughters, I was particularly touched by that one,” Gupta said.

Among his other findings:

Gupta found evidence that pot smoking before the age of 16 can permanently damage the brain. But surveys show most teens think marijuana is relatively harmless to them.

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