Trial and Error: Medical Marijuana, the Absence of Evidence, and the Allure of Anecdote

For the past four years, Christy Shake has given her son marijuana extract six times a day to ease his childhood epilepsy. Hers is a compelling story that highlights the potential benefits of medical cannabis. But in the wake of antiquated and inflexible federal legislation, anecdotal reports like these are essentially all we have. More than half the states in the U.S. have voted to legalize medical marijuana, as thousands contend it’s a viable treatment for a growing list of conditions. Nevertheless, as more and more patients gain access to cannabis, neither they nor their physicians understand exactly what they’re receiving from local dispensaries. Patients, caregivers, scientists, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and dispensary growers alike are calling for changes to government policies that restrict research. It’s high time to separate politics from science.


Raleigh McElvery

About Raleigh McElvery

Raleigh McElvery was raised on the adage, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” However, as a Neuroscience major at Bowdoin College ’16, she realized that facts can make for an even better story. A self-proclaimed brain zealot, Raleigh once had the chance to see her own brain via MRI scans. But the black and white images left something to be desired. What kind of wiring associates Wednesdays with the smell of freshly baked bread? Or yields a penchant for ice cream but a strong antipathy towards the cold? In an effort to unravel the intricacies of the human brain, Raleigh chose to begin with a smaller, less complex system: the goldfish. At Bowdoin, she researched the fast-acting effects of steroid hormones as they stick to certain areas of the fish brain. Raleigh felt a certain kinship with these tiny teleosts, since things — particularly scientific tidbits — tend to get stuck in her head as well. Consequently, her writing endeavors have included reporting on science-centric events for the Bowdoin Communications Department, investigating the neural basis of fear during a summer in Denmark, and chronicling obesity interventions for the mentally ill with a team from the Geisel School of Medicine. As part of the Communications group at the Broad Institute, Raleigh delved further into the molecular basis of various genetic conditions, communicating findings to the general public. In her spare time, you can find Raleigh challenging drivers as she runs along the Charles River, training her cat to come to a whistle, or creating cubist sculptures from Legos.


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