COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO — When Colorado voters passed laws that protect those who possess and grow their own marijuana for medicinal purposes, physicians, legal authorities and many others suddenly found themselves in an ethical quandary.

Would marijuana intake assist people or would this become a ploy for those seeking a legalized high? And how can physicians and policy makers differentiate between the two?

Robert Melamede, professor of biology, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, can help physicians and other health care providers such as nurses, hospice workers and public health advocates to understand when medical marijuana use is appropriate. The key, he says, is to understand the biology of disease and aging, and how the intake of marijuana might affect these processes.

“Is smoking marijuana something that should be prescribed to someone with lung cancer,” Melamede asks. “No.”

“But if we’re talking about auto-immune diseases such as Crohns, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or various forms of chronic pain, or certain forms of cancer or epilepsy, the rational for using marijuana has been scientifically demonstrated.”

Melamede specializes in the study of oxidation induced DNA damages and their effects on aging, autoimmune diseases and cancer. The active ingredients in marijuana, such as THC, mimic compounds normally produced in the human body. They tend to work as antioxidants. Understanding how cells are affected by disease, and how compounds in marijuana affect our nervous, digestive, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems is the key to accurately recommending marijuana for medicinal purposes, he says.

While Canada and the Netherlands provide their citizens with quality medical marijuana, only seven states have laws that protect patients who grow and possess their own medical marijuana. Medical, legal and education leaders in those states – Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Colorado – have struggled to understand the connections between the human immune system, marijuana and diseases such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.

Melamede joined the CU-Colorado Springs faculty as professor of biology and chair of the biology department in 2001.He previously served on the faculty at New York Medical College and the University of Vermont. He holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from City University of New York.

Melamede will lead a daylong seminar on the topic scheduled for March 29 on the CU-Colorado Springs campus in northeast Colorado Springs. Registration is required and participants must pay a $239 fee.

To register, contact the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Office of Extended Studies, (719) 262-4071, by March 22 or visit http://web.uccs.edu/lases

CU-Colorado Springs, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in northeast Colorado Springs, is the fastest growing university in Colorado and one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The university offers 25 bachelor’s degrees, 17 master’s and two doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 7,000 students annually.