Lester Grinspoon, marijuana scholar and Grinspoon namesake, dies aged 92

The Harvard professor and psychiatrist was known for his advocacy of the drug

Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the Harvard professor and psychiatrist who – in addition to undertaking research that found marijuana was less toxic and addictive than alcohol or tobacco – was the namesake for Australian rock band Grinspoon, has died aged 92.

Dr. Grinspoon died on June 25 at his home in Newtown, Massachusetts, with his son David confirming the news of his passing, The New York Times reports.

Grinspoon – originally against the drug – became a proponent for marijuana legalisation in the late 1960s after his friend and colleague Dr. Carl Sagan attempted to convince him of its harmlessness. Grinspoon proceeded to explore existing research attempting to back up his view, but was unable to find any concrete evidence to back up this standpoint.


He went on to conclude that marijuana was relatively safe, acknowledging the greater harm came from its criminalisation.

“The greatest potential for social harm lies in the scarring of so many young people and the reactive, institutional damages that are direct products of present marihuana laws,” wrote Dr. Grinspoon in his 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered.

“If we are to avoid having this harm reach the proportions of a real national disaster within the next decade, we must move to make the social use of marihuana legal.”

Grinspoon would go on to support medicinal use of the drug, particularly after his son Danny was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and, in 1971, began taking a drug that caused severe nausea and vomiting. Smoking marijuana before a day of treatment, he was free of the side effects he had previously experienced, and went on to use the drug before subsequent chemotherapy sessions.

“We were all much more comfortable during the remaining year of his life,” Dr. Grinspoon would go on to write.

Dr. Grinspoon had not, in fact, tried marijuana while researching its effects, until 1972. He and his wife, Betsy, tried marijuana for a third time while listening to the Beatles album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’.


“It was for me a rhythmic explosion, a fascinating new musical experience,” he wrote in an essay on his website.

He would go on to testify for John Lennon at a United States Immigration and Naturalization Service deportation hearing in 1972, as the government attempted to deport the Beatles member based on a prior conviction in England for possessing cannabis resin.

Grinspoon was asked by Lennon’s lawyer Leon Wildes whether cannabis resin was marijuana or a narcotic drug – in both cases, the doctor replied “no”. Lennon went on to win the case.

Australian rock band Grinspoon would go on to take their name from the professor when they formed in 1995. Their eponymous self-titled EP, released later that year, contains a hidden track at the end called ‘Dr Grinspoon’.

The band have not publicly commented.