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Myth: Marijuana Is Medicine

Reality: Smoked Marijuana Is Not Medicine

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Updated September 21, 2013

The scientific and medical communities have determined that smoked marijuana is a health danger, not a cure. There is no medical evidence that smoking marijuana helps patients. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved no medications that are smoked, primarily because smoking is a poor way to deliver medicine.

Morphine, for example has proven to be a medically valuable drug, but the FDA does not endorse smoking opium or heroin.

Congress enacted laws against marijuana in 1970 based in part on its conclusion that marijuana has no scientifically proven medical value, which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed more than 30 years later in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, et al., 532 U.S. 483 (2001).

Marijuana remains in schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act because it has a high potential for abuse, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and no currently accepted medical value.

The American Medical Association has rejected pleas to endorse marijuana as medicine, and instead urged that marijuana remain a prohibited schedule 1 drug at least until the results of controlled studies are in.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society stated that studies done to date "have not provided convincing evidence that marijuana benefits people with MS" and does not recommend it as a treatment. Further, the MS Society states that for people with MS "long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant serious side effects."

The British Medical Association has taken a similar position, voicing "extreme concern" that downgrading the criminal status of marijuana would "mislead" the public into thinking that the drug is safe to use when, "in fact, it has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis, and emphysema."

Smoking Is Harmful

In 1999 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) undertook a landmark study reviewing the alleged medical properties of marijuana. Advocates of so-called medical marijuana frequently tout this study, but the study's findings decisively undercut their arguments.

In truth, the IOM explicitly found that marijuana is not medicine and expressed concern about patients' smoking it because smoking is a harmful drug-delivery system.

The IOM further found that there was no scientific evidence that smoked marijuana had medical value, even for the chronically ill, and concluded that "there is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication."

In fact, the researchers who conducted the study could find no medical value to marijuana for virtually any ailment they examined, including the treatment of wasting syndrome in AIDS patients, movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy, or glaucoma.

Only Temporary Relief

The IOM found that THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in smoked marijuana provides only temporary relief from intraocular pressure (IOP) associated with glaucoma and would have to be smoked eight to 10 times a day to achieve consistent results. And there exists another treatment for IOP, as the availability of medically approved once- or twice-a-day eye drops makes IOP control a reality for many patients and provides round-the-clock IOP reduction.

For two other conditions, nausea and pain, the report recommended against marijuana use, while suggesting further research in limited circumstances for THC but not smoked marijuana.

Before any drug can be marketed in the United States, it must undergo rigorous scientific scrutiny and clinical evaluation overseen by the FDA. For example, the FDA has approved Marinol (dronabinol)-a safe capsule form of synthetic THC that meets the standard of accepted medicine and has the same properties as cultivated marijuana without the high- for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and for the treatment of wasting syndrome in AIDS patients.

Smoking Pot Is Not Approved

DEA has registered every researcher who meets FDA standards to use marijuana in scientific studies. Since 2000, for example, the California-based Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) has gained approval for 14 trials using smoked marijuana in human beings and three trials in laboratory and animal models.

This CMCR research is the first effort to study the medical efficacy of marijuana. But researchers have not endorsed smoking marijuana and instead are attempting to isolate marijuana's active ingredients to develop alternative delivery systems to smoking. Not one of these researchers has found scientific proof that smoke marijuana is medicine.

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