RESPONSE TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA

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The420Guy

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Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jul 2000
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2000 St. Petersburg Times
Contact: letters@sptimes.com
Author: James R. McDonough
Note: James R McDonough Is Director Of The Florida Office Of Drug Control.

RESPONSE TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA

I read with interest the St. Petersburg Times editorial, "Reefer madness remains," (June 24)
which argues for more research on the potential benefits of so-called "medical marijuana."
Madness is the appropriate word to describe the current trend of state ballot initiatives that
puts seriously ill people at risk of getting even sicker by advocating the smoke of burning
leaves as medicine.

To advocate a liberalization of policy on marijuana research, the Times has trotted out the
tired myth that the federal government is blocking research on the possible medicinal benefits
of marijuana. In fact, the opposite is true. The Institute of Medicine study, which recognized
that cannabinoids - the active components in marijuana - have potential medical use and was
cited in the editorial was funded with federal dollars. The conclusions of its expert panel were
very skeptical about the promise of smoked marijuana as medicine. Indeed, analysis of the
marijuana research submissions to the National Institute on Drug Abuse during the past
decade shows that almost none were able to pass peer review, an indication that medical
experts - not government bureaucrats - could not see the validity in the proposed studies.

The Food and Drug Administration's approval of Dronabinol, an oral medication that contains
a synthetic form of THC, the relevant chemical in marijuana, dispels the notion that the
federal government is opposed to researching the plant. What the government does oppose -
and rightfully so - is the idea of smoked marijuana. There is strong evidence that smoking
marijuana has detrimental health effects to the degree that it is unlikely ever to be approved
by the FDA as a medicine. Unrefined marijuana contains approximately 400 chemicals that
become combustible when smoked, producing in turn more than 2,000 impure chemicals.
The IOM report states that, when used chronicalIy, "marijuana smoking is associated with
abnormalities of cells lining the human respiratory tract. Marijuana smoke, like tobacco
smoke, is associated with increased risk of cancer, lung damage, and poor pregnancy
outcomes."

The IOM report concluded that cannabinoid drugs have potential for therapeutic use. It
specifically named pain, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite as symptoms that might be
alleviated. According to the report, cannabinoids are "moderately well suited" to combat
AIDS wasting and chemotherapy-induced nausea and "probably have a natural role in pain
modulation, control of movement, and memory."

Another report, by the National Institutes of Health, recognized the potential benefit of
marijuana to help with appetite stimulation and AIDS wasting. These studies present a
consistent theme: Cannabinoids in marijuana do show potential for symptom management of
several conditions. But the finding most important to the debate is that the studies did not
advocate smoked marijuana as medicine. To the contrary, the NIH report called for a
non-smoked alternative as a focus of further research. The IOM report recommended
smoking marijuana as medicine only in the most extreme cases, and then only under medical
supervision.

Unfortunately, many who advocate smoked marijuana as medicine do so only as a ruse in
order to enable the legalization of marijuana. They reject scientific findings indicating that
smoking a burning leaf does not measure up to modem standards of medicine. And they
ignore the safeguards provided by established drug-approval procedures.

This debate should be driven by science, not the ballot box. I agree with the Times that
marijuana research be kept within the parameters of medical science. I disagree with the
Times that this has not been done.

MAP posted-by: greg