Fiction: Marijuana Is Medicine

Fact: Marijuana is not medicine.

The scientific community has not approved marijuana as medicine. Many studies have been conducted to determine whether or not marijuana should be approved as a legitimate medicine. There are many rigorous and complex elements to the Government's approval of any drug that is used in medicine in this country. Should scientists conclude that marijuana should someday be considered a medicine, these same rigorous steps would need to be followed before doctors were permitted to prescribe it for their patients.

  • The American Medical Association urges that marijuana's status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines and alternate delivery methods. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product.1
  • In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a landmark study, concluding that “(t)here is little future in smoked marijuana as a medically approved medication.”In fact, the study found that there is little or no medical value to smoked marijuana for virtually any ailment it examined including muscle spasticity, movement disorders, epilepsy, or glaucoma. While the report recognized that THC may be potentially therapeutic for some conditions, such as vomiting, nausea, pain and appetite stimulation, the report recommended that further research be conducted into the possible use, in limited circumstances, for the specific active ingredient THC---but not smoked marijuana.2
  • The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) states that studies done to date “have not provided convincing evidence that marijuana benefits people with MS,” and this that marijuana is not a recommended treatment. Furthermore, the NMSS warns that the “long-term use of marijuana may be associated with significant and serious side effects.”3
  • The British Medical Association (BMA) has voiced "extreme concern" that downgrading the criminal status of marijuana would "mislead" the public into thinking that the drug is safe to use. "In fact, it has been linked to greater risk of heart disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema."4
  • The Deputy Chairman of the BMA's Board of Science has said that "the public must be made aware of the harmful effects we know result from smoking this drug." 5
  • In November, 2005, the Connecticut Chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) strongly opposed medical marijuana. A statement issued by Stephen Wyatt, OD and Dr. Mark Kraus states that their opposition is “in accordance with National ASAM policy on the grounds that there has been to date no critical research performed establishing its efficacy and safety…There is good evidence that the use of marijuana on a regular basis in adolescence is a strong marker for ensuing drug problems later in life.“

There are no smoked medicines.

Have you ever heard of anyone who smoked medicine? After all we know about the dangers of cigarette smoking, why would the scientific community approve smoked marijuana ? Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illnesses, a heightened risk of lung infections, and a greater tendency toward obstructed airways. Cancer of the respiratory tract and lungs may also be promoted by marijuana smoke. Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.6

Some elements of marijuana, when isolated, can be helpful to patients under medical supervision. THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana, can and has been created synthetically, allowing its medicinal properties (without the "high") to be used as medicine. DEA and the FDA approved Marinol™, a safe, pill-form of synthetic THC which has been available to patients since 1995.

DEA encourages studying potential medical uses for marijuana and its ingredients:

DEA has approved and will continue to approve research into whether the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, can be adapted for medical use. Over the last few years, DEA has registered every researcher meeting FDA standards to use marijuana in scientific studies. The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) conducts studies “to ascertain the general medical safety and efficacy of cannabis and cannabis products, and examine alternative forms of cannabis administration.”7 The CMCR currently has seven ongoing studies involving marijuana and the efficacy of cannabis and cannabis compounds as they relate to medical conditions such as HIV, cancer pain, MS and nausea. In addition, at least 12 other studies have been approved by DEA to conduct research regarding the potential for therapeutic marijuana.

Source Information

1American Medical Association, Council on Science and Public Health Report, November 2009

2Institute of Medicine. “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” 1999

3National MS Society. “Information Sourcebook.” National MS Society, December 2004

4"Doctors' Fears at Cannabis Change," BBC News, January 2004

5Manchester Online. "Doctors Support Drive Against Cannabis." Machester News. 21 January 2004

6National Institute on Drug Abuse, Research Report Series - Marijuana Abuse, October 2001

7Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. “CMCR Mission Statement"