Tuesday, December 5, 2000
WHILE the public appears to support the use of marijuana for medical reasons, there has never been definitive proof of the drug's healing powers. Now a number of studies may finally answer those questions.
That's reassuring news for people who suffer from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and glaucoma, and who feel they could possibly benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana. Many doctors say the drug eases nausea and discomfort in patients undergoing chemotherapy, counters appetite and weight loss associated with AIDS, and relieves eye pressure caused by glaucoma. In fact, some patients say it is the only treatment that works to relieve their suffering.
Until now, the evidence has been largely anecdotal, based mainly on the testimonials of sick people who feel the drug has helped them. But that is not the kind of evidence that can convince medical experts or serve as the basis for widespread use by patients. Given all the anecdotal evidence, no matter how compelling, scientific study is long overdue.
That's why it makes sense that at least five studies are now planned to investigate those claims, with three sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Most of the new research will probably examine the use of marijuana to treat pain, relieve nausea, and stop weight and appetite loss. It may also answer the question of whether the drug can help treat muscle spasticity conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Overall, the results of these studies should determine, fairly quickly, whether medical marijuana use is significantly helpful to patients or not, and whether it works better than existing prescription drugs.
Adding to the equation is the recent announcement by the U.S. Supreme Court that it will hear arguments on whether marijuana can be provided to patients based on medical necessity, even though it is illegal under federal law to distribute the drug. The case, to be heard next year, involves the federal government's efforts to prevent a California group from providing marijuana to seriously ill patients. In addition to California, eight states have medical marijuana laws in place or approved by voters.
The states have proceeded on their own, without any medical consensus
on the effectiveness of the drug, and in defiance of federal law. That's
why the Supreme Court's involvement in the medical marijuana issue, coupled
with the pending research, is welcome.
Copyright © 2000 Bergen Record Corp.