The FDA's reefer madness

April 24, 2006

Barbara Quirk, OpEd, The Capital Times (WI)

Ah, marijuana. The "wicked weed" of the '60s is in the news again. This time, despite previous studies showing otherwise, the Food and Drug Administration said this past week that it does not support the use of marijuana for medical purposes.


The FDA stated it had "concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use."

Meanwhile, a number of states have passed legislation allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. The FDA reiterates that "these measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process." According to an AOL News source, this latest proclamation contradicts a 1999 finding from the Institute of Medicine, which reported "marijuana's active components are potentially effective in treating pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting and other symptoms, and should be tested rigorously in clinical trials."

Well, like other "discussions" about marijuana, this most recent statement is not without its critics. Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, retaliated with a statement: "If anybody needed proof that the FDA has become totally politicized, this is it. This isn't a scientific statement; it's a political statement."

Mirken charges that Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., asked the FDA to make this latest statement saying that Souder is a "rabid congressional opponent of medical marijuana."

Souder, who is the chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on drug policy, has said the promotion of medical marijuana is "simply a red herring for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use." Souder states, "Studies have continually rejected the notion that marijuana is suitable for medical use because it adversely impacts concentration and memory, the lungs, motor coordination and the immune system."

The FDA notes: There is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful and that there are FDA-approved therapeutic alternatives for many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana.

Mirken responded, "There is abundant evidence that marijuana can help cancer patients, multiple sclerosis patients and AIDS patients. There is no scientific doubt that marijuana relieves nausea, vomiting, certain kinds of pain and other symptoms that don't respond well to conventional drugs, and does it more safely than other drugs."

Mirken concludes by saying, "For the FDA to ignore all that evidence is embarrassing. They should be red-faced."

Well, I don't have any personal dogs in this race, but if I did, my money would be on Mr. Mirken. There is more than anecdotal evidence that marijuana is therapeutic in many instances where FDA-approved drugs have either failed to bring the relief or where the side effects are so serious as to render the drug ineffective.

My pharmaceutical reference books are full of FDA-approved drugs whose side effects are far more noxious than marijuana. Many of those are also habit forming. I have been in the field enough to recognize addictions to seemingly safe drugs such as Darvon, to say nothing of the highly prized OxyContin.

It is not a question about a substance being potentially addictive. That can be said about almost any drug. Then, what is it about?

I've become a bit cynical these past few years and I question the motives of large government agencies bullying everybody to please the opinions of a few. Now, I don't know Rep. Mark Souder, even if he is from my home state of Indiana. But I would want to know for sure that he is not, or his colleagues are not, in the pocket of either the pharmaceutical companies, or is beholden to a group whose self-righteous attitudes would see sin in the smoke of a therapeutic cigarette.

I have seen people suffer unnecessarily and denying them comfort, at whatever level, because of a technicality had better not be a political call.

Barbara Quirk is a geriatric nurse practitioner.

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