FDA fails to ease the pain

April 24, 2006

EDITORIAL, The Tennessean

The Food and Drug Administration under the Bush administration is no stranger to mixing science with politics, but the debate over the use of marijuana for medical purposes is unnecessarily cruel.

FDA officials refused support last week for using marijuana to treat some of the more pernicious effects of cancer and AIDs treatment. Several states have passed laws that would allow patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Yet, the FDA concluded that states do not have the "rigorous" scientific scrutiny to make a determination about the use of the drug.

The FDA apparently isn't following "rigorous scrutiny" either. The National Academy of Sciences' own Institute of Medicine said in 1999 that marijuana had been shown to greatly aid patients in treating the nausea and pain of cancer and AIDS.

FDA claims the medical marijuana push is part of a drive to legalize marijuana. That debate shouldn't concern FDA. Officials can fight that fight another day. The agency's only obligation is to see that the drug can be safely administered to ease the suffering of millions.

Marijuana isn't the first place the FDA has injected politics into medicine. The inaction of the FDA in deciding whether the morning-after pill can be sold without a prescription demeans a wealth of scientific data. Opponents say the pill is tantamount to abortion when it is meant to avoid pregnancy from occurring.

Pain from cancer and other life-threatening ailments can be agonizing. Of course, not every patient responds to marijuana, but not every patient responds to any one drug. Doctors need wide leeway to find what works for individual patients. Ideally, marijuana would be prescribed the same way other controlled substances are prescribed.

If the FDA wants to make a case, let it do pilot programs and make a better argument than bashing pot-smokers. People suffering from serious illnesses want relief, not fun. Their government should be able to provide it.

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