Research Leaves No Cloud In Medical Pot Debate

October 17, 2007

Paul Armentano, Hawaii Reporter

As the author of the recent publication, “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Scientific Literature,” I take umbrage with those politicians and law enforcement officials who argue, "Smoked marijuana is not medicine." This allegation -- most recently asserted on the DEA's new website - -- is false, plain and simple.

While writing the abovementioned booklet, I reviewed over 150 clinical and preclinical studies assessing the therapeutic value of cannabis and its active compounds to treat symptoms -- and in some cases moderate disease progression -- in a variety of illness, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Nearly all of the studies cited in my work were published within the past six years.

Additional scientific studies are being published in peer-reviewed journals everyday. For example, a recent review by investigators at the National Institutes of Health (“The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy,” Pharmacology Today) reported that compounds in pot “hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions,” including movement disorders, mental disorders, and cardiovascular disorders.

This February, investigators at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of California’s Pain Clinical Research Center assessed the efficacy of inhaled cannabis as a treatment for HIV-associated sensory neuropathy. (Neuropathic pain – colloquially known as ‘nerve pain’ – affects an estimated one percent of the world’s population and is typically unresponsive to both opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.)

Writing in the journal Neurology, researchers reported that patients who smoked low-grade cannabis three times daily experienced, on average, a 34 percent reduction in pain.

Investigators at Columbia University in New York published clinical trial data in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes this summer that concluded, “Smoked marijuana ... has a clear medical benefit in HIV-positive [patients] by increasing food intake and improving mood and objective and subjective sleep measures.”

Researchers in the study compared the efficacy of inhaled cannabis to the Marinol -- a synthetic THC pill lauded by the DEA and many critics of medical marijuana -- but reported that the prescription pill was far less effective. In fact, patients in the study required eight times the daily recommended dose of Marinol to achieve the same therapeutic benefits provided by just a few puffs of weed, researchers reported.

Finally, last month an investigative team from Trinity College in Ireland proclaimed in the British Journal of Pharamcology that pot-based therapies may offer greater hopes for staving off Alzheimer’s disease than do existing pharmaceutical therapies (“Alzheimer’s disease: taking the edge off with cannabinoids?”).

Researchers wrote, “Cannabinoids offer a multi-faceted approach for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease by providing neuroprotection and reducing neuroinflammation, whilst simultaneously supporting the brain's intrinsic repair mechanisms by augmenting neurotrophin expression and enhancing neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells).”

Can the Drug Enforcement Administration please name another plant with the power to achieve all this?

Finally, unlike most politicians and law enforcement officials, I frequently interact with medical marijuana patients. Many of them write to me daily, as do their physicians. Often they tell me stories like this:

"I was recently diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor inside the left the temporal lobe of my brain. I had surgery, and I've just started chemotherapy and radiation. The surgeon actually apologized for the fact that he could not write me a prescription for marijuana, but he told me it was safe to smoke. My prescriptions make me very dizzy and nauseous and I have ever-present headaches that top any of the worst hangover headaches anyone could possibly have. My brain is still so badly swollen. The swelling has actually gotten worse and is exacerbated by the radiation. Marijuana is saving my life right now; it has helped to kill my seizures, nausea, dizziness, and calm my headaches. If marijuana can help me with all my other problems in addition to possibly reducing the size of my tumor and extending my life, then why on earth would our government not allow me to have it?"

Why indeed? Perhaps it's time for the DEA to "just think twice."

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. He is the author of “Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Scientific Literature” (2007, NORML Foundation), which may be accessed online may be contacted via email

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