National Cancer Institute Says Marijuana Is a Cancer-Fighter, Then Backpedals

March 29, 2011

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

So you think the federal government prevaricates over what to do in Libya? As mixed as many of the government's messages are, the feds really can't take a solid stance when it comes to marijuana.

Earlier this month,

gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional'>the National Cancer Institute bowed to a burgeoning legion of studies suggesting that one of the chemical compounds in cannabis slows -- or even stops -- uncontrolled cell growth. In one study, tumors in lab mice shrank once they were exposed to the compound CBD. The NCI updated its Web site accordingly, including a reference to a "possible direct antitumor effect" from pot.

But sometime since, the reference was removed, much to pot advocates' disgust.

The original passage read, "In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis, not only for symptom management, but also for its possible direct antitumor effect."

Sometime on Monday, pot advocates noticed this passage had been changed, removing all references to the antitumor effect. What was even more disturbing was the new message that had been put in its place, which stated: "Though no relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients who prescribe medicinal cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management."

Cannabis advocates were not happy. "The backpedaling has begun," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, which noticed the change. "Apparently, politics speak louder than science."

E-mails to the National Cancer Institute's press office were not immediately returned.

Any number of government agencies could be behind the NCI fix, though the change could also resulted from a request within the the agency, Hermes said.

Sunil Aggarwal, a member of ASA's Scientific and Meidcal Advisory Committee, first noticed the NCI's shifting message on Monday, Hermes said.

This is consistent with government's inconsistency. Marijuana has been a dangerous illegal drug since the 1970s, when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act. It's been viewed as that wild hemp, planted with government approval during World War II, and proliferated, then and now, across the country's heartland.

Yet for the past 30 years, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has mailed 11 ounces of pot -- in tightly rolled joints -- to participants in its Investigational New Drug program.

On the positive side, the NCI's information on cannabis does note several salient facts that American marijuana advocates have tried to get the government to acknowledge for a generation: that the plant has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years prior to becoming illegal. Also, the compounds in pot activate specific receptors in the human body "to produce pharmacologic effects," and that the plant "may" be effective in combating the side effects of cancer treatment.

In an odd twist, on the same day this news broke, everybody's favorite daytime television MD, Mehmet Oz, dedicated his show Tuesday to medical marijuana.

Among the highlights: Oz asking Montel Williams, a medical pot user (and a black man), "What's it like to feel like a criminal?" Williams, a military veteran, broke down in tears as he reflected on the fact that the same government that mails pot to people "doesn't want me to live pain free."

Us? We don't even know what to think anymore.



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