In a position paper, a leading American medical association has endorsed the medicinal use of marijuana, called for more studies of its medical uses, and urged the US government to get out of the way. The position paper from the American College of Physicians was released last Friday after being approved by the group's governing body.
The college pointed to strong evidence that marijuana has proven useful in treating AIDS wasting syndrome, glaucoma, and the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy treatments. The college also noted that there is anecdotal evidence for many other medical uses of marijuana, but that research had been stymied by "a complicated federal approval process, limited availability of research grade marijuana, and the debate over legalization." The science of medical marijuana should not be "hindered or obscured" by the controversy over legalizing the plant for personal, non-medical use, the group said.
"This is a historic statement by one of the world's most respected physician groups, and shows the growing scientific consensus that marijuana is a safe, effective medicine for some patients, including many battling life-threatening illnesses like cancer and AIDS," said former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders in a press release from the Marijuana Policy Project. "Large medical associations move cautiously, and for the American College of Physicians to note 'a clear discord' between scientific opinion and government policy on medical marijuana is a stinging rebuke to our government. It's time for politicians and bureaucrats to get out of the way of good medicine and solid research."
"This statement by the American College of Physicians recognizes what clinicians and researchers have been seeing for years, that for some patients medical marijuana works when conventional drugs fail," said Dr. Michael Saag, director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. "One of the challenges in HIV/AIDS treatment is helping patients to adhere to drug regimens that may cause nausea and other noxious side effects. The relief of these side effects that marijuana provides can help patients stay on life-extending therapies."
"This statement by America's second largest doctors' group demolishes the myth that the medical community doesn't support medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "The ACP's statement smashes a number of other myths, including the claims that adequate substitutes are available or that marijuana is unsafe for medical use. 124,000 doctors have just said what our government refuses to hear, that it makes no medical or moral sense to arrest the sick and suffering for using medical marijuana."
While the ACP position paper consists of 13 closely reasoned pages, the group summarizes its medical marijuana positions thusly:
Position 1: ACP supports programs and funding for rigorous scientific evaluation of the potential therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana and the publication of such findings.
Position 1a: ACP supports increased research for conditions where the efficacy of marijuana has been established to determine optimal dosage and route of delivery.
Position 1b: Medical marijuana research should not only focus on determining drug efficacy and safety but also on determining efficacy in comparison with other available treatments.
Position 2: ACP encourages the use of non-smoked forms of THC that have proven therapeutic value.
Position 3: ACP supports the current process for obtaining federal research-grade cannabis.
Position 4: ACP urges review of marijuana's status as a schedule I controlled substance and its reclassification into a more appropriate schedule, given the scientific evidence regarding marijuana's safety and efficacy in some clinical conditions.
Position 5: ACP strongly supports exemption from federal criminal prosecution; civil liability; or professional sanctioning, such as loss of licensure or credentialing, for physicians who prescribe or dispense medical marijuana in accordance with state law.
Similarly, ACP strongly urges protection from criminal or civil penalties for patients who use medical marijuana as permitted under state laws.
"The richness of modern medicine is to carefully evaluate new treatments. Marijuana has been in a special category because of, I suppose, its abuses and other concerns," Dr. David Dale, the group's president and a University of Washington professor of medicine, told Reuters in a phone interview.
An uncharacteristically terse David Murray, chief scientist for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, could only appeal to science in an interview with Reuters. "The science should be kept open. There should be more research. We should continue to investigate," he said.
Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML had a few nits to pick with the ACP's statement, but approved overall. "This is an important step," he said. "But when they say they support the existing federal supply system, it suggests they are unaware of all the systematic blockage of independent research caused by the NIDA monopoly and DEA interference."
Similarly, said Gieringer, while government licensing and regulation of medical marijuana makes sense, that doesn't mean we have to maintain the existing NIDA monopoly. "It just doesn't make sense to do that," he said.
Where Gieringer was pleasantly surprised was with the ACP's call to end the criminal persecution of medical marijuana patients, providers, and doctors. "They came out really forcefully against criminalization," he noted. "That's very impressive. No one else has been willing to address that. All of these apologists for the government run around saying you can't have unregulated medical marijuana, but that doesn't mean you need to throw patients and doctors in jail."
The medical community's embrace of medical marijuana has been timid and hesitant, with a number of important organizations, including the American Medical Association, lagging behind. This policy statement by the nation's second largest medical association should give that process an important boost.