(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)
November 19, 1998, Washington, DC: Federal health officials rejected a scientific proposal last week to conduct research on marijuana's effectiveness as a pain reliever in human patients. The denial marked the second straight year National Institute of Health (NIH) officials refused to sponsor human trials regarding marijuana's analgesic potential.
"There remains a remarkable disconnect between Washington bureaucrats who oppose any rational debate on the medical marijuana issue, and those doctors, nurses, and patients who strongly support research and therapeutic access to marijuana," said NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre. "It is disturbing that NIH officials would deny legitimate medical marijuana research only days after voters in seven states overwhelmingly affirmed their support for the use of marijuana as a medicine."
Neurologist Ethan Russo, M.D. of the Western Montana Clinic sought federal permission to compare smoked marijuana to synthetic THC and an injected painkiller in acute migraine treatment. Russo has attempted since 1996 to obtain official clearance to conduct an FDA approved clinical trial evaluating marijuana's therapeutic value on migraine patients. He recently authored an authoritative review of marijuana's history as a treatment for migraine in the peer reviewed journal Pain, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
"I am disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to study this important clinical issue this year," said Russo, who speculated that as many as 10 million migraine sufferers could potentially benefit from inhaled marijuana. "Our bureaucrats seem hopelessly mired in political place. They are ignoring the science, as well as the rising tide of public opinion that is clamoring for clinical studies of cannabis."
In the past year, a growing body of medical evidence has emerged indicating marijuana's effectiveness as a pain reliever. At the 27th Annual Meeting of Neuroscientists, researchers announced, "Substances similar or derived from marijuana... could benefit the more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year." Recent animal studies demonstrate marijuana constituents relieve pain on par with those of opiate-based drugs like morphine. Some researchers maintain that the use of cannabinoids like THC and other chemical compounds found in marijuana do not appear to carry the risk associated with the use of opiates, such as addiction and tolerance.
Russo's latest rejection comes more than one year after a NIH expert panel recommended federal health agencies implement policy changes to expedite medical marijuana research. So far, no visible changes have been made.
"It remains federal officials -- not voters or the medical community -- that continue to thwart the use and study of marijuana as a legal medicine," St. Pierre said. "In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences strongly recommended the federal government to undertake definitive scientific studies to determine marijuana's therapeutic value. It is a morally unconscionable that 15 years later, we are still battling to allow this research to take place."