Medical Marijuana: FDA Rejecting Marijuana as Medicine Draws Scientific Criticism 4/21/06

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In a statement Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the use of smoked marijuana as a medicine, saying "no sound scientific studies" supported its use. The FDA's "inter-agency advisory" directly contradicts the findings of the highly-regarded 1999 National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine's review of the subject, "Marijuana and Medicine."

FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro told the New York Times Thursday the agency issued the statement in response to inquiries from Capitol Hill. Congressional arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) two years ago filed a bill that would have forced the FDA to issue an opinion.

Souder is a fervent opponent of medical marijuana. A Souder spokesman, Martin Green, told the Times Souder believes medical marijuana is a front to get marijuana legalized.

John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is also a medical marijuana opponent. His spokesman, Tom Riley, said the drug czar hoped the FDA position statement would put an end to "the bizarre public discussion" that has led 11 states to legalize and regulate its use.

But "bizarre" might be more aptly applied to the FDA finding, if the scientists involved with the Institute of Medicine report are right. It found marijuana "moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting" and potential for more applications.

The Times talked to Dr. John Benson, who co-chaired the IOM committee that studied medical marijuana. He said bluntly that the FDA was wrong. The federal government "loves to ignore our report," said Benson. "They would rather it never happened."

Other scientists were equally skeptical. "Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the FDA making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science," said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical professor at Harvard Medical School.

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Issue #432 -- 4/21/06

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