The Blog

Research Leaves No Cloud In Medical Pot Debate

Can the Drug Enforcement Administration please name another plant with the power to achieve all that marijuana can?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

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,
Alzheimer¹s, 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

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
, "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 ("Alzheimer¹s 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
(2007, NORML Foundation) He may be contacted via email