Experts urge new study of medical uses of marijuana
February 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:35 p.m. EDT
In this story:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The smoke still hasn't cleared in the
debate over the medical use of marijuana, but a prestigious
panel of experts said Thursday there is promising evidence
that smoking pot may ease the suffering of some seriously ill
After a two-day meeting sponsored by the National
Institutes of Health, the chairman of an eight-member panel
of specialists suggested that some new studies should be
"I'd say that for at least some of the potential
indications, we feel that it looks promising enough to
recommend that there would be some new controlled studies
done," Dr. William Beaver, a professor of pharmacology at
Georgetown University, told a news conference.
The news briefing was interrupted repeatedly by pro-marijuana
The panel concluded that while marijuana smoking may help
some patients deal with cancer, AIDS or glaucoma, there is
little hard scientific evidence.
Although a final committee report is not complete, "the
general mood was that for some indications, there is a
rationale for looking further into the therapeutic effects of
marijuana," Beaver said.
Another panel member, eye specialist Dr. Paul Palmberg of
the University of Miami School of Medicine, said that in at
least one of his patients, smoking marijuana had been an
effective treatment for glaucoma some years ago.
"(Marijuana) is definitely effective for some patients in
which nothing else worked eight or 10 years ago, (but) that
may not be the case now ... it needs to be looked at again,"
Dr. Alan Leshner, head of the National Institute of Drug
Abuse, organized the meeting after California and Arizona
enacted state laws that allow medical uses of marijuana.
Under U.S. law, marijuana is illegal and has no approved
Leshner said NIH would finance medical marijuana studies, if
proposed research is approved by the agency's peer-review
The panel's findings didn't appease those who advocate
immediate legalization of marijuana for medical uses.
The news conference was interrupted four times by ACT
UP, the AIDS activist group, and members of the Marijuana
"This is a stall tactic," said Steve Michael of ACT UP. "We
don't believe you. We don't trust you. This is political
science pure and simple."
Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project held up a set of
handcuffs as a symbol of "the government's health care plan"
for patients who seek prescriptions for marijuana.
After smoldering for years, the debate over medical marijuana
heated up last year after the votes in California and
Arizona. However, given the federal law against its use, the
Clinton administration warned that doctors prescribing the
drug would be punished.
But the White House did ask NIH to see if marijuana, when
smoked, has any medical benefit.
"The major problem here is getting good, scientific data.
That is the bedrock of the whole enterprise," Beaver said.
Marijuana's active ingredient, a compound called delta-9
tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, exists in pill form. But
proponents of the drug say it's much more effective when
smoked, because that way patients can control the dosage.
Marijuana has been widely touted as a treatment for the
drastic weight loss associated with AIDS and for reducing the
nausea caused by chemotherapy.
"Three years ago, I lost 40 pounds due to AIDS wasting
syndrome," AIDS patient Kiyoshi Kuromiya said. "I since
regained that 40 pounds thanks to smoked marijuana."
Panelist Dr. Kenneth Johnson of the University of Maryland
Hospital said it's possible that smoked marijuana helps to
control some multiple sclerosis symptoms. But there have been
no comprehensive studies, he said.
The panel's final report is due out in about a month.
Correspondent Jeff Levine and Reuters contributed to this report.
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