More Research Needed Before Marijuana Is Safe

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My answer is yes, but a qualified one. Medical marijuana is certainly a complex issue. No one wants to see their loved ones suffer needlessly, and there is a good case to be made that federal law enforcement should focus its limited resources on major drug producers and distributors.

Unfortunately, however, the issue of medical marijuana goes beyond simple compassion. Medicines in the United States are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, not popular vote. So it is troubling that some states have decided to bypass that system in favor of one manipulated by political agendas.

[See our editorial cartoons on healthcare.]

Furthermore, the raw marijuana plant material--itself containing hundreds of unknown components--has not met FDA's standards of safety and efficacy. But that does not mean marijuana has no medicinal value. Indeed, the FDA has determined that some constituents of marijuana do, and they are available today in pill form. Should we stop there? Of course not. Research is also investigating other safe delivery methods for these types of medications, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has granted hundreds of licenses to researchers investigating the possible medical value of components within marijuana. The National Institutes of Health funds a number of these studies. Research into how components of marijuana may affect our brains and bodies is an exciting area of science. But we don't smoke opium to reap the benefits of morphine, nor do we chew willow bark to receive the effects of asprin. Similarly, we should not have to smoke marijuana to get potential therapeutic effects from its components. Could the Feds speed up the approval process for safe, marijuana-based medications and ensure that our scientific resources are adequately allocated as such? Of course they could, and I hope they will.

But medical marijuana as it stands today, in California and many other states, has turned into a sad joke. A recent study found that the average "patient" was a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and no history of a life-threatening disease. Further studies have shown that very few of those who sought a recommendation had cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, or multiple sclerosis. We are also beginning to see a link between medical marijuana and increased drug use in states, according to a few recent, exhaustive studies.

The way to have medical marijuana is to do it right: through the scientific process, not the ballot box.

Kevin Sabet

About Kevin Sabet Former Senior Adviser for Policy to White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director

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