A government-sponsored study published recently in The Open Neurology Journal concludes that marijuana provides much-needed relief to some chronic pain sufferers and that more clinical trials are desperately needed, utterly destroying the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) classification of the drug as having no medical uses.
While numerous prior studies have shown marijuana’s usefulness for a host of medical conditions, none have ever gone directly at the DEA’s placement of marijuana atop the schedule of controlled substances. This study, sponsored by the State of California and conducted at the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, does precisely that, driving a stake into the heart of America’s continued war on marijuana users by calling the Schedule I placement simply “not accurate” and “not tenable.”
“In fact, it is hostile to science,” he said. “And despite the Obama Administration’s well publicized 2009 memo stating, ‘Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration,’ there is little to no evidence indicating that the federal government’s ‘See no evil; hear no evil’ approach to cannabis policy is not changing any time soon.”
Schedule I is supposedly reserved for the most inebriating substances that the DEA believes have no medical value, including LSD, ecstasy, peyote and heroin.* As the DEA describes it: “Drugs listed in schedule I have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and, therefore, may not be prescribed, administered, or dispensed for medical use. In contrast, drugs listed in schedules II-V have some accepted medical use and may be prescribed, administered, or dispensed for medical use.”
And that’s the problem, the study’s authors portend.
“The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as well as the continuing controversy as to whether or not cannabis is of medical value are obstacles to medical progress in this area,” they wrote. “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking. It is true cannabis has some abuse potential, but its profile more closely resembles drugs in Schedule III (where codeine and dronabinol are listed). The continuing conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology will hopefully be reconciled in a judicious manner.”
They add that their evidence showed marijuana reliably reduced chronic neuropathic pain and muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis versus trials where a placebo was used. They also specifically tested marijuana’s effects when smoked, calling the delivery method “rapid and efficient” but noting that vaporization is a better choice because it produces less carbon monoxide.
The study adds that, like all medicines, there are negative side effects associated with marijuana, such as dizziness, fatigue, lightheadedness, muscle weakness and pain and heart palpitations — all of which can pose a risk in some chronic pain patients with co-occurring conditions like cardiovascular disease or substance abuse disorders. However, they call these side effects “dose-related” and “of mild to moderate severity,” adding that they “appear to decline over time, and are reported less frequently in experienced than in naïve users.” Researchers also noted that “fatal overdose with cannabis alone has not been reported.”
Authors additionally found that marijuana does cause withdrawal symptoms within 12 hours of use, noting the symptoms are mild in experienced users and typically abate within 72 hours. They added that ingesting marijuana “can acutely impair skills required to drive motor vehicles,” but noted that the data on marijuana and traffic accidents is “inconclusive.”
Ultimately, they concluded that more clinical trials are needed to determine which individual components of the marijuana plant are causing the medicinal effects, and whether the plant can be used to treat a host of other ailments.
“Medical marijuana is mostly used for chronic pain, and has enabled countless patients to either reduce or eliminate their pharmaceutical drug regimen,” Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the nation’s leading medical marijuana advocacy groups, told Raw Story. “However, it can also be used for: arthritis, nausea or as an appetite stimulant for people living with HIV/AIDS or cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and movement disorders (not just for people with multiple sclerosis). That is only a sampling of health conditions for which cannabis has been found helpful in alleviating symptoms. Other health conditions include: [post-traumatic stress disorder], [attention deficit disorder], [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and other mental health conditions, glaucoma, and migraines.”
In hopes of forcing recognition of marijuana’s medical value, ASA sued the federal government last year after a long-running appeal for the reclassification of marijuana was shot down nearly a decade after it was filed. That case should go before the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit later this year.
“The federal government’s strategy has been delay, delay, delay,” ASA chief counsel Joe Elford said in an advisory. “It is far past time for the government to answer our rescheduling petition, but unfortunately we’ve been forced to go to court in order to get resolution.”
“Reform advocates can and should use this study to show their congressional representatives that our country’s leading medical marijuana researchers agree that it should be reclassified,” Hermes added. “…This certainly should also have a bearing on the D.C. Circuit’s deliberations in the appeal of the rescheduling petition denial.”
Medical marijuana is currently legal in just 17 states and Washington, D.C.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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