Medical Marijuana

Advocacy Group Files Suit Against U.S. on Denial of Benefits of Medical Marijuana

A lawsuit filed in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California (No. C07-01049) in February names the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as defendants, charging that government regulators have issued “false and misleading statements” about medical benefits of the herb cannabis (Cannabis spp., aka marijuana).1

Americans for Safe Access (ASA; in Oakland, CA, the largest national membership organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research, is challenging the government’s contentions that marijuana “has no currently accepted medical use” and that “no animal or human data support” its safety or efficacy,2 despite what the group’s attorney characterized as “mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary.”1

For example, a just-released study conducted at the Clinical Research Center, San Francisco General Hospital found that smoked marijuana relieved pain of peripheral neuropathy in HIV/AIDS patients.3 Commenting on the results, Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group, called them, “all the more remarkable because researchers … are only allowed to test government-supplied marijuana, which is of notoriously poor quality. There’s every reason to believe results would be even better if scientists were permitted to study a better-quality product.”4

Studies conducted in England, where researchers face fewer restrictions, have found marijuana itself, its constituent compounds (cannabinoids, etc.), and a standardized pharmaceutical preparation have been useful in relieving side effects of cancer chemotherapy, as well as chronic nerve pain, spasticity of multiple sclerosis, and other conditions.5,6,7,8,9

Moreover, regarding the safety of employing smoked-inhaled marijuana, a study recently conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles,10 and reviewed in the recent issue of HerbalGram (#73),11 has found that smoking marijuana does not appear to increase a person’s risk of developing lung, head, or neck cancers. This study, which was based on a survey of 611 Los Angeles residents with lung cancer, 601 with cancer of the head and neck regions, and 1,040 residents without cancer, found that even the heaviest marijuana smokers did not have an elevated risk of developing cancer.10

Meanwhile, in another matter related to medical marijuana, an administrative law judge has recommended that University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Lyle Craker be allowed to grow marijuana for research purposes,12,13 in the latest move in Craker’s six-year quest to break the present government monopoly on producing marijuana for legitimate researchers.2,14 Unless the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) overrules Judge Mary Ellen Bittner’s decision, Lyle Craker and his colleagues may soon provide a high-quality cannabis product for US researchers. If the DEA rejects Bittner’s opinion—and it would not be the first time it has done so where marijuana is concerned—it is possible that another lawsuit might be filed against the agency.

— Mariann Garner-Wizard and Courtney Cavaliere

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