F.D.A. Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana
New York Times, April 21,
WASHINGTON — The
Food and Drug
said Thursday that "no sound scientific studies" supported
the medical use of marijuana, contradicting a 1999 review by
a panel of highly regarded scientists.
The announcement inserts the
health agency into yet another fierce political fight.
Susan Bro, an agency spokeswoman, said Thursday's statement
resulted from a past combined review by federal drug
enforcement, regulatory and research agencies that concluded
"smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven
medical use in the United States and is not an approved
Ms. Bro said the agency
issued the statement in response to numerous inquiries from
Capitol Hill but would probably do nothing to enforce it.
"Any enforcement based on
this finding would need to be by D.E.A. since this falls
outside of F.D.A.'s regulatory authority," she said.
Eleven states have legalized
medicinal use of marijuana, but the Drug Enforcement
Administration and the director of national drug control
policy, John P. Walters, have opposed those laws.
A Supreme Court decision last
year allowed the federal government to arrest anyone using
marijuana, even for medical purposes and even in states that
have legalized its use.
Congressional opponents and
supporters of medical marijuana use have each tried to
enlist the F.D.A. to support their views. Representative
Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana and a fierce opponent of
medical marijuana initiatives, proposed legislation two
years ago that would have required the food and drug agency
to issue an opinion on the medicinal properties of
Mr. Souder believes that
efforts to legalize medicinal uses of marijuana are a front
for efforts to legalize all uses of it, said Martin Green, a
spokesman for Mr. Souder.
Tom Riley, a spokesman for
Mr. Walters, hailed the food and drug agency's statement,
saying it would put to rest what he called "the bizarre
public discussion" that has led to some legalization of
The Food and Drug
Administration statement directly contradicts a 1999 review
by the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy
of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific
advisory agency. That review found marijuana to be
"moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as
induced nausea and vomiting and
Dr. John Benson, co-chairman
of the Institute of Medicine committee that examined the
research into marijuana's effects, said in an interview that
the statement on Thursday and the combined review by other
agencies were wrong.
The federal government "loves
to ignore our report," said Dr. Benson, a professor of
internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical
Center. "They would rather it never happened."
Some scientists and
legislators said the agency's statement about marijuana
demonstrated that politics had trumped science.
"Unfortunately, this is yet
another example of the F.D.A. making pronouncements that
seem to be driven more by ideology than by science," said
Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical professor at Harvard Medical
Representative Maurice D.
Hinchey, a New York Democrat who has sponsored legislation
to allow medicinal uses of marijuana, said the statement
reflected the influence of the Drug Enforcement
Administration, which he said had long pressured the F.D.A.
to help in its fight against marijuana.
A spokeswoman for the Drug
Enforcement Administration referred questions to Mr.
The Food and Drug Administration's statement said state
initiatives that legalize marijuana use were "inconsistent
with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous
scientific scrutiny of the F.D.A. approval process."
But scientists who study the
medical use of marijuana said in interviews that the federal
government had actively discouraged research. Lyle E.
Craker, a professor in the division of plant and soil
sciences at the University of Massachusetts, said he
submitted an application to the D.E.A. in 2001 to grow a
small patch of marijuana to be used for research because
government-approved marijuana, grown in Mississippi, was of
In 2004, the drug enforcement
agency turned Dr. Craker down. He appealed and is awaiting a
judge's ruling. "The reason there's no good evidence is that
they don't want an honest trial," Dr. Craker said.
Dr. Donald Abrams, a
professor of clinical medicine at the
Francisco, said he had studied marijuana's medicinal effects
for years but had been frustrated because the National
Institutes of Health, the leading government medical
research agency, had refused to finance such work.
With financing from the State
of California, Dr. Abrams undertook what he said was a
rigorous, placebo-controlled trial of marijuana
in H.I.V. patients who suffered from nerve pain. Smoking
marijuana proved effective in ameliorating pain, Dr. Abrams
said, but he said he was having trouble getting the study
"One wonders how anyone"
could fulfill the Food and Drug Administration request for
well-controlled trials to prove marijuana's benefits, he
Marinol, a synthetic version
of a marijuana component, is approved to treat
associated with AIDS and the nausea and vomiting associated
GW Pharmaceutical, a British
company, has received F.D.A. approval to test a sprayed
extract of marijuana in humans. Called Sativex, the drug is
made from marijuana and is approved for sale in Canada.
Opponents of efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal
uses suggest that marijuana is a so-called gateway drug that
often leads users to try more dangerous drugs and to
But the Institute of Medicine
report concluded there was no evidence that marijuana acted
as a gateway to harder drugs. And it said there was no
evidence that medical use of marijuana would increase its
use among the general population.
Dr. Daniele Piomelli, a
professor of pharmacology at the University of California,
Irvine, said he had "never met a scientist who would say
that marijuana is either dangerous or useless."
Studies clearly show that
marijuana has some benefits for some patients, Dr. Piomelli
"We all agree on that," he said.