A D.C. Circuit Court agrees with the Drug Enforcement Administration that there is “no currently accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States.” The ruling, which is in response to a case filed by various non-profit groups working to get marijuana reclassified in the U.S. as a medical drug, came after the initial filing with the DEA in 2002. The DEA rejected the petition in 2011, and the court has upheld the rejection.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it’s considered dangerous with a high risk of addiction, and has no known medical use, which means that doctors aren’t supposed to be able to prescribe it to patients. However, 18 states in the U.S. currently do allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes. While the FDA has not approved marijuana for medicinal purposes, there are many doctors and hundreds upon hundreds of patients who find, at minimum, relief from symptoms of a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, fibromyalgia, and even AIDS.
In 2011, PBS Newshour explored some of the benefits that patients have experienced using marijuana, including an epilepsy patient in Montana who used to take a cocktail of 14 drugs per day, and still have 12 seizures each day. When she moved to Montana and started using marijuana, she stopped having to take that cocktail of drugs to control her seizures.
However, addiction and pain specialist Dr. Eric Voth, another guest on the show, mentioned that what’s happening is that patients are self-treating with voter-approved plants, instead of plants or medicines that are FDA-approved. He considers that to be a major problem. Voth is a member of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, and finds the idea that a patient would find such a fantastic benefit from one “recreational” drug, when 14 FDA-approved drugs didn’t work, to be suspect.
Other doctors on the show mentioned promising research in treating muscle spasms, and also that marijuana contains anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories, and may contain anti-cancer compounds also.
There have been studies done on some of the treatment properties of marijuana, including both animal and human studies, according to the National Cancer Institute. In a report on their site, studies using cannabinoids on mice with liver cancer and colon cancer suggested that certain cannabinoids found in marijuana can slow down the growth of cancer cells, and even protect healthy tissues from cancer invasion. Furthermore, cannabinoids were also shown to contribute to pain relief in two different ways (anti-inflammatory and by blocking pain signals).
What’s interesting is that synthetic derivatives of the delta-9-THC compound have been approved for use as anti-nausea drugs for cancer patients on chemotherapy, and were so effective in a study of 1366 patients, in fact, that the National Comprehensive Cancer Center Guidelines has made recommendations that cannabinoids in general be used to treat nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy.
Also, back in the 1980s, inhaled marijuana was shown not only to increase appetites, but also to increase caloric intake as a result. There’s also more than mere anecdotal evidence pointing to marijuana as a way to manage pain.
There aren’t currently any clinical trials involving marijuana going on as far as the National Cancer Institute is reporting, however, there is substantial evidence, both in studies and that is anecdotal, that marijuana does have substantial medical uses. Furthermore, while the court may believe that there are no officially accepted medical uses for marijuana, that does not mean that there are no accepted medical uses period. Doctors in 18 states prescribe it for treatment of a wide variety of symptoms and side effects for a reason.
In response to the ruling, Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, said, “To deny that sufficient evidence is lacking on the medical efficacy of marijuana is to ignore a mountain of well-documented studies that conclude otherwise.” And he’s right.
The government, however, requires Stage II and Stage III clinical trials that demonstrate a drug is effective at treating what it’s supposed to treat, but there are, as mentioned earlier, many well-documented, peer-reviewed studies that should meet that criteria. However, it seems clear that nobody who has the authority to reclassify marijuana is willing to accept all the evidence that’s out there thus far.
Americans for Safe Access, the group that filed with the D.C. Circuit regarding the DEA’s denial of their petition, intends to file an appeal, and will take the case to the Supreme Court, if necessary.