The review of more than 10,000 scientific abstracts is entitled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.”The report did not find clinical evidence for all conditions with which marijuana treatment is often associated. But it recognizes the efficacy of cannabis for treating many medical conditions such as “chronic pain in adults…chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.”
The report criticized longstanding federal regulatory barriers to marijuana research. In particular, “the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance” under federal law was sharply rebuked. Marijuana’s federal Schedule I classification prevents its fully legal use as medicine.
“This report is vindication for all the many researchers, patients and healthcare providers who have long understood the benefits of medical marijuana,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “To have such a thorough review of the evidence conclude that there are benefits to medical marijuana should boost the case for federal reform. It also underlines how out of touch the DEA and other marijuana reform opponents are when they claim otherwise.”
Strong RebukeThe report is skeptical of marijuana’s benefit as medicine in treating some conditions, such as cancer. Nonetheless, the report, “a comprehensive review of the current evidence regarding the health effects of using cannabis and cannabis-derived products,” is a strong rebuke to many of those who have denied that csnnabis can be used as medicine.
It also found evidence that suggests “smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for cancers often associated with tobacco use – such as lung and head and neck cancers.”
Last summer, the DEA announced that it would not reschedule marijuana to allows its use as medicine. The NAS report notes that “There are specific regulatory barriers, including the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance, that impede the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research.”
Sessions Wishy-WashyJust this week, President-elect Trump’s candidate for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, was asked at his nomination hearing about what he would do about medical marijuana patients who are following state law but violating federal law. Sessions gave a wishy-washy answer, acknowledging the Department of Justice’s limited resources but ominously saying, “I won’t commit to not enforcing federal law.”
Medical marijuana amendments routinely passed the Republican-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee over the past three years. An amendment to end federal marijuana prohibition outright failed by just nine votes last year in the House.
The uncertainty over marijuana, especially as medicine, and how the Trump administration will approach the issue is expected to drive efforts at reform in Congress. Advocates anticipate the reintroduction of the CARERS Act, a bill that would let states set their own medical marijuana policy without federal interference, and would remove many research barriers.
Authors of the report also addressed various aspects of marijuana’s effect on health and safety. They acknowledged that the herb may pose certain potential risks for adolescents, pregnant women, and for those who may be driving shortly after ingesting cannabis. In each of these cases, these risks may be mitigated via marijuana regulation and the imposition of age restrictions in the marketplace.
‘This Evidence Has Been Available For Some Time’“The National Academy of Sciences’ conclusions that marijuana possesses established therapeutic utility for certain patients and that it possesses an acceptable safety profile when compared to those of other medications or recreational intoxicants are not surprising,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “This evidence has been available for some time, yet for decades marijuana policy in this country has largely been driven by rhetoric and emotion, not science and evidence.
“A search on PubMed, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, using the term ‘marijuana’ yields over 24,000 scientific papers referencing the plant or its biologically active constituents — a far greater body of literature than exists for commonly consumed conventional drugs like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or hydrocodone,” Armentano pointed out. “Further, unlike modern pharmaceuticals, cannabis possesses an extensive history of human use dating back thousands of years, thus providing society with ample empirical evidence as to its relative safety and efficacy.
“Today, 29 states and Washington, DC permit physicians to recommend marijuana therapy,” Armentano said. “Some of these state-sanctioned programs have now been in place for nearly two decades. Eight states also permit the regulated use and sale of cannabis by adults.
“At a minimum, we know enough about cannabis, as well as the failures of cannabis prohibition, to regulate its consumption by adults, end its longstanding criminalization, and to remove it from its Schedule I prohibition under federal law,” Armentano said.“These findings clearly undermine the federal government’s decision to classify marijuana under Schedule I, which is reserved for substances with no medical value,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “It confirms that marijuana has several medical benefits and is not nearly as problematic as people are often led to believe. There is no rational or scientific justification for our nation’s current marijuana prohibition policy.”
“The report essentially concludes that marijuana is not harmless, but it is not as harmful as many other products that are regulated for adult use,” Tvert said. “If the researchers conducted a similar study on alcohol, they would conclude that it poses far more harm and provides far fewer medical benefits than marijuana. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and that should be reflected in our nation’s laws.”
According to the report, “There is no or insufficient evidence” linking marijuana use to all-cause mortality (death), deaths from overdose, or occupational accidents or injuries. It also found no substantial evidence of a link between the use of marijuana and the use of other illegal drugs.
The report also does not appear to make any links between marijuana use and violent or aggressive behavior. Several of these findings were also included in the National Academies of Sciences’ previous report on marijuana, which was released in 1999.
The report marks the first time since 1999 that the National Academy of Sciences has addressed issues surrounding medical marijuana and health. Authors reviewed more than 10,000 scientific abstracts in their preparation of the new report.