“The US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) position on medical cannabis is incorrect, dishonest and a flagrant violation of laws requiring the government to base policy on sound science,” claims Joe Elford, Chief Counsel for patient advocacy group. The organisation, the largest of its type in the US promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research, has filed a lawsuit demanding that the federal government “cease issuing misinformation on medical cannabis and correct the information it has released.”
There is growing evidence that the active ingredient in cannabis (THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol) can alleviate the often debilitating pain suffered by those afflicted with multiple sclerosis (MS) and HIV/AIDS. However, given the drug’s illicit status in most countries many governments have not acceded to its free use as a therapeutic agent nor encouraged systematic research and clinical trials to demonstrate efficacy or otherwise. Moreover, the ASA suggests that the US government is stifling valid research and spreading disinformation about the benefits.
The pharmacological action of THC results from the compound binding to the so-called cannabinoid receptor CB1, in the brain. The presence of this specialized receptor suggests that there are natural THC-like (cannabinoid) compounds made or used in the body. THC has been repeatedly demonstrated to have analgesic effects but the “high” associated with its use have precluded it from mainstream medical research. Several research teams are, however, investigating variations on the THC theme that retain the analgesic properties but do not produce a high. Such a product would be more acceptable to the pharmaceutical industry and the regulatory authorities, but requires a lot of work with the native compound to help scientists work out what chemical factor leads to the high and which part produces just the analgesic effect.
Fellow blogger “Joe” discusses many of the issues in more detail. He points out that since the 1980s the FDA has actually approved Marinol, a synthetic THC analogue for pain in cancer. But, the conflicting response of successive Bush adminstrations (viz the first Bush administration, in the early 1990s cancelled a compassionate use program and in the late 1990s, the Office of National Drug Control Policy threatened action against physicians who recommend or prescribe marijuana. California doctors and patients subsequently sued the federal government.
Opponents of medical marijuana use cite apocryphal evidence that it is a gateway drug to harder substances. However, one must consider the plight of terminally ill patients who seek relief from intolerable pain and suffering. Ironically, many terminally ill patients do indeed end up using much harder drugs in the end. Diamorphine? Heroin by another name.