PHILADELPHIA – In a move it hopes will spur research into medical uses of marijuana, the nation’s second-largest physicians group is calling on the government to ease criminal penalties for doctors who study and recommend the plant, and patients who smoke it.
The American College of Physicians says several nonmedical factors – a fierce battle over legalization of the drug, a complicated approval process, and limited availability of research-grade marijuana – has hobbled scientists from looking into its full benefits.
“A clear discord exists between the scientific community and federal legal and regulatory agencies over the medicinal value of marijuana, which impedes the expansion of research,” the Philadelphia-based organization states in a 13-page policy paper.
A White House official dismissed the report as a “political act” that contained no new science, and noted that other doctors organizations think differently.
Researchers generally agree that there is some medicinal benefit to the drug. The policy paper reviews evidence that its psychoactive ingredient – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – is useful for the treatment of glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, nausea and pain. But the report also argues that marijuana in its raw form may be helpful in ways that THC alone is not.
The paper was three years in coming, and the organization knew it would be controversial, said its president, David C. Dale, a Seattle internist and professor at the University of Washington.
“In terms of advocating for the public good and the good of medicine, this was the right thing to do,” he said.
“We recognize that this is a drug that may be able to help and harm,” he said, noting that medicines often work at that interface. “But the prejudices of the past shouldn’t limit research into the good it can do.”
To encourage study, the college wants the federal government to downgrade the drug from its status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance – the same as heroin, crystal meth, LSD, and other drugs with no clear medicinal value.