Monday, April 24, 2006

Medical MJ at the FDA

I am very hesitant to step into the MJ wars, hoping to stay neutral as long as possible. That's mostly out of ignorance. I have a significant level of skepticism about the "reefer madness" sorts of statements, but I am still a bit cautious about claims that MJ will solve all our problems. Both sides of the argument seem a bit extreme to me right now. But the primary reason for my "neutrality" is that I simply don't know enough to have a valid opinion one way or another.

On the other hand, I'm open to a bit of laissez faire from the government. Let's not get our skirts all ruffled if folks want to look at the possibilities to be found in MJ. There are far worse things that people could be doing besides sitting around with the munchies.

My thoughts have been turned to the issues, however, thanks to a post at TalkLeft, a (surprise) leftish blog on "The Politics of Crime." TChris writes, in "The FDA Shames Itself Again,"
The FDA's recent claim that marijuana has no medical benefit is a triumph of politics over science, of turf protection over compassion.

The issue arises from the April 20 "interagency advisory" on smoked marijuana for medical purposes issued by the FDA. The money quote is in this paragraph (emphasis added).

Marijuana is listed in schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the most restrictive schedule. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which administers the CSA, continues to support that placement and FDA concurred because marijuana met the three criteria for placement in Schedule I under 21 U.S.C. 812(b)(1) (e.g., marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision). Furthermore, there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful. A past evaluation by several Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use. There are alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana.

I can see the triumph of politics over science in the "advisory" that the New York Times complained about. Reading between the lines, however, I am less willing to blame the politics on the FDA than on the administration. The FDA, after all, did manage to overcome administration and congressional pressure on the efficacy of condoms. The same, perhaps even greater, pressure is being applied on the matter of marijuana. Without the additional research on marijuana that was available on condoms, the FDA is left in this situation with nothing to say except the bare facts: there isn't enough research yet, the drug approval process requires such research, there are some alternatives available.

Rather than toss word bombs at the FDA, it might be more productive to campaign for more research. Write to Congress, hammer the press, do the things that can lead to change. If marijuana has medical value--and it may--that will show up in the research. There is public support for the legalization of marijuana for medical use. I wouldn't be surprised to see the same or higher support for the research to prove the effectiveness of such use. It's time for elected officials to get out of the way.

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