FDA Pans Pot

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The Food and Drug Administration says there is no sound scientific basis for believing marijuana use has medical benefits. Critics assailed the federal agency's position, saying it was based on politics rather than science.

The FDA said it and other agencies with the Health and Human Services Department had "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."

A number of states have passed legislation allowing marijuana use for medical purposes, but the FDA said, "These measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process and are proven safe and effective."

The statement contradicts a 1999 finding from the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, which reported that "marijuana's active components are potentially effective in treating pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting and other symptoms, and should be tested rigorously in clinical trials."

Dr. John Benson, co-chairman of the Institute of Medicine committee that examined marijuana's effects, told the New York Times that the federal government "loves to ignore our report ... They would rather it never happened."

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said Thursday: "If anybody needed proof that the FDA has become totally politicized, this is it. This isn't a scientific statement; it's a political statement."

Mirken said Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., a foe of legalizing the medical use of marijuana, had asked the FDA to make the statement.

Souder, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on drug policy, has said the promotion of medical marijuana "is simply a red herring for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Studies have continually rejected the notion that marijuana is suitable for medical use because it adversely impacts concentration and memory, the lungs, motor coordination and the immune system."

The FDA statement noted "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful." It also said, "There are alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana."

Mirken responded, "There is abundant evidence that marijuana can help cancer patients, multiple sclerosis patients and AIDS patients. There is no scientific doubt that marijuana relieves nausea, vomiting, certain kinds of pain and other symptoms that don't respond well to conventional drugs, and does it more safely than other drugs.

"For the FDA to ignore all that evidence is embarrassing," Mirken said. "They should be red-faced."