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U.N. Urges Marijuana Study

A U.N. report recommends ending the politicized debate over using marijuana for medical needs by conducting in-depth and impartial scientific research into its possible benefits for some patients.

The report, released Tuesday by the International Drug Control Board, doesn't call for the legalization of marijuana or advocate loosening controls over its use, said board member Herbert S. Okun of the United States.

It calls instead for serious research in the public and private sector to determine whether there are medicinal benefits to marijuana.

Only scientific evidence can end the current debate which is "characterized by ignorance, by emotion, by propaganda on all sides -- or at least certainly on the extremes of both sides," Okun told a news conference Monday to launch the report.

The recommendation is highlighted in the annual report of the Vienna-based board, which is a 13-member, quasi-judicial organization overseeing U.N. drug treaties.

Among the other findings, the report said Europeans are the world's top users of stress-reducing drugs, while Americans hold the record for consuming the most performance-enhancing substances.

While the reasons for such a disparity weren't known, Okun said it may lie in cultural, lifestyle and other forces.

The aging European population has access to more extensive health care systems, which may be more willing to prescribe drugs to reduce aches and pains, he noted.

The high use of performance-enhancing drugs in the Americas may be at least partly explained by the prevalent sense of competition there, the report indicated.

In particular, Okun said the board was concerned about over-prescription in the United States of methylphenidate, sold as the drug Ritalin, to treat children with attention deficit disorder.

American patients are consuming 330 million daily doses of the substance compared to 65 million for patients in the rest of the world, the report found.

The agency also warned that more and more North Americans are smoking heroin and said Europe has emerged as a producer of cannabis and synthetic drugs. Cannabis continues to be the most commonly abused drug in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The report expressed concern about the prevalence of do-it-yourself guides on the Internet, which teach users how to prepare certain illegal substances.

And it repeated its concern that painkillers such as morphine are increasingly hard to come by in the developing world, though they are widely available in the industrialized world -- about 100 times more available in the world's top 20 industrialized countries than in the bottom 20.

The board, whose mission is to ensure the legal availability of drugs for medical purposes, is launching a campaign called "Freedom From Pain" to make such drugs more available in the developing world.

Written By Nicole Winfield

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