Medical marijuana: No proven clinical value


In a recent poll conducted for the Miami Herald, 54 percent of the Miami-Dade County respondents said they support legalization of medical marijuana. Trailing not far behind, 46 percent opposed it — a surprisingly high number given the one-sided nature of the well-funded pro-legalization campaign that has dominated local discussion on the issue.

But while the voices of residents and legislators are being heard, one crucial group has been left out of a debate — the scientific community that is assessing marijuana’s efficacy as a medical treatment.

What does this community have to say about marijuana being sold at dispensaries before it is proven effective through the FDA’s drug approval process? According to a recent study by Yale Medical School published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May, there are very real risks associated with treating marijuana as a medical treatment, including structural brain damage, an irreversible lowering of the IQ, respiratory damage and increased risk of psychotic disorders.

Furthermore, the report states “Medical marijuana differs significantly from other prescription medications. Evidence supporting its efficacy relies largely on testimonials instead of adequately powered, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials and in general falls short of the standards required for approval of other drugs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”

Miami-Dade’s residents and legislators invariably hear that marijuana dispensaries are compassionate services for those afflicted by such serious diseases as cancer or HIV/AIDS, for whom it is said no other “medicine” suffices, justifying their use of an intoxicating smoked weed.

However, only 3 percent of those using marijuana dispensaries suffer from cancer or HIV/AIDS, according to a recent RAND study that examined participants in California.

Who actually uses these facilities? Participants in the study found them to be overwhelmingly male (73 percent), substantially unemployed (31 percent), largely reporting “chronic pain” (58 percent) as their medical condition (nearly half of them already having a prescription for opiates), with another 44 percent reporting either a mental or sleep disorder as their reason for needing marijuana.

To date, there is no compelling clinical need for what smoked marijuana purports to do; the medical conditions for which it might be applied are already treated by non-marijuana medicines that have been found safe, effective and without risk of abuse.

The risk to young people is great, and scientific evidence continues to mount. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine by the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse sums up the known adverse effects of marijuana smoking, with considerable stress on the dangers of adolescent exposure.

Modern medicines are a product of medical research, using scientific methods. Medicines are not made by agenda-driven legislators or well-meaning crowds by a show of hands.

Medicine is not wish-fulfillment, able to turn an intoxicating folk-remedy into a healthy medical compound by clicking ones’ heels. Medicine is determined by controlled results. Most importantly, when it comes to acceptance, science has the only vote that matters.

Marijuana is a Schedule I Controlled Substance — a dangerous substance with no recognized medical use — for a reason. It has not completed the course of proof required of all legal medicines sold in the United States. Until rigorous clinical trials can demonstrate therapeutic efficacy sufficient to outweigh its risks, marijuana will remain such, as the FDA reiterated in 2006. Let the research go forward, but not by abandoning standards.

David Murray was chief scientist at the White House, Office of National Drug Control Policy and is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • In My Opinion

    Pitts: Don’t look for the ‘perfect’ victim

    You’ve probably never heard of Claudette Colvin. And yet, had history twisted in a slightly different direction, she might loom as large in American memory as Rosa Parks does now while Parks herself would be a little-remembered seamstress.



    Read to children, change a life

    After reading to my students, we’d walk around the library and I’d tell them: ‘Look at all of these books; soon you’ll be able to read every single one. And if you can read every book here, you can learn anything you ever want to learn. And that’s what we are going to do together,’” said Alvin Blake, the former vice mayor for the City of North Bay Village.



    We must do more to make our correctional facilities safer

    The death of Darren Rainey has heightened our awareness that we must do more to make our facilities safer. That’s why last week we announced system-wide reforms that focus on the mental-health needs of the inmates in our facilities, operating in a more transparent manner, increasing accountability and partnering with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to streamline investigations.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category