Scientific American calls for marijuana research

In the December 1, 2004 issue, the Scientific American editorial Marijuana Research starts out with a very brief point that conclusively demonstrates the obvious logic behind a call for marijuana research.

The human brain naturally produces and processes compounds closely related to those found in Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana [see “The Brain’s Own Marijuana,” by Roger A.æ Nicoll and Bradley E.æ Alger.æ These compounds are called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids.æ As the journal Nature Medicine put it in 2003, “the endocannabinoid system has an important role in nearly every paradigm of pain, in memory, in neurodegeneration and in inflammation.” The journal goes on to note that cannabinoids’ “clinical potential is enormous.” That potential may include treatments for pain, nerve injury, the nausea associated with chemotherapy, the wasting related to AIDS and more.

The editorial then demonstrates how marijuana research is discouraged by the federal government.

Yet outdated regulations and attitudes thwart legitimate research with marijuana.æ Indeed, American biomedical researchers can more easily acquire and investigate cocaine.æ Marijuana is classified as a so-called Schedule 1 drug, alongside LSD and heroin.æ As such, it is defined as being potentially addictive and having no medical use, which under the circumstances becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Any researcher attempting to study marijuana must obtain it through the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( NIDA ).æ The U.S.æ research crop, grown at a single facility, is regarded as less potent–and therefore less medicinally interesting–than the marijuana often easily available on the street.æ Thus, the legal supply is a poor vehicle for studying the approximately 60 cannabinoids that might have medical applications.

They then show how the government not only discourages research, but actively steers the limited research that it approves.

The government may also have a stake in a certain kind of result.æ One scientist tells of a research grant application to study marijuana’s potential medical benefits.æ NIDA turned it down.æ That scientist rewrote the grant to emphasize finding marijuana’s negative effects.æ The study was funded.

The editorial concludes:

The reasonable course is to make it easier for American researchers to at least examine marijuana for possible medical benefits.æ Great Britain, no slacker in the war on drugs, takes this approach: the government has authorized a pharmaceutical firm to grow different strains of marijuana for clinical trials.

This call for marijuana research is not a closet campaign for drug legalization–easing research barriers would not require that marijuana be reclassified, nor would it have any bearing on individual states’ decisions to approve limited use of medical marijuana.æ As a 1995 editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association said, “We are not asking readers for immediate agreement with our affirmation that marijuana is medically useful, but we hope they will do more to encourage open and legal exploration of its potential.” After almost a decade of little progress, we reiterate that sentiment.

A very nice straightforward and clear editorial from a fairly popular scientific magazine.
And it helps point out the biggest hypocrisy in the federal government’s approach to medical marijuana: It is intellectually, morally, and scientifically dishonest for the government to claim that there is insufficient evidence of the medical benefits of marijuana on one hand, while supressing research on the other. If the government actually cared about the truth, upon seeing the strong public support for medical marijuana and the number of states passing medical marijuana laws, they would immediately encourage, support and fund comprehensive research to settle it once and for all.

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