The Los Angeles Times lauds the American Medical Association’s reversal, but fails to understand basic facts.
For all the debate over whether marijuana has medicinal value, arguments that the drug has significant palliative properties or that it has none suffer from the same flaw: There’s little scientific proof either way.
This lack of conclusive evidence isn’t accidental. In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, classifying marijuana — which had been illegal since 1937 — as a Schedule I drug, which meant that it had a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value. In keeping with this position, the government has allowed only the University of Mississippi to cultivate research-grade marijuana, and has so restricted access to its small supply that determining the drug’s efficacy is for all intents and purposes impossible. […]
The states that have legalized the drug’s use for medicinal purposes have done so on the basis of a small body of research and a large amount of anecdotal evidence, but more facts are needed.
Yes, it’s good that the AMA is encouraging more research. More research is always good. I’m in favor of more research. And yes, there has been a squelching of research because of the Schedule 1 status of marijuana. That needs to stop.
But that doesn’t mean that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether marijuana is medicine, nor that it is merely “anecdotal.”
This is because the vast majority of use of medical marijuana is for symptom relief, not for cures. Proof of symptom relief is simple.
- You have a symptom (pain, nausea, etc).
- You do something for the symptom
- The symptom goes away – the something worked… or
- The symptom doesn’t go away – the something didn’t work. Try something else.
You don’t need double blind test groups. You need one individual and his or her doctor (See the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 Report calling for N of 1 trials.) The doctor asks, “Did the pain go away after taking it?” “Yes.” “Then it worked.” Period.
It doesn’t matter if it was a placebo, a Hostess Twinkie, or prayer. If it relieves the symptoms, it works. The only issue is whether the side effects of the treatment are worse than the symptom or the side effects of other effective treatments. And we know that marijuana’s side effects are ridiculously better than just about anything else.
Now it’s an entirely different story if you’re looking for a cure. Let’s say I believe marijuana cures cancer. It’s not enough to believe it, because someone could end up taking marijuana instead of following other proven treatments that might save their life. Therefore proof (of the kind they’re always talking about) is necessary (and I hope they do the research to determine if this is true.)
There are tons of evidence to support the vast majority of medical marijuana usages to date. And there’s no reason to deny people their relief until some medically unnecessary standard is reached.
If a patient said that they didn’t want pain pills, but would rather relieve the pain through prayer, we might be skeptical, but we wouldn’t deny them the opportunity to find out. If they said that prayer would cure their cancer and they shouldn’t take any other treatments, we’d be horrified and try to convince them to take medical advice.
But we wouldn’t criminalize prayer.