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Medical Marijuana Has Merit, Research Shows

Although Research Shows Medical Mariuana Works, Critics Say California Center's Research Is Flawed

Medical Marijuana Research: What's Next?

Grant's researchers will finish two more studies, with results expected by 2011, he says. What happens then, when the initial allocation of nearly $8.7 million, awarded back in 2000, runs out?

"We're going to act as a kind of shell or organizational structure to help investigators apply for funding with the NIH [and others]," he says. Grant says he is expecting no more funding from cash-strapped California.

Although 14 states have legalized medical marijuana, he says, California is the only state that has ''stepped up to the plate'' to do research.

Medical Marijuana Research: Other Opinions

The California center's studies are flawed, says Joel Hay, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical economics and policy at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and a vocal critic of medical marijuana.

"It's not medicine," he says of marijuana. "It would never be approved by the FDA.

''I certainly concede that cannabinoids may have a very valuable medical role," he says. But the danger is in the smoking of marijuana, he says, citing health effects.

Isolating the active ingredient is a better approach, he says, and has actually already been done. "If you want a cannabionoid, it's here," he says, referring to Marinol, available and FDA approved. The active ingredient is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the same as found in marijuana.

''Marijuana contains a huge variety of compounds, some of which have not even been thoroughly identified," Hay tells WebMD. The studies, he says, are all short-term, with small groups.

Another flaw, he says, is that it's difficult to have a true placebo when studying marijuana. "People know when they are consuming a psychoactive product," he says.

Another flaw is that patients were allowed to continue on their pain medicine, says Kevin Weissman, PharmD, director of drug information services at Los Angeles County+University of Southern California Medical Center. That may have affected the results.

Grant counters that it was not humane to take patients off pain medicines that were providing any degree of relief.

Like Hay, Weissman says marijuana does have an analgesic effect. But he worries about the long-term effect of marijuana smoke and says research is needed to find a safer delivery system that works, such as vaporization.

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