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Medical Marijuana Slowly Gains Ground

Clinical Studies Begin to Replace Emotion with Evidence

Doctors' Shifting Attitudes on Medical Marijuana continued...

Is it a real trend? Abrams thinks so, but warns that long-held attitudes are slow to change.

"I was pretty much the Lone Ranger of medical marijuana research a few years ago. But not now," he says. "Still, researchers are wary of marijuana research. They feel their reputation may be tainted. And they may be right. For several years I've been invited to do grand rounds at a local hospital in the Bay area. Last year they disinvited me, and I hear it was because of my marijuana research. I've been disinvited from other speaking engagements, too."

"I think these attitudes will change over time -- but it will be slow-going," Mattison says. "Dr. Abrams' comment is typical. People in the medical profession may chuckle at marijuana research and think it is not a bona fide area for scientific investigation. But that will change as the science becomes more clear and more understandable and there are, at some point, some practical applications."

One surprising source of support is moral encouragement from conservative politicians.

"We get a number of stories from elected officials who say, 'Look, I am not for legalization of marijuana. But my sick mother, relative, son, is using it and doing so much better, -- there must be something in it,'" Mattison says.

"A number of people have friends where medical therapies aren't working, and cannabis provided relief from spasticity, pain, nausea, or vomiting. That is turning some opinions and helping people let go of the stereotypical notion that medical marijuana is for potheads."

The CMCR has put aside enough money to complete all its currently approved clinical trials. But the California budget crisis means no more money this year -- at least. Does this mean that clinical research into medical marijuana is over? Grant doesn't think so.

"I think that even if our center runs on hard times, the ball has started rolling," he says. "Clinicians and neuroscientists have an interest in this. There is gong to be more research, and more clinical work, whether we do it or not. Eventually, I foresee NIH [National Institutes of Health] clinical trials. That's my hunch."

A Final Warning

What's changing is the attitude toward investigating possible marijuana benefits. This means more and more doctors are keeping an open mind -- not jumping to the conclusion that the drug will be all things to all people.

"I don't know what the answers will be," Grant says. "The data that are out there suggest there will be some positive applications for marijuana. If I had to bet, I'd say there will be some applications useful for patients in the future."

But, he warns, the opposite could easily be true. The one sure thing about medical research is that it doesn't always provide the answers people expect.

"The caution is that, in the movement toward making marijuana available to patients with no other treatment options, there is the assumption that it is in fact useful. We have to be careful about that," Grant says. "It may be useful for some things, but not useful for others. And if patients take things that are not useful, they may be harming themselves. I urge them to be cautious instead of jumping on the bandwagon and maybe hurting themselves."

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