FDA Opposes Medical Use of Marijuana

Says FDA's Statement Is Based on Politics, Not Science

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 21, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

April 21, 2006 -- The FDA has issued a statement rejecting the medical use of marijuana.

The FDA's statement doesn't mention any new research on the topic. Instead, it cites a past evaluation by several U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies, including the FDA.

That evaluation "concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use," the FDA states.

The FDA's statement also notes that the "FDA has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease indication," and that "there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful."

The FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy "do not support the use of smoked medical marijuana for medical purposes," the FDA's statement reads.

Researcher's Comments

WebMD spoke by phone with Daniele Piomelli, PhD, about the FDA's statement.

Piomelli is a pharmacology professor at the University of California, Irvine. He has studied the brain's cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoids are marijuana's active ingredients.

Piomelli was among the researchers with studies in a June 2005 special issue of the journal Neuropharmacology that focused on cannabinoid therapeutics.

"Whereas the FDA is certainly right in saying that marijuana smoke is not proven to be effective or safe because it does not follow FDA guidelines, the statement does not capture, I think, the richness of opportunities offered by marijuana and overlooks the advances made in marijuana research, which could lead to a substantial number of new drugs," Piomelli tells WebMD.

Institute of Medicine's Report

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences issued a report titled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base" in 1999.

"Public opinion on the medical value of marijuana has been sharply divided," the report states, noting "a web of social concerns" about the issue.

The report aimed to sidestep those social concerns and focus on science, looking particularly at cannabinoids.

Among the report's conclusions: "Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief; control of nausea and vomiting; and appetite stimulation; smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances."

Policy Critic's Comments

"This is a political statement, not a scientific statement, and the FDA should be embarrassed," Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, tells WebMD.

The Marijuana Policy Project is based in Washington, and is "the largest national marijuana policy reform organization in the U.S.," with nearly 20,000 members nationwide, Mirken says.

"There's 5,000 years of accumulated evidence that marijuana is effective against nausea, appetite loss, certain kinds of pain, and a number of other symptoms," Mirken says.

The FDA's comments on smoked marijuana are "a red herring," Mirken says. "The fact that the FDA emphasized that is a sign that they're not really looking at the science."

"I truly think that years from now, this is going to be looked at as a very sad day and a milestone in the decline of the FDA as a scientific agency," Mirken says.

Show Sources


News release, FDA. Daniele Piomelli, PhD, professor of pharmacology, University of California, Irvine. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences: "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," 1999. Bruce Mirken, director of communications, Marijuana Policy Project. Reuters.

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