Pubdate: Tue, 25 Apr 2006
Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
Copyright: 2006, Denver Publishing Co.
Author: Paul Campos
Note: Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado.
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


This is the story of two drugs. The first, dexfenfluramine, was the
active ingredient in the weight loss drug Redux. Although it was
available in the U.S. and Canada for only about 18 months, it killed
hundreds of people, and severely injured thousands more.

The second is marijuana. Over the past several decades, tens of
millions of people across North America have used this drug regularly.
It has, as far as anybody knows, killed no one.

Anyone interested in the politics of science should study the Food and
Drug Administration's treatment of these two drugs. Redux was
originally rejected for approval by the FDA, because of laboratory
studies suggesting it would cause primary pulmonary hypertension - a
particularly gruesome and generally fatal disease - in a small number
of users.

The FDA panel reviewing the drug considered it too dangerous, given
that Redux produced an average of only seven pounds of weight loss
when compared to a placebo. This seemed eminently sensible: after all,
who could argue that a drug producing so little weight loss was
anything other than a cosmetic product? And surely the FDA wouldn't
approve a brand of lipstick on the grounds that it was likely to cause
just a small percentage of its users to suffer horribly painful deaths.

Yet it turned out that a whole bunch of very well-paid obesity
researchers were willing to argue for Redux's approval. Under enormous
pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and its academic hirelings,
the FDA reversed course in the spring of 1996, and approved the drug
for sale.

The results were predictable: reports of primary pulmonary
hypertension associated with use of the drug began appearing in the
medical literature. In addition, some users were suffering heart valve
damage, and needed major surgery. Redux was quickly pulled from the
market, but the damage had been done.

Over the last eight years, hundreds of cases of primary pulmonary
hypertension have been linked to Redux, while more than 1,200 of the
drug's users have undergone major surgery for heart valve damage.
Wyeth, the drug's maker, has paid out billions of dollars in damages,
and faces possible bankruptcy as more claims are settled and go to

Meanwhile, the FDA has just announced that it will continue to treat
marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Drugs are supposed to be placed in
this category only if they have a high potential for abuse and no
medical value.

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project points out that, under
current federal law, doctors are free to treat their patients with
cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine. All these drugs are far more
dangerous than marijuana - a drug that 11 states, including Colorado,
now allow doctors to prescribe to their patients they believe may
benefit from it.

"I have friends who are alive today because of medical marijuana,"
Mirken told me. "These are people who suffered unbearable nausea from
chemotherapy or retroviral drugs - nausea that only marijuana was able
to bring under control."

I asked Mirken about the FDA's statement.

"The bottom line is that this is another sign that science at the FDA
has given way to politics. They just pretend research evidence for the
medical value of marijuana doesn't exist. But in fact quite a bit does
- - even though the federal government has done everything it can to
keep this research from being conducted.

"They're terribly afraid of such research, because any serious
scientific study of the subject is going to reveal how little basis
there is for their claims. Continuing to demonize marijuana is the key
to the drug war, and the drug war pays the salaries of a lot of people."

The same thing, of course, could be said about the war on
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