Pubdate: Sat, 11 Apr 1998
Date: 11/04/1998
Source: USA Today (US)
Author: J. Thomas Ungerleider, M.D.
Note: The author was a member of President Nixon's National Commission on
Marijuana and Drug Abuse.

I was impressed with USA TODAY's reasoned and compassionate position
on the medical marijuana issue ("A way to ease suffering", Our View,
Medical Marijuana Debate, Friday).

As one who has researched both the government-grown marijuana and it's
manufactured substitute, THC (Marinol), for more than 20 years, I know
that they both help some carefully selected patients with serious
medical conditions.  Sometimes, the smoked route is more effective
than a pill for symptom relief.

That is why the clinical judgement of the physician is so important,
as he considers the risks and benefits of any medication to be given
to a patient.

Unfortunately the current drug czar, former Gen. Barry McCaffrey, so
strongly disagrees that he keeps threatening to criminally prosecute
physicians for "talking" to their patients, if they even suggest --
not prescribe -- marijuana for symptom relief for any medical illness,
no matter how terminal the patient

Prescription drugs are already the most regulated commodity except for
nuclear weapons.  In response to McCaffrey's changing the "war on
drugs" to a war on physicians and their patients, major medical
organizations have quickly adopted medical marijuana policy statements
reaffirming that physicians can, and in fact, should talk to their
patients about all health-related matters without fear of civil or
criminal penalties.

None of us should hold our breath until an inhaler is developed to
deliver a sterile and measurable dose of THC.  That is a low priority
for the pharmaceutical companies, that are well aware of the
government's history of delaying tactics in the marijuana-approval

And the major study that McCaffrey refers to, being conducted by the
Institute of Medicine, is just one more government review of the
marijuana literature.

The federal government's role in this entire matter cruelly victimizes
patients and physicians alike.

J. Thomas Ungerleider, M.D. Professor emeritus of psychiatry UCLA
Medical Center Los Angeles, Calif.