Pubdate: Thur, 18 Mar 1999
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)


WASHINGTON - The active ingredients in marijuana can help fight pain and
nausea and thus deserve to be tested in scientific trials, an advisory panel
to the federal government said Wednesday in a report sure to reignite the
debate over whether marijuana is a helpful or harmful drug.

The Institute of Medicine also said there was no conclusive evidence that
marijuana use leads to harder drugs.

In the past few years, voters in Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon
and Washington have approved measures in support of medical marijuana, even
though critics say such measures send the wrong message to kids.

Congress has taken a hard line on the issue, with the House last fall
adopting by 310-93 vote a resolution that said marijuana was a dangerous and
addictive drug and should not be legalized for medical use.

Asked to examine the issue by the White House drug policy office, the
institute said that because the chemicals in marijuana ease anxiety,
stimulate the appetite, ease pain and reduce nausea and vomiting, they can
be helpful for people undergoing chemotherapy and people with AIDS. The
institute, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, provides the
federal government with independent scientific advice. It is paid by the
organizations requesting its advice, in this case the drug-policy office.

But the panel warned that smoking marijuana can cause respiratory disease
and called for the development of standardized forms of the drugs, called
cannabinoids, that can be taken, for example, by inhaler.

"Marijuana has potential as medicine, but it is undermined by the fact that
patients must inhale harmful smoke," said Stanley Watson of the Mental
Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan, one of the study's
principal investigators.

Even so, the panel said, there may be cases where patients could in the
meantime get relief from smoked marijuana, especially since it might take
years to develop an inhaler.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said it would
carefully study the recommendations.


Pot as medicine

A summary of findings from recent studies of the medical use of marijuana:

* PAIN RELIEF: Three studies on cancer pain have shown that THC, an active
component of pot, is as effective as codeine in reducing pain.

* NAUSEA AND VOMITING: Marijuana components can reduce the nausea and
vomiting associated with chemotherapy, but clinical trials show they are not
as effective as newly introduced anti-nausea drugs.

* AIDS PATIENTS: Marijuana is a promising treatment for wasting because it
helps control nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety.

* MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS: THC might help patients with multiple sclerosis, who
can suffer from intense and lengthy muscle spasms.

* EPILEPSY: Despite anecdotal reports that marijuana controls epileptic
seizures, there is little evidence to support this.

* ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE: One study showed THC improved appetite and reduced
disturbed behavior in patients, suggesting more studies should be done.

* GLAUCOMA: Both marijuana and THC reduce the eyeball pressure that
increases risk of glaucoma and blindness, but the effect lasts only a few
hours and requires high doses. Other treatments, including topical drugs and
surgery, are more effective.

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