The present classification of cannabis and its organic compounds as schedule I prohibited substances under federal law is scientifically indefensible, according to a just published review in The Open Neurology Journal.
Investigators with the University of California at San Diego and the University of California, Davis reviewed the results of several recent clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of inhaled or vaporized cannabis. They concluded:
“Evidence is accumulating that cannabinoids may be useful medicine for certain indications. Control of nausea and vomiting and the promotion of weight gain in chronic inanition are already licensed uses of oral THC (dronabinol capsules). Recent research indicates that cannabis may also be effective in the treatment of painful peripheral neuropathy and muscle spasticity from conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Other indications have been proposed, but adequate clinical trials have not been conducted.
“… The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as well as the continuing controversy as to whether or not cannabis is of medical value are obstacles to medical progress in this area. Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking. It is true cannabis has some abuse potential, but its profile more closely resembles drugs in Schedule III (where codeine and dronabinol are listed). The continuing conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology will hopefully be reconciled in a judicious manner.”
The lead author of the review, Dr. Igor Grant, is the director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. In recent years, the CMCR has conducted various FDA-approved ‘gold standard’ clinical trials evaluating inhaled cannabis as a therapeutic agent. The results of several of those trials are summarized here.
Under federal law, schedule I controlled substances are defined as possessing “a high potential for abuse, … no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.” Heroin and Methaqualone (Quaaludes) are examples of other Schedule I substances.
In 2011, the Obama administration — via the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — formally denied a nine-year-old administrative petition filed by NORML and a coalition of public interest organizations calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance without any ‘accepted medical use in treatment.’ In her denial of the petition, DEA administrator Michele Leonhart alleged: “[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts. … At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”
Coalition advocates are presently appealing the DEA’s denial of their petition in federal court.
Full text of the paper from The Open Neurology Journal, entitled “Medical Marijuana: Clearing Away the Smoke,” is available online here.
[Editor's note: This post is excerpted from this week's forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML's news alerts and legislative advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up here.]
The use of cannabis is associated with lower mortality risk in patients with schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders, according to a forthcoming study to be published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. (Read the abstract of the study online here.)
An international team of investigators from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Inje University in South Korea assessed the impact of a lifetime history substance use on mortality in 762 subjects with schizophrenia or related disorders.
Researchers reported, “[W]e observed a lower mortality risk-adjusted variable in cannabis-users compared to cannabis non-users despite subjects having similar symptoms and anti-psychotic treatments.”
Authors speculated that the association between marijuana use and decreased mortality risk may be because “cannabis users may (be) higher functioning” and because “cannabis itself may have some health benefits.”
They concluded: “To our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to examine the risk of mortality with cannabis and alcohol in people with PD (psychotic disorders). This interesting finding of decreased mortality risk … in cannabis users is a novel finding and one that will need replication in larger epidemiological studies.”
NORML Board Member Dr. Lester Grinpoon, psychiatrist and former Harvard Medical School professor, similarly noted that the study’s findings, though promising, require replication in separate trials. “In reading the cannabis literature over the years, I have learned to be somewhat skeptical about any single report and to maintain a ‘wait and see’ posture as new data eventually flesh out the reality,” he said.
To date the association between cannabis use and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia is not well understood. While some studies have associated cannabis use with higher cognitive functioning – including better performance on measures of processing speed and verbal skills – other research has implied that cannabis use, particularly heavy use at an early age, may precipitate or exacerbate the disease in those already vulnerable to it. Other experts have criticized this purported link to be “overstated” and not “particularly compelling,” noting that increased levels of cannabis use by the general public has not yet been positively associated with proportionally rising incidences of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.
Full text of the study, “Alcohol and cannabis use and mortality in people with schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders,” will appear in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. Additional information on cannabis use and mental illness, please see the NORML white paper, “Cannabis, Mental Health, and Context.”
Rhode Island: Governor Signs Legislation Authorizing State-Licensed Medical Marijuana ‘Compassion Centers’May 24, 2012
Governor Lincoln Chafee signed legislation into law this week authorizing the creation of state-licensed ‘compassion centers’ to engage in the production and distribution of cannabis for authorized patients. It is the second time since 2009 that state lawmakers have approved legislation allowing for the state regulation of medical marijuana facilities.
Under the new law, Senate Bill 2555, health regulators will license three not-for-profit entities, known as ‘compassion centers,’ to operate within the state. Compassion centers will not be allowed to cultivate more than 150 cannabis plants on the premises at any one time, only 99 of which may be mature. Centers will also be restricted to possessing no more than 1,500 ounces of usable product at any one time.
Lawmakers have suggested that the imposed statutory limits will lower the likelihood of federal law enforcement officials interfering with the implementation of the law. At least one other state, New Mexico, imposes similar caps on authorized dispensaries.
State lawmakers initially enacted legislation allowing for the authorization of ‘compassion centers’ in 2009. However, Gov. Chafee suspended the law in 2011, stating, “[L]arge-scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island’s compassion centers (would) be potential targets of ‘vigorous’ criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government.” Earlier this year, Gov. Chafee agreed to revisit the issue and to work with lawmakers to amend the law so that a limited number of small-scale distribution centers could apply for state licenses.
In response to the legislature’s actions, US Attorney Peter Neronha has said he will continue to oversee the enforcement federal drug laws. However, he has not specifically said whether ‘compassion centers’ will be targeted.
Three states – Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico – presently issue licenses to allow for the state-sanctioned production and distribution of cannabis. So far, dispensary facilities in those states have operated largely without federal interference.
Similar licensing legislation approved in recent years in Arizona, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, DC has yet to be implemented by local lawmakers.
In February, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell announced that he was suspending the implementation of a similar licensing program in that state.
Rhode Island lawmakers legalized the limited use and cultivation of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in 2006. Over 3,000 Rhode Islanders are presently authorized under state law to use cannabis.
In recent months, the federal Justice Department has engaged in concerted efforts to crack down on the proliferation of medical cannabis related activities in states that allow for its therapeutic use under state law, including California, Montana, and Washington.
Now, according to a CBS News report, the next state on the federal government’s ‘hit list’ is Colorado — arguably the state with the most comprehensive and stringent statewide regulations governing medical cannabis activities. These regulations explicitly license state-authorized cannabis dispensaries, of which there are now some 700 operating statewide.
Nonetheless, the imprimatur of the state apparently carries little if any weight with the Obama administration at this time — despite promises (reiterated before Congress just last week by US Attorney General Eric Holder) that such prosecutions are “not a (federal) priority” and that the Justice Department only intends to target those entities who “use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute.”
Predictably, today’s CBS special report tells a different story.
Crackdown On Colorado’s Medical Pot Business On The Horizon
via CBS News Denver
Federal authorities are planning to crack down on the medical marijuana business in Colorado on a large scale for the first time.
Warning letters will be going out to dispensaries and grow facilities near schools, CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger has learned. So far it’s not clear how soon that will happen.
Dispensaries that receive the letters will be given 45 days to shut down or move operations. If they don’t comply, they will be shut down by the U.S. attorney in Colorado.
The dispensaries who are set to be targeted are the ones that are located within 1,000 feet of schools. That measurement is being used because that distance already appears in federal law as a factor in drug crime sentencing.
The move comes after the Justice Department sent out a memo clarifying that marijuana has been and remains illegal under federal law despite what has taken place with state regulations. Colorado is one of 16 states where medical marijuana laws have been approved.
Many of the state’s dispensaries that are closer than 1,000 feet to a school have already been approved to be there under local laws. They usually have been grandfathered in.
… Robert Corry, an attorney who represents dispensaries, said medical marijuana operations are now strictly regulated under Colorado state laws.
“The federal apparatus here has better things to do,” said Corry. “My reaction would be the federal government is essentially declaring war on the voters of our state (who) passed a Constitutional amendment.”
U.S. attorneys in California recently announced in a separate medical marijuana crackdown that they would be targeting landlords who rent retail space to dispensaries, as well as dispensary owners themselves.
Does anyone really believe that this is an appropriate use of scarce federal resources? Or that these actions are in any way consistent with Obama’s public pledge to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue?” I didn’t think so.
If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of
medical marijuana or its potential abuse in states that have authorized it then it would be better served to encourage — rather than to discourage — statewide and local efforts to regulate these actions accordingly. The Obama administration’s enforcement actions in California, Colorado, and elsewhere will only result in limiting adults’ regulated, safe access to cannabis therapy. It will also cost local jobs and needed tax revenue, and likely result in hundreds — if not thousands — of unnecessary criminal prosecutions.
Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with state law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state and local officials, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.
“In the words of John Adams, ‘facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’”
So began the ironically titled op/ed, “Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too,” by Joseph Summerill — general counsel for the Major County Sheriffs’ Association — which appeared in print in the Washington Examiner newspaper on Sunday.
Yet as far as ‘facts’ were concerned, Summerill’s propaganda piece was altogether devoid of them.
Re: “Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too,” Oct. 24
Author Joseph Summerill is correct to assert that “facts … are stubborn things.” So stubborn, in fact, that he chooses to ignore them completely.
Summerill alleges, “The undisputable facts, however, are that there are no sound scientific data supporting the medical value of marijuana.” The website PubMed Central, the U.S. government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research, disagrees. In fact, a simple word search on PubMed using the keyword “marijuana” reveals more than 2,100 published papers in peer-reviewed journals just this year alone.
Of course, not every one of these papers pertain to the substance’s therapeutic potential. But many do.
For example, the results of a series of randomized, placebo-controlled Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trials performed by regional branches of the University of California demonstrated that inhaled cannabis holds therapeutic value that is comparable to or better than conventional medications, particularly in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain. These findings were publicly presented to the California legislature, and also appear online here: http://www.cmcr.ucsd.edu/images/pdfs/CMCR_REPORT_FEB17.pdf. Further, the UC findings paralleled those previously reported by no less than the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health, which declared, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”
Those are the facts, Mr. Summerill. It’s time to stop denying them.