Marijuana Beliefs Outstrip Evidence


EXCERPT: In the past year not a week has gone by when a patient didn’t ask me if marijuana would be useful to treat their neurological condition, with many patients asking me directly for a prescription. This is partly a response to Connecticut, where I work, legalizing medical marijuana. But also there is a lot of hype surrounding marijuana, driving belief that it is safe and effective for many conditions. The truth, however, is that there is little clinical science showing this to be true. A recent survey, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, finds that the majority of Americans have a very distorted view of the science behind medical marijuana [...]

The reality is quite different. Cannabinoids are an interesting class of drugs with the potential to be developed into useful pharmaceuticals. But this process takes time, and ultimately we will need to do rigorous clinical trials looking at specific doses of specific preparations to determine safety and efficacy for specific clinical indications. There is no reason to think that cannabis is a magical plant with special properties. The chemical constituents of marijuana are drugs, and all drugs have side effects, and need to be evaluated for their bioavailability, pharmacokinetics, drug-drug interactions, and toxicity.

[...] You cannot simultaneously accept the preliminary evidence on efficacy and reject the preliminary evidence on risks. Supporters of medical marijuana might argue that we can separate out the beneficial effects from the unwanted side effects and risks. Possibly. But that is actually the point – we need to do much more research to isolate specific compounds, and study their risks and benefits. The premature hype surrounding medical marijuana is unfortunate, and actually likely to hamper much needed further research....


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