Today the National Academy of Sciences released a comprehensive review of research on marijuana and concluded that marijuana does indeed have medical value.
The review concluded: “One of the therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids is to treat chronic pain in adults. The committee found evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms. For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, there was substantial evidence that short-term use of certain “oral cannabinoids” – man-made, cannabinoid-based medications that are orally ingested – improved their reported symptoms. Furthermore, in adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, there was conclusive evidence that certain oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing and treating those ailments.”
This is not the first time that the scientific community has made claims about marijuana as medicine.
The La Guardia report was commissioned by then-Mayor of New York Fiorello La Guardia in response to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Feds' first attempt at controlling marijuana use in the general public. The report confirmed what La Guardia suspected, that the effects of marijuana did not impact a person’s sensibilities or ability to make good decisions and that it likely was not as dangerous as Anslinger and his buddies were making it out to be with their Reefer Madness campaign.
The next scientific assessment of marijuana was commissioned by Richard Nixon in the early 1970’s. The passage of the Controlled Substances Act created drug schedules, a system for classifying drugs based on their medical value and dangerousness. Nixon commissioned the Shafer Report to study the effects of marijuana and make a recommendation as to what the appropriate schedule might be. The report concluded, “Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high. We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem. The existing social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and social harm engendered by the use of the drug.” Nixon disregarded the report and marijuana remained a schedule I drug.
As the use of marijuana for medical purposes began to gain favor in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine decided to weigh in with a comprehensive review in 1999. This was not the first time the IOM had weighed in on the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana. A 1982 report concluded, “Cannabis and its derivatives have shown promise in the treatment of a variety of disorders. The evidence is most impressive in glaucoma, where their mechanism of action appears to be different from the standard drugs; in asthma, where they approach isoproterenol in effectiveness; and in the nausea and vomiting of cancer chemotherapy, where they compare favorably with phenothiazines. Smaller trials have suggested cannabis might also be useful in seizures, spasticity, and other nervous system disorders.”
Both reports from the Institute of Medicine were discounted in the political realm.
Today’s marijuana landscape in the U.S. is vastly different from the one in 1999. Currently 28 U.S. states have medical marijuana laws, and 16 additional states have CBD laws. Yet, last summer, the DEA announced that it would not reschedule marijuana; leaving it with the definition of having no medical value.
Once again, the scientific community has come back with evidence against the Schedule I categorization of marijuana. Like the reports that came before it, the NAS report explicitly calls out marijuana's Schedule I status as a barrier "that impede[s] the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid research.”
Science has spoken, again. Politicians have a choice. They can continue to ignore the evidence brought forth by the scientific community, or they can reevaluate how marijuana is regulated at the federal level.
The people are waiting for an answer.
Amanda Reiman is manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance.