KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Officials Debate Merits Of Medical Marijuana As Coping Tool In Pain Fight

As access to medical marijuana becomes more widespread, officials are debating its use as a pain-coping treatment and are easing rules for the sick to use the drug, The Wall Street Journal reports. "The U.S. Department of Justice has said it will not generally prosecute ill people under doctors' care whose use of the drug complies with state rules. New Jersey will become the 14th state to allow therapeutic use of marijuana, and the number is likely to grow. Illinois and New York, among others, are considering new laws." But there are not many clinical trials to show solid data on how successful such use of the plant is to helping patients.

"A recent American Medical Association review found fewer than 20 randomized, controlled clinical trials of smoked marijuana for all possible uses. These involved around 300 people in all - well short of the evidence typically required for a pharmaceutical to be marketed in the U.S. … Though states have been legalizing medical use of marijuana since 1996, when California passed a ballot initiative, the idea remains controversial" (Wilde Mathews, 1/18).

The New York Times reports that the federal government still "discourages research into the medicinal uses of smoked marijuana. ... Lyle E. Craker, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Massachusetts, has been trying to get permission from federal authorities for nearly nine years to grow a supply of the plant that he could study and provide to researchers for clinical trials." The Drug Enforcement Administration has refused. "But there is no good evidence that legalizing the smoking of marijuana is needed to provide these effects. The Food and Drug Administration in 1985 approved Marinol, a prescription pill of marijuana's active ingredient, T.H.C. Although a few small-scale studies done decades ago suggest that smoked marijuana may prove effective when Marinol does not, no conclusive research has confirmed this finding." The University of Mississippi has the nation's only federally approved marijuana-growing operation that supplies to researchers (Harris, 1/18).

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