Why You Should Think Twice Before Voting Yes for Medical Marijuana | The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Why You Should Think Twice Before Voting Yes for Medical Marijuana

Why You Should Think Twice Before Voting Yes for Medical Marijuana

There is solid evidence that the active ingredients in marijuana are effective in treating and relieving symptoms associated with some medical conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and wasting in HIV/AIDS. Early evidence suggests that marijuana might be beneficial in treating certain autoimmune diseases, inflammation, pain and seizures.

However, due to legal and historical barriers, research on the therapeutic value of marijuana is lagging behind while public opinion is taking over. Across the country, decisions about medical treatment are being made by politicians and the public, often without sufficient scientific evidence. 

Marijuana for medical purposes and the FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting the public from dangerous medications. To determine whether a drug is safe and effective, the FDA uses systematic procedures and reviews scientific data from animal and human tests. The FDA evaluates the safety, efficacy, proper dosage and side effects of new medicines, and oversees the manufacturing process to ensure quality control and proper labeling. 

The FDA has not approved the use of whole plant marijuana for medical purposes. However, the FDA has approved two drugs that contain the psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahyrocannabinol (THC), which is found in the marijuana plant. The FDA is also reviewing clinical trials of drugs that contain cannabidiol (CBD), another component of the marijuana plant that does not get you high.

Just a few of the problems with state medical marijuana laws

Roughly half of U.S. states have passed or proposed laws that allow patients with particular medical conditions to obtain marijuana for medical purposes. When states pass these laws, they completely bypass the FDA’s drug approval process. This makes it hard for doctors to determine whether marijuana is actually safe and effective for a particular condition, to know how much to prescribe, and to ensure the purity of each “dose.”

Most state medical marijuana laws condone smoking marijuana for medical purposes. Smoking can cause damage to the lungs and secondhand exposure can be harmful to others. Smoking is not a medically-accepted way to take medicine and is not recommended by research nor the FDA. In addition to the health concerns, smoking makes it impossible for doctors, or patients, to determine exactly how much of the drug the patient is ingesting. In addition, marijuana use can lead to or exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, addiction, cognitive and respiratory problems, and other negative consequences such as impaired driving.

Where does CASAColumbia stand?

CASAColumbia believes that health policy should be based on scientific evidence, not public opinion. Barriers, including marijuana’s DEA classification as a Schedule I drug, make it difficult to conduct needed research. These limitations have created a blind spot in truly understanding the utility of marijuana for medical purposes. Regardless, forgoing FDA review and allowing state legislators or voters to make health policy decisions without this centralized review of the evidence poses an unnecessary and unwarranted risk to our public’s health and welfare.

We fully support the use of marijuana-based medications that have undergone the FDA’s comprehensive drug approval process. We also encourage more research on the value of marijuana for medical purposes. But we remain wary of state legalization of medical marijuana, especially in forms that are not medically appropriate and are not properly regulated.

Read our complete statement on medical marijuana.

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