FDA Rejects Medical Benefits of Marijuana
FDA on Friday released a statement criticizing state measures to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana and calling such measures attempts to bypass scientific review, the Washington Post reports (Washington Post, 4/21).
FDA said it was posting the statement as a response to requests from lawmakers and others. The agency said the statement was based on a past combined review by federal drug enforcement, regulatory and research agencies that determined "smoked marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment."
Currently, 11 states have legalized medicinal use of marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the director of national drug control policy, John Walters, have opposed those laws (Harris, New York Times, 4/21).
FDA's statement said measures by states "are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process." The statement also said that "no sound scientific studies" support the medical use of marijuana, adding, "Efforts that seek to bypass the FDA drug approval process would not serve the interests of public health because they might expose patients to unsafe and ineffective drug products" (Leinwand, USA Today, 4/21).
The statement added that there is "currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful" and that there are "alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana" (Kesten, AP/Miami Herald, 4/21).
FDA spokesperson Susan Bro said the agency likely would not take any enforcement actions on the policy, adding, "Any enforcement based on this finding would need to be by DEA since this falls outside of FDA's regulatory authority."
According to the Times, FDA's statement "directly contradicts a 1999 review by the Institute of Medicine" that found marijuana to be "moderately well-suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting" (New York Times, 4/21).
Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said of the FDA's statement, "It's fascinating that they are making what strikes me as essentially a political move here" (Washington Post, 4/21).
John Benson, co-chair of the IOM committee that examined the effects of marijuana, said the federal government "loves to ignore our report. They would rather it never happened."
Harvard Medical School professor Jerry Avorn said, "Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the FDA making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science."
Lyle Craker, a professor of plant and soil sciences at the University of Massachusetts, said he petitioned DEA to grow a small patch of marijuana for research purposes but was denied. "The reason there's no good evidence is that they don't want an honest trial," Craker said.
Tom Riley, spokesperson for Walters, praised the statement, saying that it would put to rest what he called "the bizarre public discussion" that has led some states to legalize medical marijuana (New York Times, 4/21). Riley said, "The medical marijuana ballot initiatives have been attempts to do an end-run around science. Let's take it out of the political realm and put it back into science where it belongs" (Fox, Reuters/Boston Globe, 4/21).
The FDA statement is available online.