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Medical Marijuana Reality Check

What’s Wrong With Permitting the Use of Smoked Marijuana?

Fact sheet is also available in PDF format (177 kb)

“We created Prop. 215 so that patients would not have to deal with black market profiteers. But today it is all about the money. Most of the dispensaries operating in California are little more than dope dealers with store fronts.”
–Rev. Scott Imler Co-Founder of Prop. 215, California’s Medical Marijuana Law
Source: Alternatives Magazine Fall, 2006 Issue 39

  • Simply put, the smoked form of marijuana is not considered modern medicine. On April 20th, 2006, the FDA issued an advisory concluding that no sound scientific studies have supported medical use of smoked marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use.

  • A number of states have passed voter referenda or legislative actions making smoked marijuana available for a variety of medical conditions upon a doctor's recommendation. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process and are proven safe and effective under the standards of the FD&C; Act.

  • While smoking marijuana may allow patients to temporarily feel better, the medical community makes an important distinction between inebriation and the controlled delivery of pure pharmaceutical medication. The raw (leaf ) form of marijuana contains a complex mixture of compounds in uncertain concentrations, the majority of which have unknown pharmacological effects.

  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for any long-term medical use, and a subsequent IOM report declared that, “marijuana is not modern medicine.” Additionally, the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society do not support the smoked form of marijuana as medicine.

Smoking Marijuana May Unintentionally Cause Serious Harm to Patients

  • The delicate immune systems of seriously ill patients may become compromised by the smoking of marijuana. Additionally, the daily use of marijuana compromises lung function and increases the risk for respiratory diseases, similar to those associated with nicotine cigarettes.

  • Marijuana has a high potential for abuse and can incur addiction. Frequent use of marijuana leads to tolerance to the psychoactive effects and smokers compensate by smoking more often or seeking higher potency marijuana.

  • In people with psychotic or other problems, the use of marijuana can precipitate severe emotional disorders. Chronic use of marijuana may increase the risk of psychotic symptoms in people with a past history of schizophrenia. Marijuana smoking by young people may lead to severe impairment of higher brain function and neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as a higher risk for addiction and polydrug abuse problems.

Existing Legal Drugs Provide Superior Treatment for Serious Medical Conditions

  • The FDA has approved safe and effective medication for the treatment of glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

  • Marinol, the synthetic form of THC (the psychoactive ingredient contained in marijuana), is already legally available for prescription by physicians whose patients suffer from pain and chronic illness.

“Medical marijuana was supposed to be for the truly ill cancer victims and AIDS patients who could use the drug to relieve pain or restore their appetites. Yet the number of dispensaries has skyrocketed from five in 2005 to 143 by the end of 2006. In North Hollywood alone, there are more pot clinics than Starbucks.”
–Pasadena Star-News, January 21st, 2007

In Their Words: What the Experts Say:

The American Academy of Ophthalmology:

“Based on reviews by the National Eye Institute (NEI) and the Institute of Medicine and on available scientific evidence, the Task Force on Complementary Therapies believes that no scientific evidence has been found that demonstrates increased benefits and/or diminished risks of marijuana use to treat glaucoma compared with the wide variety of pharmaceutical agents now available.
Complementary Therapy Assessment: Marijuana in the Treatment of Glaucoma, American Academy of Ophthalmology, May 2003

The American Medical Association:

“...AMA recommends that marijuana be retained in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act...AMA believes that the NIH should use its resources and influence to support the development of a smoke-free inhaled delivery system for marijuana or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to reduce the health hazards associated with the combustion and inhalation of marijuana...”
Policy Statement H-95.952, American Medical Association,

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

“Studies completed thus far have not provided convincing evidence that marijuana or its derivatives provide substantiated benefits for symptoms of MS.”
The MS Information Sourcebook, Marijuana (Cannabis), National Multiple Sclerosis Society, September 18th, 2006

The Institute of Medicine (IOM):

“Because of the health risks associated with smoking, smoked marijuana should generally not be recommended for long-term medical use.”
Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, Institute of Medicine, 1999

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