Touts Anti-Tumor Action Then Scrubs Website

It lasted less than a week, but in March an agency of the U.S. federal government for the first time acknowledged that cannabis can fight cancer, and said that health care providers may recommend it for that purpose. That contradicts the federal government’s oft-repeated contention that cannabis has no medical value. After five days of media attention, the suggestion that cannabis may be used to combat tumors was removed.

The controversy began on March 17, when the National Cancer Institute (NCI) posted on their website a new “Physicians Data Query,” or PDQ, entitled “Cannabis and Cannabinoids.” That PDQ classifies cannabis as a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and summarizes several decades of research on the potential role of cannabis and its constituent chemicals in cancer treatment, including the many studies in laboratories and animals that have demonstrated its tumor-fighting properties.

The NCI concluded that “the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.” Those antitumor effects of cannabinoids include reducing the spread of cancer cells, selectively cutting off the blood supply to tumors, and reprogramming malignant cells to die off. Researchers have demonstrated these effects both in animal models of cancers and in laboratory studies of human cancer lines, including skin, breast, bone, liver, adrenal, leukemic, and brain cancers.

Within a week, the NCI website was revised to say: “Though no relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients who prescribe medicinal Cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management.” A week later, the NCI created a new section to distance the statements from federal policy and defend the changes as clarifications.

Steph Sherer “Manipulating science for political purposes is offensive in every context, as the Obama Administration’s memo on scientific integrity makes clear,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “But patients deserve complete and accurate information from their doctors, and removing research conclusions because they don’t fit an outdated policy is outrageous.”

The PDQ still notes that “cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years,” and says people living with cancer may find cannabis effective for combating nausea, stimulating appetite, relieving pain, and improving sleep. These are the same therapeutic qualities described in the Institute of Medicine’s 1996 review of cannabis as medicine.

The NCI is a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). DHHS calls marijuana a dangerous drug with no medical value and has to date denied attempts to reclassify it as a medicine. A petition to reschedule cannabis to make it a drug doctors may prescribe has been pending for nearly a decade with no response from the federal government.

Since that petition was filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, of which ASA is part, hundreds of additional scientific articles on the therapeutic potential of cannabis have been published, eight states more have passed medical cannabis laws, and the country’s two largest physician groups have each called for a federal review.

Federal refusal to acknowledge the scientific consensus on the medical efficacy of cannabis is longstanding. In 1988, the Drug Enforcement Administration ignored the findings of its own Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis L. Young, who found after extensive hearings that “marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision.”

From the Americans for Safe Access website, www.safeacessnow.org

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