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The AMA eases its stance on marijuana


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The Obama administration announced last month that people who buy or sell medical marijuana in the growing number of states that have decriminalized its therapeutic usage should not be targeted for arrest or prosecution by federal authorities. Now, the American Medical Association (AMA) has called for the federal government to go one step further in easing restrictions, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

Although the new AMA policy is far from outright support of medically sanctioned pot smoking, delegates of the organization recommended at an interim meeting in Houston last week that marijuana be removed from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I category of drugs, which includes heroin and LSD. Drugs in this category are deemed unsafe with no currently acceptable medical use. With its recommendation, the AMA hopes to facilitate research on the clinical effects of smoking marijuana, as well as other delivery methods for the drug.

Part of the impetus behind the AMA’s change of heart, according to the Times, was work done by Sunil Aggarwal, a medical student at the University of Washington. Aggarwal initially drummed up support in the AMA’s medical student section, of which he is a member, for marijuana’s removal from its Schedule I category. Then, at the AMA’s 2008 meeting, Aggarwal convinced the organization to begin a one-year review of the effectiveness of medical marijuana. In his own research, Aggarwal has studied 139 patients with chronic pain and found that medical marijuana relieved a range of their symptoms, including nerve damage and back pain.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a capsule form of medical marijuana called Marinol for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and for AIDS-related wasting, some doctors argue that swallowing a pill does not offer the same analgesic benefits as smoking pot. Marinol, which contains a synthetic version of marijuana’s active compound delta-9-THC, must be swallowed whole and cannot be chewed, therefore it could present problems to patients taking it for nausea or vomiting, wrote Peter J. Cohen, a physician and lawyer at the Georgetown University Law Center, in an article published in the Journal of Pain & Palliative Care Pharmacotherapy in 2009. Cohen argued that Marinol takes longer to have an effect than smoking a joint, which could also pose a problem for patients with nausea or vomiting who need rapid relief.

More studies, in particular randomized, controlled trials, need to be carried out on smoked cannabis, Dr. Edward Langston, an AMA board member, told the Times. The small number of that have been conducted in the past 30 years have been "insufficient to satisfy the current standards for a prescription drug product," Langston said.

Part of the reason for the paucity of studies on therapeutic pot is strict federal regulations for studying the substance. Researchers working with marijuana must use a research crop, which could be less potent and thus less effective, than pot that is trafficked. In spite of these restrictions, scientists have managed to publish studies in the past two years that demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of smoking pot to relieve HIV-associated neuropathy and nausea caused by the therapies used to treat hepatitis C infection.

With its recommendation, the AMA joins the American College of Physicians in encouraging studies of the medical benefits of marijuana. The AMA noted in the report on its new policy that it had actually opposed the first federal restrictions on citizen access to marijuana in 1937. But, since 1997, it has joined the federal government in proclaiming marijuana as medically useless.

In response to the AMA report, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy echoed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s position that "raw marijuana plant cannot meet the standards for identity, strength, quality, purity…required of medicine." But advocates of medical marijuana hope that the AMA’s new position will spur a change of heart in the Obama administration.

The states that have decriminalized the use of medical marijuana are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Image courtesy of Prairie Art Project via iStockphoto





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  1. 1. Concerned Parent 11:32 am 11/17/2009

    It’s great to see that the AMA is joining the American College of Physicians and other groups looking at marijuana’s therapeutic benefits. The marijuana debate is not just about medicine. It’s time to drive a wedge between the criminal drug dealers and our kids. Licensing, taxing, and regulating the distribution of marijuana, whether for medical or other purposes, is the surest way to put the criminal drug dealers out of business and protect our children from the money-hungry criminal element. It’s time to protect our children and take the marijuana business out of the hands of criminals. License, tax, and regulate the marijuana business, medical or otherwise. And while we’re at it, let’s implement a personal cultivation permit. Limit the size of the growing area or the number of plants, and put a small user-fee on it to cover administrative costs, something like a fishing license. Maybe high enough that there will be a little something left over for education or fixing the roads.

    One possibility:$100 per year for a permit to cultivate a dozen plants.
    It’s a win-win.

    Link to this
  2. 2. warpsix 12:41 pm 11/17/2009

    I agree tax the hell out of it , at the same time putting the drug dealers out of business , seems to be a win win.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Quasimodo 1:10 pm 11/17/2009

    Sign me upward! The sooner America wakes up and does the right thing about herb, the better.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Albert Reingewirtz 2:47 pm 11/17/2009

    As long as martini’s causing diseases from delirium to destroyed livers and marriages are legal marijuana much more innocuous kept illegal is not only stupid but immoral since it may help sick people. Smoking cigarettes causing lung cancer and a factor for heart disease is legal, no problem! We must be insane to tolerate this situation.

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  5. 5. dransphd 2:59 pm 11/17/2009

    My concern about marijuana goes beyond whether or not it has medical benefits to the question of what affect it has on the adolescent brain at a time in their lives where there is an enormous amount of growth and development. In other words, even if marijuana has beneficial medical uses, should it be allowed in the hands of teenagers who, as we know, are among the major users of this substance. There is evidence that marijuana clouds thinking, reduces memory and reduces attention and focus while being used.

    Allan N. Schwartz, PhD, mental health journalist for the health web site: Mental Help Net

    Link to this
  6. 6. MrLsKid 3:36 pm 11/17/2009

    Legalization->pricing and distribution that squashes the illegal economic benefit. Then it’s not a blackmarket for non-discerning dealers. This is how to help get pot out of the hands of kids. Do you find beer/cigarette "dealers" at the school yard?

    Pot of course affects thinking, "that’s the point". But it (canabinol) doesn’t have the same effect as another alcohol (ethanol). Ethanol’s effects too often go beyond the user in severely adverse ways.

    As an anti-depressant it might compete with the 24/7 zombie
    pills so many are on in this country. Let me guess who might lobby against legalization.

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  7. 7. Michael F 3:41 pm 11/17/2009

    @dransphd

    Even outright legalization would still be age-restricted, like alcohol and tobacco. No one is advocating that kids be allowed to run around and smoke pot.

    This is purely anecdotal, but I don’t think that it would be easier for kids to get if it were legalized. In fact, it would probably be harder since, as they say, "today’s drug dealers don’t ask for I.D."

    Link to this
  8. 8. sparcboy 3:50 pm 11/17/2009

    Taking Concerned Parents concept a little further:

    Marijuana and many other currently illegal drugs should be legalized. The illegal drug market results in thousands of deaths and virtually world wide corruption of governments and law enforcement, including funding terrorist and illegal weapons purchases. Billions upon billions of dollars are spent each year fighting the market.

    Legalizing drugs would introduce a greater degree of control, create an enormous tax revenue source, reduce corruption and take billions of dollars out of the pockets of the pathetic excuses for humans drug lords, putting them out of business.

    Highly addictive drugs would necessarily need to be illegal. The solution to reducing their influence would be long-term prison sentences for users and life imprisonment or even the death penalty for dealers. This would encourage the majority of users to stick with legal drugs.

    When alcohol was outlawed in the U.S., the same types of violence and corruption now seen in the illegal drug market ensued. Once it was made legal again, the violence and corruption ceased.

    It is simply a matter of trade-offs. Millions of people are currently addicted to these drugs and that will likely not change. And there will be deaths resulting from over-dose and DUI, just as there is now. The primary difference will be the world-wide reduction in violence, illegal drug market funded gangs and government corruption. Governments will have a tax source creating billions of dollars revenue, instead of wasting it fighting the illegal drug market. Also the billions of dollars produced for the illegal weapons trade and terrorist funding will virtually cease all together. Also, portions of cities, and even entire cities like Ciudad Juarez, will be returned to the citizens so they can live in peace.

    The current method is simply not working.

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  9. 9. Hermit 3:59 pm 11/17/2009

    Clear thinkers will notice that heavy marijuana use by millions of youths during the 60′s and 70′s has not shown any noticeable increases in mental hospital admissions, medical hospital admissions, deaths, violence or any other harm to justify the sadistic War On Drugs. This plant was hyper-criminalized to sidestep the constitutional rights of Veit Nam war protesters to demonstrate and is, therefore, Unconstitutional.

    If all those kids brains were warped by pot 45 years ago it would be very obvious to demographers. But there is nothing there to find, except scare stories, hate and very sadistic bullying – punishment for disobedience. The idea that personal preferences and private mental states are the government’s business is profoundly weird in a science magazine.

    Hermit

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  10. 10. MrLsKid 4:02 pm 11/17/2009

    We don’t "allow" the violence-causing alcohol (ethanol) in the hands of teenagers by it being legal but it happens. If we go back to prohibition of ethanol it will be bought and sold in the clandestine manner pot is now and inappropriate access and production will soar. Legalizing canabinol (the "kinder, gentler" alcohol) will help with management of distribution and safety. People go thru the wrong gateway sometimes because they’re in the wrong neighborhood.

    $10 worth of cheap liquor (can buy a 1/2 gallon) vs $10 worth of pot. One you die, one you spend $5 more at Taco Bell.

    "There is evidence that marijuana clouds thinking, reduces memory and reduces attention and focus while being used". Like ethanol, don’t use it when clear thinking is an issue. But at least you’ll want breakfast in the morning and go to work. Pot doesn’t destroy lives and families like ethanol except for its legal issues.

    Link to this
  11. 11. Hermit 4:14 pm 11/17/2009

    Clear thinkers will notice that heavy marijuana use by millions of youths during the 60′s and 70′s has not shown any noticeable increases in mental hospital admissions, medical hospital admissions, deaths, violence or any other harm to justify the sadistic War On Drugs. This plant was hyper-criminalized to sidestep the constitutional rights of Veit Nam war protesters to demonstrate and is, therefore, Unconstitutional.

    If all those kids brains were warped by pot 45 years ago it would be very obvious to demographers. But there is nothing there to find, except scare stories, hate and very sadistic bullying – punishment for disobedience. The idea that personal preferences and private mental states are the government’s business is profoundly weird in a science magazine.

    Hermit

    Link to this
  12. 12. MCMalkemus 4:35 pm 11/17/2009

    Throwing someone in jail for marijuana makes no sense. Alcohol is a far more dangerous drug, and prisons are filled with alcohol users.

    When was the last time you read about a family of five killed by a stoned motorist? I hear drunk drivers doing this all the time…

    Link to this
  13. 13. MCMalkemus 4:40 pm 11/17/2009

    Dr. Schwartz, it is a legitimate concern. However, it is proven that people that are going to do drugs will do so no matter how illegal they are. I can point to hundreds of youths in my area of the world (central Europe) that started drinking alcohol when they were in their early teens. How safe is that for a growing brain?

    Link to this
  14. 14. joeldooris 4:57 pm 11/17/2009

    THIS IS HONORABLE!
    This is an illegal substance and should not be looked at as a medical product! We should not do any research on such a substance because if it had any medical use it wouldn’t be made illegal in the first place. Our lawmakers know what they are doing and we should trust them!

    Link to this
  15. 15. MCMalkemus 4:59 pm 11/17/2009

    That’s a rather hollow argument. Alcohol has no medical uses, and it kills how many people every year compared to marijuana?

    Link to this
  16. 16. MCMalkemus 5:06 pm 11/17/2009

    1,000,000 plus have died from drunk drivers over the last 24 years in the US alone.

    Can anyone tell me how many deaths on the road have been caused by marijuana? I couldn’t find any statistics on it. Thanks in advance…

    Link to this
  17. 17. Anna M 6:07 pm 11/17/2009

    I wouldn’t want my teenager (14) to do either pot or alcohol. I think that growing brains get stunted at that point with either substance. Alcohol and pot are both obtainable to teens, so legality doesn’t deter in either case. I just try to keep my teenager aware that the longer he can resist the "magical draw" towards either, the more maturity he will have to then deal with it when he does try them.
    And yes, I am a child of the 60′s and told my kids about my past.

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  18. 18. scottportraits 6:30 pm 11/17/2009

    Absolutely fabulous !! What took the AMA so long ??? Why don’t all those doctors and researchers keep nudging the government about this ? It’s time to reschedule cannabis and open the door to controlled, solid medical research.

    I want to hear more about it !!

    Link to this
  19. 19. smarkell 6:39 pm 11/17/2009

    Excellent statement and sound premisel.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Kurtj_homebrew 8:33 pm 11/17/2009

    I agree with many of these comments. This article mentions smoking pot as alternative to using the Marinol capsules, why not bypass the hazards of smoking altogether and use a vaporizer or ingest marijuana brownies or the like?

    Link to this
  21. 21. Jokunen 11:55 pm 11/17/2009

    Inhalation probably would work quite fast and have less harmful effects than smoking has. But first we have to be able to extract he active ingredients from the plant to have something to inhalate. And that probably needs research. Research that has been prevented by the schedule I category making any handling of marijuana illegal. How to prove anything with substance that one can not handle? It’s known fact that with alcohol the lethal dose is something like 10:1 to effective dose while with marijuana the proportion is at least 1000:1. That means it’s unheard of that someone would have killed themselves by taking too much marijuana in one session. But everybody does know how easy that is with alcohol. So as others have pointed out, it’s insane to keep alcohol and tobacco legal while prohibiting marijuana.

    I also support licensed distribution for all substances, to end the massive wins criminals make today when they can control the distribution. How this licensing is done for each substance is another matter, but the main target is to take them out of illegal channels. To end the gray markets outside of taxed commerce.

    Link to this
  22. 22. Sleven7 9:09 am 11/18/2009

    Decriminalize it YES, legalize it NO. If the government get their hands on this the price will skyrocket for legal bud due to all the taxation. The black market bud will drop in price and will be stronger than ever. It will be that much easier to grow and distribute once the regulation are relaxed.
    Kudos Mr President, well done, great start to handing us our freedom back.

    Link to this
  23. 23. Sleven7 9:14 am 11/18/2009

    Decriminalize it YES, legalize it NO. If the government get their hands on this, the price will skyrocket for legal bud due to all the taxation. The black market bud will drop in price and will be stronger than ever. It will be that much easier to grow and distribute once the regulations are relaxed.
    Do we really want to place a taxable product in the hands of a government that allows the most horrific and egregious violence to be broadcast to our children, yet ban one of the most natural events in human nature, breast feeding on the tube. This government is twisted and upside down,
    Kudos Mr President, well done, great start to handing us our freedom back.

    Link to this
  24. 24. biosensei 11:41 am 11/18/2009

    I agree with many of the posts calling for sanity and proper legalized (taxed and regulated) access to weed, for the same reasons of reducing harm and criminal activity and others stated above (no time to elaborate just now). Then perhaps we can restrict alcohol and nicotine a bit more (in UK the binge drinking problem is big and results in more deaths and other suffering than weed, Ecstacy and most other currently illegal substances) and use tax revenues from all recreational substances to help fund treatment programs. Best of all is not to use these things to cloud the mind, but people aren’t perfect and laws should work for and with real people.

    Link to this
  25. 25. LLLou 11:51 am 11/18/2009

    CONCERNED PARENT, your idea just replaces one criminal bureaucracy with another. I say NO to government control of a plant that anyone can grow , if the people who want it were growing their own, their would be no need for the drug cartels OR the government to be involved, but that is probably WAY too simple.

    Link to this
  26. 26. LLLou 12:02 pm 11/18/2009

    CONCERNED PARENT, your idea just replaces one criminal bureaucracy with another. I say NO to government control of a plant that anyone can grow , if the people who want it were growing their own, their would be no need for the drug cartels OR the government to be involved, but that is probably WAY too simple.
    DRANSPHD, You are correct Cannabis IS a drug, and it is not to be taken without some understanding of the effects it can have ,I would say 18, or 21 years old would be the cut-off point.

    Link to this
  27. 27. ShadowPrincePBC 3:06 pm 11/18/2009

    Oh, you silly little Sheeple who think that you’re people, let the government tell you lies. Have your best interests at heart and you do your part to keep them in coins up to their eyes. You say, "they’re just, honorable and true" and that they are "working for me and you", but they call you a peasant, think you lower than pheasant and invest to collect cash when you Die.

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  28. 28. rudeboys10 1:25 pm 11/19/2009

    There is so much value with hemp products as well as the medical uses. From clothes to pulp for paper i suspect the waste products could also be converted to biofuels. Let alone the recreational uses which come with less social problems than alcohol.People that use pot are kept from employment because the drug testing does not reflect recent usage, the affected worker is in no way impaired. As an employer of a large labour force I have found that (the pot smokers ) were more reliable, less likely to not show up in the morning, not spending time at bars ect. Now I realize this is not a true study with control groups it is surely my own observations over a period of 25 years working with large groups of labour persons. The revenue that can be achieved by legalizing and distributing through the same system that alcohol uses is huge.Also the savings to the legal system bogged down trying to penalize this action is substantial. Time for Gov’ts to lighten up it is a win win for all parties involved.

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  29. 29. rsteeb 11:32 pm 11/19/2009

    The bottom line: Keeping Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are dispensed freely is *MURDEROUSLY STUPID*.

    -Richard Steeb, San Jose California

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  30. 30. rsteeb 11:36 pm 11/19/2009

    "Our lawmakers know what they are doing and we should trust them! "

    ROFLMAO…

    Google "once secret nixon tapes". That oughta disabuse you!

    Link to this
  31. 31. coolpops 1:54 pm 12/8/2009

    I’m a legal medical marijuana patient here in Maine. Anyone know who I should contact to be legal grower and distributor?

    robin1958@netzero.net
    thanks Robin

    Link to this
  32. 32. patronsilver 12:27 am 12/9/2009

    Now I understand your concern about marijuana and its effects on the adolescent mind, but do not merely assume that the effects will be all negative. Ask my study group for AP Biology in high school and you’ll get a completely different answer. In case you were wondering, they had the highest number of 5′s than any class I had ever tutored, ever.

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  33. 33. BozipherOK 9:33 pm 02/15/2010

    I quit smoking weed for 3 years and decided to smoke again to get an appetite to gain weight. I started getting back spasms. I quit and the spasms ceased. A cpl. of months later I smoked a joint with some friends and back spasms returned.

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  34. 34. blinkheartpigs 3:12 pm 04/18/2010

    So, I’m not technically a medical marijuana patient, I’ve been trying to get my doctor to help legalize marijuana for my use. I have been finding myself using marijuana more sparingly and find that if I smoke it like I feel I should instead of how i used to, it also prevents me from abusing prescriptions. So not only do I believe that it does have medical properties(i smoke personally to help with my ADHD, depression and anxiety) to help us, but I believe, from the experiences of many other people, that they smoke weed to prevent the abuse of prescription medications. So what’s the use of giving out more prescription drugs to help you refrain from abusing them if people will abuse them anyway? I.E.: Suboxone is an opiate blocker, also infused with opiates. I see too many people abuse the use of this drug and take advantage of its properties to "get high", even though the main use of this drug around this area is to ween people off it to help patients with addictions like heroin. And the same for Methadone clinics. So why waste time giving people another excuse to abuse the drugs that America is willing to hand out so eagerly? I have seen many references to the comparison of Ethanol(alcohol) and Marijuana. But I would like to see the government and its corresponding affiliates to compare and contrast how Marijuana and, not just Alcohol, but including Prescriptions, has an effect your psychological well being and possibility of overdose or addiction.

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  35. 35. knightrider2011 12:33 am 06/9/2010

    "There is evidence that marijuana clouds thinking, reduces memory and reduces attention and focus while being used. "

    So does Valium and other benzodiazepines, but they are Schedule IV and widely prescribed by doctors and psychiatrists, even to the youth under age 18.

    Link to this

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