Brookings Institute: Recommendation Could Improve Access

byhellomd6 minutes

The Brookings Institute, a nonprofit research and policy think tank, recently released a paper entitled "Ending the U.S. government's war on medical marijuana research." In it, authors John Hudak and Grace Wallack call on officials to stop impeding research into cannabis, especially in light of the increasing number of states that are legalizing medical marijuana. In a country where 76 percent of doctors approve of medical marijuana, 24 states have legalized medical cannabis and seven more states are on the precipice of approval, it's confusing that the federal government would continue to throw up major roadblocks that interfere with adequate and important research.

From the Brookings paper, researchers Hudak and Wallack boldly state that, "It is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use." It's their fear, they explain, that increasing usage - in both the medical and recreational realm - may be putting patients and partakers at risk because cannabis hasn't undergone some of the stringent testing and approval phases that the FDA imposes on other medicinal substances. An autumn 2014 compilation of statistics suggests that there may be more than 2.4 million medical marijuana patients in the U.S., and this doesn't include the recreational users in Colorado or Washington, two states that have recently changed their cannabis laws.

In one critique published after the release of the Brookings paper, blogger, lawyer and Ohio State law professor Douglas A. Berman adds his voice in calling for the government to stop impeding important research into the benefits of medical cannabis. As part of the law professors blog network, Berman routinely writes about marijuana law, policy and reform, often highlighting how people on the national stage react and respond to the issue of medical cannabis, and what, in particular, is impacting his home state of Ohio. He also pointed to a Gallup survey that showed 58 percent support for marijuana legalization across all age groups, with the support ratio rising to two thirds for those under 50 years of age.

It's that same support by the common man, and by even more doctors, that has the Brookings' paper authors so very concerned. While some groups may point to the dangers of marijuana, typically referring to its recreational use while ignoring its medicinal value, Hudak and Wallack simply point out that we, as a whole, may not yet fully understand cannabis intimately enough to continue relying on it as a medicine before more depth is achieved through scientific study.

And on that issue, there isn't much dissent. In fact, news articles continuously appear from respected news outlets like Newsweek and USA Today, bemoaning the dearth of research studies on marijuana due to federal barriers. USA Today, in particular, points out that the federal government spent 1.1 billion dollars from 2008 to 2014 to study marijuana from the stance of how it could be abused or how addictive it might be. Less than 300 million dollars - a mere quarter of the total amount spent - actually went to research on how marijuana could actually be beneficial to patients.

Looping back to the high percentage of doctors who approve of medical marijuana or would prescribe it themselves if already legal or pending legalization in their states, it would be hard to find a bigger opponent-turned-proponent than CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Several years ago, he penned an important piece on exactly why he changed his mind and why other doctors might consider doing the same. He points out that he "mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Administration listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof," only to find that "they didn't have the science to support that claim." Beyond that, he began to look closely at medical cases where medical marijuana made a huge difference in the lives of patients where traditional FDA-approved substances failed. In particular, he looked to the case of a little girl in Colorado named Charlotte who was able to break free from a hugely destructive cycle of seizures by taking a specific blend of medical cannabis.

In short, for Dr. Gupta, seeing was believing. Along the way, Gupta also tore down old beliefs about marijuana's addictive or destructive properties, many of which were based on personal beliefs in the absence of sensible research. He also found "hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits" dating "between the years 1840 and 1930."

Between Gupta's well-respected medical opinion, the paper penned by Brookings' writers Hudak and Wallack, high levels of support in the medical community and rising levels of support amongst the general population, it would seem that the writing is (finally) on the wall. Perhaps more acceptance in general will lead to more approval and less restriction at the governmental level. That approval would open the floodgates for meaningful research and may benefit millions of patients.

In fact, millions of patients already achieve health benefits through the use of cannabis in states that already allow its prescription and use. Tens of millions of patients suffering from all types of ailments, such as migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, glaucoma, diabetes, depression and AIDS may also benefit from loosened restrictions on medical marijuana.

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