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Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy (2000)

Chapter: Medical Marijuana in Context

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Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
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III

MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN CONTEXT

Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
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Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
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Previous chapters reviewed what basic research and medical science have discovered so far about the medical use of marijuana. Cannabinoids —chemicals in marijuana and their synthetic relatives—were shown to affect a variety of physiological processes through their interactions with cellular receptors. The performance of marijuana and cannabinoids in clinical experiments designed to test their ability to relieve symptoms of several different disorders was also discussed.

The next three chapters place this knowledge in a broader context while considering the future of medical research on marijuana. Chapter 10 examines the economic realities of developing drugs based on active compounds from marijuana. Although most researchers who study cannabinoids would agree that the scientific route to cannabinoid drug development is clearly marked, there is no guarantee that the fruits of scientific research will be made available to the public. Marijuana-based medicines will become available only if there is enough financial incentive for the pharmaceuticals industry to invest in producing and marketing them or if public funding is available for research and development.

Meanwhile, despite the passage of several state referenda that support the medical use of marijuana, prescribing marijuana remains a federal offense. Marijuana is classified with heroin and LSD among federally controlled substances considered to have high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. People suffering from debilitating symptoms that cannot be relieved with available drugs and who might find relief by smoking marijuana can take little comfort in a promise of a better cannabinoid drug 10 years from now. The health-related dangers of self-treatment with marijuana have already been addressed, but what about the legal consequences? Chapter 11 provides an overview of the current legal status of medical marijuana.

While legal issues related to medical marijuana have captured public attention in recent years, scientists have also demonstrated an increased interest in discovering and exploiting marijuana's medicinal benefits. After an initial burst of scientific activity in the 1970s, today 's renewed interest grew out of several important discoveries made since 1986. These include the identification and cloning of human cannabinoid receptors, the discovery of natural

Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
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compounds in the body that activate these receptors, and the creation of synthetic compounds that also activate cannabinoid receptors. Chapter 12 discusses the Institute of Medicine's recommendations—as well as those of other expert organizations—for building on these findings as we contemplate the future of marijuana-based medicine.

Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
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Page 129
Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
×
Page 130
Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
×
Page 131
Suggested Citation:"Medical Marijuana in Context." Institute of Medicine. 2000. Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9586.
×
Page 132
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Some people suffer from chronic, debilitating disorders for which no conventional treatment brings relief. Can marijuana ease their symptoms? Would it be breaking the law to turn to marijuana as a medication?

There are few sources of objective, scientifically sound advice for people in this situation. Most books about marijuana and medicine attempt to promote the views of advocates or opponents. To fill the gap between these extremes, authors Alison Mack and Janet Joy have extracted critical findings from a recent Institute of Medicine study on this important issue, interpreting them for a general audience.

Marijuana As Medicine? provides patients--as well as the people who care for them--with a foundation for making decisions about their own health care. This empowering volume examines several key points, including:

  • Whether marijuana can relieve a variety of symptoms, including pain, muscle spasticity, nausea, and appetite loss.
  • The dangers of smoking marijuana, as well as the effects of its active chemical components on the immune system and on psychological health.
  • The potential use of marijuana-based medications on symptoms of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and several other specific disorders, in comparison with existing treatments.

Marijuana As Medicine? introduces readers to the active compounds in marijuana. These include the principal ingredient in Marinol, a legal medication. The authors also discuss the prospects for developing other drugs derived from marijuana's active ingredients.

In addition to providing an up-to-date review of the science behind the medical marijuana debate, Mack and Joy also answer common questions about the legal status of marijuana, explaining the conflict between state and federal law regarding its medical use.

Intended primarily as an aid to patients and caregivers, this book objectively presents critical information so that it can be used to make responsible health care decisions. Marijuana As Medicine? will also be a valuable resource for policymakers, health care providers, patient counselors, medical faculty and students--in short, anyone who wants to learn more about this important issue.

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