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When it comes to medical marijuana it seems that all weed in not created equal. Or processed equally, either. Scientists in the United Kingdom compared 79 studies of randomized trials and came to the conclusion that many of the trials themselves were too limited to be of definitive value and those that were did not really demonstrate the claims of medical marijuana proponents.
Scientists led by Penny Whiting from University Hospitals Bristol in the U.K. report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that there is only moderate-quality evidence supporting the benefits of medical marijuana, and only for certain conditions. The majority of studies involving medical marijuana are of lesser quality and therefore more likely to be biased and provide unreliable results.
In all, Whiting and her colleagues analyzed 79 randomized trials, the gold standard in medical research in which volunteers are randomly assigned to take a cannabis-related product or a placebo. The studies evaluated marijuana’s ability to relieve a range of symptoms including nausea from chemotherapy, loss of appetite among HIV positive patients, multiple sclerosis spasms, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, psychosis and Tourette syndrome. Most of the studies showed improvements among the participants taking the cannabinoid products over those using placebo, but in many, the scientists admitted that they could not be sure that the effect wasn’t simply due to chance since the association was not statistically significant.
What is interesting about these trials is that in the United States, marijuana is considered to be a schedule-1 drug as defined by the Controlled Substance Act. Pot as a cure all for chemotherapy nausea, Tourette Syndrome and sleep issues were not well proven despite old wives’ tales. Now we know.
The strongest trials supported cannabinoids’ ability to relieve chronic pain, while the least reliable evidence involved things like nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, sleep disturbances and Tourette syndrome. Cannabinoids were, however, connected to more adverse events such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, disorientation and hallucinations than placebo.
Summing up the state of the evidence, Whiting and her colleagues write that “Further large, robust, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects of cannabinoids, particularly on weight gain in patients with HIV-AIDS, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, glaucoma, and Tourette syndrome.”
So, where does that leave us in the United States where 23 states allow cannabis to be part of drug regimens for a variety of medical conditions? In a strange spot. In addition to the spotty medical evidence that pot is helpful for anything other than killing pain, in the states where commercial products are available, another study in JAMA reports that the quality and quantity of the cannabis in candies, and other food items varies greatly from the labeling and one item to the next. Medical marijuana is not regulated like a regular pharmaceutical product would be, so there is no consistency. It’s sort of like playing joint roulette.
Add these details to the realities of the pot industry in Washington state where the illegal product is cheaper and a better quality than the stuff customers get in the state stores, and that marijuana plants are considered to be a big contributor to the drought situation in California, it’s time for some plain speaking on marijuana, or at the very least better and more exhaustive trials to prove efficacy. There has to be a reason cannabis is listed as a schedule 1 drug.