AMA: Marijuana has medical value

As proposed ballot measures and a legislative bill to allow recreational marijuana use advance here in California, medical marijuana advocates scored a big win today as the American Medical Association shifts to a friendlier stance.

The AMA’s House of Delegates voted to reverse its long-held position that marijuana be classified on the Controlled Substances Act’s Schedule I, meaning it has a high potential for abuse, no medical value and no safety for use under medical supervision; instead, it has adopted a report drafted by the AMA Council on Science and Public Health (CSAPH) entitled, “Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes,” which affirms some therapeutic benefits and calls for further research.

The CSAPH report concluded that, “short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.” The AMA now recommends that “the Schedule I status of marijuana be reviewed with the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”

The last AMA position, adopted 8 years ago, called for maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I substance.

“This shift, coming from what has historically been America’s most cautious and conservative major medical organization, is historic,” Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a news release. “Marijuana’s Schedule I status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it’s been a major obstacle to needed research.”

The American College of Physicians issued a position paper last year calling for an “evidence-based review of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance to determine whether it should be reclassified to a different schedule.

“The two largest physician groups in the U.S. have established medical marijuana as a health care issue that must be addressed,” Caren Woodson, government affairs director of the Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said in a news release. “Both organizations have underscored the need for change by placing patients above politics.”

The CSAPH report has not been officially released to the public, but an executive summary says it: “(1) provides a brief historical perspective on the use of cannabis as medicine; (2) examines the current federal and state-based legal envelope relevant to the medical use of cannabis; (3) provides a brief overview of our current understanding of the pharmacology and physiology of the endocannabinoid system; (4) reviews clinical trials on the relative safety and efficacy of smoked cannabis and botanical-based products; and (5) places this information in perspective with respect to the current drug regulatory framework.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.