Going In Circles? Because Pot is Illegal, Researchers Can’t Study Its Benefits


Massachusetts voters in 2½ weeks will consider becom­ing the 17th state to ­legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but there is little research showing whether the drug has therapeutic benefits, reports the Boston Globe. That says more about the difficulty of studying an illegal substance than it does about the inherent medical value of the plant. Opponents of the proposal say medical practice should be defined by rigorous study and drugs vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not by popular opinion. Advocates say federal drug policy has thwarted that process. They point to abundant anecdotes and a collection of small studies that found marijuana to be effec­tive in alleviating pain and muscle stiffness in people with chronic conditions.

Ethan Ruby, 37, was was struck by a drunk driver in Manhattan 12 years ago. He has no feeling ­below his chest except for persistent pain in his legs. To cope, he relies on a small dose of marijuana, sometimes several times a day. The drug distracts him from the pain long enough to focus on his business pursuits or to spend good-quality time with his wife and two children. It allowed him to cut his use of prescription narcotic painkillers from daily to occasional. For some doctors, such ­examples are not enough. “For any other drug, there has got to be testing,” said Dr. Joseph Gravel, president of the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians. The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes the referendum, but sent a letter to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration this month urging that marijuana be reclassified to make it easier to ­research. Dr. Eric Ruby, Ethan's ­father and a pediatrician who is a vocal advocate for the Massachusetts proposal, says, “We haven't done the studies because [the drug is] illegal. Because it's illegal, we can't do the studies. That's not scientific. That's circular.”

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