Feds' Praise for Medical Pot Goes Up in Smoke; Cancer-Treatment Role Downgraded

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 31, 2011 | Go to article overview

Feds' Praise for Medical Pot Goes Up in Smoke; Cancer-Treatment Role Downgraded


Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

For a brief time earlier this month, the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the federal government's National Institutes of Health, had posted a webpage touting the possible benefits of marijuana in fighting cancer tumors. But less than two weeks after it went up, the webpage was altered and the approving words stricken.

The webpage, added to Cancer.gov's alternative medicine section this month, is still there, and still says marijuana has potential benefits for treating symptoms of cancer - a groundbreaking assertion for a government-affiliated organization.

But the updated page deletes this praise for marijuana's ability to combat cancer.

In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis not only for symptom management, but also for its possible direct anti-tumor effect, the excised passage read.

The advice is now less supportive, and refers only to symptoms, not to cures: Though no relevant surveys of practice patterns exist, it appears that physicians caring for cancer patients who prescribe medicinal cannabis predominantly do so for symptom management.

NCI officials initially referred questions to Dr. Donald Abrams, a member of the editorial team. But in an email exchange Tuesday and Wednesday, Dr. Abrams said he was busy and referred questions back to NCI, which then pointed to a webpage written Wednesday by the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) editorial team that said the changes tried to add clarification.

The CAM Board lead reviewers realized that the previous wording could have been misinterpreted as being a recommendation for prescribing cannabis, which was not the intent of the board, the posting said. In addition, the current evidence for the anti-tumor properties of cannabis is discussed only in the context of laboratory studies and not in research involving human subjects.

The posting said the work is independent of NCI and NIH.

Medical marijuana advocates said they suspected political pressure forced the change, but considered even the current website language a victory, since NCI still touts the potential benefits of cannabis for treatment of symptoms of people living with cancer, such as pain and sleep problems.

We're very pleased that NCI, and really NIH, have finally recognized marijuana as a complementary alternative medicine, said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, which promotes medical marijuana use and research. That is a significant step forward. But just as importantly, it points to a contradiction in the federal policy on medical marijuana, and it's a contradiction that needs to be resolved. …

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