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NIH Medical Marijuana Panel Report Released, Supports Efficacy, Recommends Further Study


August 1997

Eight experts in clinical studies and therapeutics who convened for a two-day meeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in February 1997 to review and discuss current scientific evidence of medical uses for marijuana have issued thier 40-page report (For background, see "NIH Panel Suggests More Research of Medical Marijuana," NewsBriefs, March-April 1997). The report, released August 8, concludes that marijuana appears to be an effective medicine, but that more rigorous studies of the therapeutic use of marijuana are needed.

The experts were asked to consider four questions during the meeting in February when they heard scientific presentations and reviewed written material: a) What research has been done previously and what is currently known about the possible medical uses of marijuana? b) What are the major unanswered scientific questions? c) What are the diseases or conditions for which marijuana might have potential as a treatment and that merit further study? d) What special issues have to be considered in conducting clinical trials of the therapeutic uses of marijuana?

The report summarizes their conclusions about research in each therapeutic area, and mentions specific needs for studies in areas such as AIDS-wasting syndrome. The report noted that "inhaled marijuana has the potential to improve chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting," and "further studies to define the mechanism of action and to determine the efficacy of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma are justified."

Regarding the third question, the report concluded: "In order to evaluate various hypotheses concerning the potential utility of marijuana in various therapeutic areas, more and better studies would be needed." Dr. William Beaver, Professor of Pharmacology and Anesthesia at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, who chaired the panel, said, "For at least some potential indications, marijuana looks promising enough to recommend that there be new controlled studies done." The group stated that NIH should "facilitate the development of a scientifically rigorous and relevant database" to the best of its ability.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the NIH report "is missing numerous supportive statements made by the NIH panel of experts during NIH's `Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana' in February." Statements omitted in the final report include: "I don't think there's any doubt about its effectiveness, at least in some people with glaucoma," and "[Evidence] does clearly show that marijuana increases the appetite, increases caloric intake." MPP says the report's conclusion that more research is needed "jibes perfectly with Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's strategy to defeat ballot initiatives by denying the existing evidence (Marijuana Policy Project, "NIH Panelists' Supportive Statements Missing from Medicinal Marijuana Report," Press Release, August 8, 1997).

Sources referenced for this report include: National Institutes of Health Ad Hoc Group of Experts, "Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana: Report to the Director," August 8, 1997; National Institutes of Health, "NIH Releases Panel's Report on the Possible Medical Use of Marijuana," Press Release, August 8, 1997; David Brown, "Marijuana Medically Useful but Issue Still Hazy, NIH Says," Washington Post, August 9, 1997, p. A6; Associated Press, "Research Is Urged On Medicinal Marijuana," New York Times, August 9, 1997, p. A1; David Brown, "Panel: Marijuana may be useful but no more than legal medicine," Houston Chronicle, August 10, 1997, p. 13A; Associated Press, "Panel advises testing medical uses of marijuana," Virginian-Pilot, August 9, 1997, p. A3.

NIH, Director Harold E. Varmus - 9000 Rockville Pike, #344-Bldg. 1, Bethesda, MD 20892, Tel: (301) 496-4000, Web:

NIDA, Director Alan Leshner - 5600 Fishers Lane, Room 10A-39, Rockville, MD 20857, Tel: (301) 443-6245.

Marijuana Policy Project - P.O. Box 77492, Washington, DC 20013, Tel: (202) 462-5747, E-mail: