New Studies Expose Government Lies About Medical Pot

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet
Posted on July 13, 2007

When Connecticut's Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell 
vetoed legislation last month that would have 
allowed citizens with debilitating medical 
conditions to use medical cannabis under their 
doctor's supervision, she alleged that there was 
no proof of pot's therapeutic effectiveness and 
that legal alternatives are available by 
prescription. Now, a just-released clinical trial 
by researchers at Columbia University in New York 
is making the governor's statements ring hollow.

On June 21, just 24 hours after Gov. Rell's veto, 
the online database for the National Library of 
Medicine posted an a forthcoming study from the 
Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes 
that reports, "Smoked marijuana  has a clear 
medical benefit in HIV-positive [patients] by 
increasing food intake and improving mood and 
objective and subjective sleep measures."

But that's not all investigators found. In a 
"first" for HIV/AIDS clinical research, 
scientists not only compared the efficacy of 
inhaled cannabis to a placebo (in this case, 
marijuana lacking the primary therapeutic and 
psychoactive compound THC), but they also tested 
pot against doses of the so-called "legal 
marijuana pill" known as dronabinol (aka 
Marinol). For those unfamiliar with dronabinol, 
it's a gelatin capsule containing synthetic THC 
in sesame oil that was approved by the FDA in 
1992 specifically to treat HIV/AIDS-related 
cachexia (weight and appetite loss).

So just how did the nearly $1,000-a-month 
synthetic alternative compare to the real McCoy?

According to the study, subjects experienced 
increased appetites after smoking cannabis or 
taking Marinol. Patients also experienced 
equivalent weight gains after using both drugs (a 
little more than 1.1 kilograms over a four-day 
period). Here's the kicker, though. Investigators 
reported that patients needed to take "eight 
times" the recommended daily dosage of Marinol to 
equal the same therapeutic relief they achieved 
after smoking relatively low-strength (2 percent 
or 3.9 percent THC) pot!

In other words, a few hits of the U.S. 
government's herbal "schwag" (the use of 
federally grown pot is required in all 
FDA-approved marijuana trials) was as efficacious 
as a mega-dose of Uncle Sam's synthetic pot pill.

Clinicians further reported that smoking 
higher-strength marijuana -- that's the 3.9 
percent pot for this study's purposes -- 
subjectively improved patients' sleep better than 
oral THC. Perhaps more important, authors 
reported that HIV patients made far fewer 
requests for over-the-counter 'rescue' 
medications while using cannabis. Scientists 
reported that most of these requests were to 
treat subjects' gastrointestinal complaints 
(nausea, diarrhea and upset stomach) -- 
conditions that have long been reported by 
patients to be alleviated with medical pot.

Of course, among those living with HIV/AIDS, 
scientific trials like the Columbia study only 
reinforce what they've already known for decades. 
(According to various surveys, between 25 and 37 
percent of HIV/AIDS patients in North America 
self-report using cannabis medically to combat 
both symptoms of the disease as well as the side 
effects of antiretroviral medications.) That for 
many with debilitating and life-threatening 
diseases, pot as a medicine works.

It's just unfortunate that politicians like Gov. 
Rell choose to take their marching orders from 
drug warriors in Washington rather than to heed 
the advice of those patients and doctors who know 
far better.

A previous version of this article originally appeared in The Hartford Courant.

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for 
the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC.