STATS ARTICLES 2006

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New Marijuana Study Suggests FDA Statement Wrong
May 24, 2006
Maia Szalavitz
No elevated risk for lung cancer even for heavy pot smokers

When the Institute of Medicine wrote its 1999 report on the medical research on marijuana, it seemed to use the fact that the drug was smoked as a kind of “get out” clause, in what appeared to be an attempt to avoid appearing to fully endorse medical marijuana.

Although it did debunk fears about marijuana as a “gateway drug” and the idea that it is highly addictive and noted that marijuana held promise in the treatment of a number of conditions, the group’s report said that because “of the health risks associated with smoking, smoked marijuana should generally not be recommended for long term use.”

Even though the Institute of Medicine is the organization specifically delegated by Congress to find the best answers to scientific controversies, the FDA recently ignored this report and numerous other studies with similar findings and claimed in a press release – without any supporting evidence – that smoked marijuana has no legitimate medical use.

Both groups, as well as the drug czar’s office, are likely to want to resort to drugs themselves when they see the latest data presented by UCLA researcher Donald Tashkin. At a meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society last year, Tashkin presented early results of a large case-control study exploring the link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. He found no connection. Now, he’s presented his latest resultsat the American Thoracic Society. While the study found that people who smoked two packs a day of cigarettes had a twenty-fold higher risk for lung cancer, even the heaviest marijuana users had no elevated risk of lung cancer.

STATS will be interested to see how widely this study is covered in the media, which tend to focus generally on studies that find connections between drugs and disease while ignoring those that don’t find correlations. And this tendency is magnified when the drugs in question are illegal, of course.