It’s time for medical marijuana 

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently allow for the limited legalization of cannabis, when recommended by a physician. At a minimum, it is time for Oklahoma lawmakers to allow for an honest and open debate of the issue.

Marijuana and its organic constituents are some of the most investigated therapeutically active substances in history. To date, there are more than 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature pertaining to marijuana and its active compounds, known as cannabinoids. Nearly one-third of these were published within the last three years, according to PubMed Central, the U.S. government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research.

The scientific conclusions of the majority of these recent papers directly contradict the government’s stance that marijuana is a highly dangerous substance worthy of the harshest criminalization. Unlike most prescription or over-the-counter medications, cannabinoids are incapable of causing the user to suffer a fatal overdose, and they are relatively nontoxic to healthy cells or organs.

To put that in perspective, consider this: According to annual data reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, annual deaths in the U.S. attributable to conventional medications now total more than 82,000. Comparatively, there are no reports of deaths induced by marijuana overdose or marijuana-induced toxicity.

Modern scientific scrutiny of the marijuana plant reveals that its active constituents are not only safe, but also therapeutically efficacious. Most recently, the results of a series of randomized, placebo-controlled, FDA-approved clinical trials conducted at schools in the University of California system established that marijuana possesses therapeutic utility comparable to or better than many conventional medications, particularly in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain.

These findings echoed those of a 2009 report issued by the American Medical Association’s Council on Science and Public Health, which declared, “Results of short-term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

It is time to reject the notion that we possess insufficient evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of marijuana. The truth is that we know plenty. Most of all, we know that there remains no valid scientific reason to justify the continued targeting, prosecution and incarceration of those Americans who consume it responsibly, particularly those who use it as medicine under the supervision of their doctor.

As opined by the editors at The New England Journal of Medicine, it is time for “authorities [to] rescind their prohibition of the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat.”

Oklahoma lawmakers would be wise to heed their advice.

Armentano is deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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Paul Armentano

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