Chronic City: American Medical Association Reverses Position, Calls For Review of Medical Pot

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Photo by Coaster 420, Wikimedia Commons
Coming to a dispensary near you
For years, one of the main arrows in the quiver of anti-pot zealots in arguing against medical Marijuana (along with the federal pot prohibition, recently blunted by the Obama Administration) has been "But the American Medical Association says pot has no medical value." As of today, that's no longer true.

In a move considered historic by supporters of medical Marijuana, the AMA voted today to reverse its long-held position that Marijuana should continue to be classified under federal law as a Schedule I substance with no medical value. The organization, which is the largest physician-based group in the United States, adopted a report, "Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes," drafted by the AMA Council on Science and Public Health (CSAPH), which affirms the therapeutic benefits of medical Marijuana and calls for further research.

The CSAPH report concludes that "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."

And in a move that could eventually have enormous public policy repercussions, the physicians' group urges that "the Schedule I status of Marijuana be reviewed with the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."

This striking change of position was, according to the medical Marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), partly put into motion by a resolution adopted in June 2008 by the Medical Student Section of the AMA in support of the reclassification of Marijuana's Schedule I status.

The last AMA position, adopted in 2001, had maintained a hard-line anti-pot stance, calling for maintaining Marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medical value.

However, the AMA had lobbied against making Marijuana illegal to begin with back in 1937. Dr. William C. Woodward of the AMA offered eloquent written testimony pointing out that "the medicinal use of cannabis has not caused and is not causing addiction" and that "the prevention of the use of the drug for medicinal purposes can accomplish no good end whatsoever." 

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Photo by Joe Mabel
Dr. Sunil Aggarwal: "Marijuana has both already-demonstrated and future-promising medical utility"
​ "It's been 72 years since the AMA has officially recognized that Marijuana has both already-demonstrated and future-promising medical utility," said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, the medical student who spearheaded the passage of the 2008 resolution by the MSS and was also one of the CSAPH report's expert reviewers.

"This shift, coming from what has historically been America's most cautious and conservative major medical organization, is historic," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Marijuana's Schedule I status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it's been a major obstacle to needed research."

Other drugs listed in Schedule I, which are deemed to have no accepted medical uses and to be unsafe for use even under medical supervision, include heroin, LSD, and PCP.

Drugs listed in the less restrictive Schedule II, for which medical use is permitted with strict controls, include cocaine, morphine, and methamphetamine. Marinol, a pill containing THC, a component responsible for Marijuana's "high," is classed in Schedule III; its looser requirements allow phoned-in prescriptions.

The AMA's about-face on medical Marijuana follows an October announcement by the Obama Administration discouraging federal attorneys from taking enforcement actions against medical Marijuana patients and providers in states where they are operating legally.

In February 2008, the second largest physicians' group in the United States, the American College of Physicians (ACP), adopted a resolution (PDF) calling for an "evidence-based review of Marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance to determine whether it should be reclassified to a different schedule."

"The two largest physician groups in the U.S. have established medical Marijuana as a health care issue that must be addressed," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director at ASA. "Both organizations have underscored the need for change by placing patients above politics."

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