NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 7, 2005

Advocates of medical marijuana tout its ability to alleviate the symptoms of a number of diseases, from multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy and AIDS to nausea caused by chemotherapy. While experts say marijuana may be promising, they note that there hasn't been enough solid research to prove these claims.

The evidence is just not there, says Stanley Watson, a University of Michigan professor of psychiatry and one of two principal authors of a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Scientists have studied marijuana's effects on several ailments:

  • Research shows that marijuana stimulates the appetite among AIDS patients, who often waste away; patients gained a little weight, and they ate a lot of junk food, says John Benson, the other principal author of the IOM report, who notes that sweets and snacks don't improve nutrition.
  • Smoking marijuana should not be used to treat glaucoma, according to the IOM report; although it relieved eye pressure, those effects were short-lived.
  • There is "limited scientific evidence" that marijuana produces any measurable medical benefits for patients with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, according to an article last year in Neurology.

The drug remains popular with some patients, however. According to two Canadian studies also published in Neurology:

  • One found that 36 percent of 220 MS patients used marijuana, while another article found that that 21 percent of 160 epilepsy patients reported using marijuana in the past year.
  • Of those epilepsy patients, 68 percent say the drug made seizures less severe and 54 percent said seizures were less frequent.

Source: Liz Szabo, "Pot studies difficult to organize, analyze," USA Today, June 7, 2005.


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