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Science and FDA Say Cannabis Is Medicine but DEA Insists It Isn't

Much like with climate change, stubborn federal marijuana policy isn't supported by any data.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In May, Drug Enforcement Agency acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg caused a stir by proclaiming, in a speech in Ohio, that “marijuana is not medicine.”

Heath Korvola | Getty Images

Many people immediately disagreed, including The Hill, which wrote that Rosenberg might as well have said “the Earth is flat.”

But what’s even more interesting is that the Food and Drug Administration has already approved two marijuana-based medicines for treatment of nausea in chemotherapy patients and help increase appetite in those with AIDS who have experienced extreme weight loss.

Rosenberg’s statement also flies in the face of voters in more than half the U.S. states who have made medical marijuana legal.

Related: Governor's Veto Stalls Vermont Legislation to Legalize Marijuana

The Context of Rosenberg’s Comments

Unlike the drugs approved by the FDA, Rosenberg was addressing the “smoking” of marijuana. However, many of the products that fall into the medical marijuana category come in many different forms, including edibles, vaporizers, pills, oils and ointments.  

Rosenberg, speaking at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said that it would be “awesome” if it “turns out there is something in smoked marijuana that helps people.” But he said it should first be run through the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA relies on testing of marijuana, and that poses a problem. The federal government continues to list marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance alongside heroin, cocaine and LSD, with no medical value. All federal-funded testing must be done with government-grown marijuana.

And PBS reported earlier this year that the official marijuana used for testing is “moldy” and not held to any kind of standard, according to scientists. One Arizona researcher said it resembled green talcum powder more than cannabis.

That’s led to less testing in the United States and more outside the country. 

Related: How to Grow a Cannabis Farming Business in the Blazing Marijuana Economy

Studies That Show Promise of Marijuana

Many studies have been conducted that show there is a great deal of promise in medical marijuana. They include the following.

Multiple sclerosis. Dr. Dustin Sulak in Maine, where medical marijuana is legal, has reported that marijuana reduced suffering for those with chronic pain, helped those with inflammatory bowel syndrome to eat better and led to less painful muscle spasms from those with multiple sclerosis.

Dravet Syndrome. A recently-concluded study found that cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical found in marijuana, reduced seizures in children and young adults with a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome.

“Useful medicine.” A comprehensive review of many different studies on the potential uses of cannabis led doctors conducting the review for the National Institutes of Health to write: “Evidence is accumulating that cannabidiols may be useful medicine for certain indications.”

Autism. Doctors at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, influenced by positive results in early studies, have launched a two-year clinical trial to determine if marijuana can improve treatment for those with autism.

Pain. Oxford University in Great Britain has launched a series of studies into the potential use of cannabis for treating pain, cancer and inflammatory diseases. The prestigious university has enough interesting in medical marijuana to plan a summit on the topic later this year, the International Cannabinoid Biomedicine Conference, designed to get researchers around the world to share information about medical marijuana.

Sexual dysfunction. A European study from late last year found that CBD may prove effective for treating sexual dysfunction. 

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