The missing scientific case for medical marijuana

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has just issued a helpful reminder to all Americans. In denying a petition to loosen restrictions on marijuana, the agency repeated that the drug has “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States.

This may come as a surprise, given that 25 states — including Nevada — already allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat maladies from PTSD to Alzheimer’s disease. Yet the truth is, research has yet to find firm evidence that marijuana can alleviate physical suffering.

That the political push for medicinal marijuana has gotten so far ahead of science explains why marijuana is still properly classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. It’s also why the Obama administration, in other big marijuana news last week, was right to enable more medical studies of the drug by increasing the supply available to researchers.

Marijuana’s unearned reputation as a therapeutic drug is partly an outgrowth of its contradictory legal status in the United States. Federal law forbids the possession, use and sale of marijuana for any reason. States wanting to get around this prohibition have found it most publicly acceptable to allow limited use, and have latched on to claims that pot can help treat various ailments — for example, the nausea caused by chemotherapy; pain and muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis; epilepsy; Crohn’s disease; and glaucoma.

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