Friday, April 19, 2024

Medical Cannabis Research: Where It Is and Where It’s Going

Here at The Fresh Toast, we do our best to keep on top on the new and rapidly changing field of medical cannabis. But we know it’s useful sometimes to take a pause, pull back, and see how it all fits together.

If you want a fair-minded, concise, and accurate overview of medical cannabis research, then you could do much worse than to spend an afternoon or two searching these archives. But if you want your info in one big chunk and without sassy talk or cutesy video links, then you’ve come to the right post. (Except for that one video link.)

Here are two recommended overviews of medical cannabis research which roughly represent the poles of reasonable scientific debate.

Representing “The Man”: The American Medical Association

Last year, to great fanfare, the Journal of the American Medical Association published its own comprehensive and rigorous investigation into medical cannabis. Out of 23,754 hits, a mere 79 studies could meet the review’s criteria. And even among those, only 4 were judged at “low risk of bias.” It’s safe to say that the authors erred on the side of caution.

The conclusions were similarly timid. According to JAMA, the only supported medical uses of cannabis are for pain relief and spasm treatment (“moderate-quality evidence) and a small grab bag of other purposes, mostly connected to the side effects of AIDS or chemotherapy (“low-quality evidence).

But the results aren’t really what matter: There have simply been too few clinical trials to prove much of anything. What’s of more value is the report’s analysis of the data. In more cases than not, the authors conclude that more research is justified.

That might not be a sufficiently vigorous endorsement for some of you. But it’s JAMA. Their job is not to be seduced by the next big thing and to protect patients from poisoning and other malpractice at the hands of their doctors, even if that means having to wait on promising new treatments.

If you want to argue the virtues of medical marijuana legislation with your family over the dinner table (seriously, don’t; but if you must), then this is the data set you want to use.

Representing Team Cannabis: Barry University, Florida

If, on the other hand, you want to dream about the green and skunky medical revolution that’s smoldering on the horizon: This review is the one you want.

It was published earlier this year in the not-so-reassuringly named Journal of Experimental and Integrated Medicine. Although it’s clear whose colors they wear, the researchers present a fair view of the contested territory. If they occasionally champion the fringier side of the debate (and they do), they never endorse outright voodoo (with apologies to those of you who endorse actual vodou).

Concluding that the medical benefits of cannabis are “virtually undeniable,” it calls on the federal government to legalize the drug and increase research funding. Fat chance for the present; but we can dream.



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