Review of Human Studies on Medical Use of Marijuana (1996)

Get the PDF Version of this Documentby Dale H. Gieringer, Ph.D.
August 1996

California NORML
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San Francisco CA 94114
(415) 563-5858 / canorml@igc.apc.org

Summary: Human Studies on Medical Uses of Marijuana

There have been hundreds of studies on the medical uses of cannabis since its introduction to western medicine in the early nineteenth century. A review of the literature reveals over 65 human studies, most of them in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

  • The best established medical use of smoked marijuana is as an anti-nauseant for cancer chemotherapy. Marijuana's efficacy was demonstrated in studies by half a dozen states, involving hundreds of subjects. Most research has found smoked marijuana superior to oral THC (Marinol). Many oncologists are currently recommending marijuana to their patients. 
  • Marijuana is widely used to treat nausea and appetite loss associated with AIDS, but the government has blocked research in this area. Studies have shown that marijuana helps improve appetite, and Marinol has been FDA approved for treatment of AIDS wasting syndrome. Nearly 10,000 PWAs were reported to be using marijuana through the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers' Club. However, the government has blocked efforts by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco to proceed with an FDA-approved study of marijuana and AIDS wasting syndrome, by refusing to grant him access to research marijuana. Research is badly needed on the relative merits of smoked and oral marijuana versus Marinol. 
  • There is much evidence, largely anecdotal, that marijuana is useful as an anti-convulsant for spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other diseases. Similar evidence suggests marijuana may be useful as an analgesic for chronic pain from cancer and migraine as well as for rheumatism and a variety of auto-immune diseases. There is a conspicuous lack of controlled studies in this area; further research is needed. 
  • Cannabidiol, a constituent of natural marijuana not found in Marinol, appears to have distinctive therapeutic value as an anti-convulsant and hypnotic, and to counteract acute anxiety reactions caused by THC. 
  • It has been established that marijuana reduces intra-ocular pressure, the primary object of glaucoma therapy. Due to its psychoactivity, however, marijuana has not gained widespread acceptance in this application. 
  • Many patients report using marijuana as a substitute for more addictive and harmful psychoactive drugs, including prescription painkillers, opiates, and alcohol. Marijuana and Marinol have also been found useful as a treatment for depression and mood disorders in Alzheimer's and other patients. More research is needed.

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