How the FDA Could End the Medical Marijuana Debate for Good

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Medical marijuana continues to be a topic of debate. There are those who insist cannabis has legitimate medicinal applications and should be allowed under a doctor’s supervision. Others say there is very little clinical evidence to support marijuana as a medicinal product.

Lest you think the debate is not worth having, it could be the only way we will ever get to the truth. Three dozen states and the District of Columbia have made medical cannabis legal. A small number of states have gone full recreational. With so much marijuana now being consumed in the U.S., the debate is going to have to be settled at some point.

There is a way to do so. It involves federal lawmakers and the FDA. If they both do their jobs, the debate could be over in a matter of years. But will they?

Anecdotal vs. Clinical Evidence

Deseret Wellness is a Utah medical cannabis pharmacy, or dispensary. They have locations in Provo and Park City. Spend a day at either location and you will hear plenty of stories offering anecdotal evidence in support of medical marijuana. Patients with medical cannabis cards use the drug to treat everything from chronic pain to seizure disorders.

It is hard to dismiss the anecdotal evidence. However, a noticeable lack of clinical evidence throws a monkey wrench into the works. Every other pharmaceutical product on the market is only there after rigorous FDA approval. And to gain approval, manufacturers must subject their pharmaceuticals to a barrage of clinical tests.

New York Times contributor Jane Brody wrote a detailed medical marijuana piece for the March 8, 2021 edition in which she interviewed multiple experts regarding clinical evidence. Simply put, it is not there. Except for three cannabis-derived drugs already approved by the FDA, there are no other medical cannabis products that have undergone the scrutiny of clinical testing.

The FDA’s Easy Fix

Debating over anecdotal and clinical evidence is nothing new. So how can the FDA end the debate over medical marijuana? By flexing its muscles to accomplish three goals:

  • Rescheduling – Before we are going to get any rigorous clinical testing, marijuana must be rescheduled. The FDA can put the pressure on lawmakers to do just that.
  • Access – Researchers need greater access to marijuana to study it clinically. Right now, Washington restricts their access.
  • Studies – The FDA should begin proactively asking for clinical studies once rescheduling and accessibility have been addressed. An eagerness to see the data should motivate researchers to get moving.

A plethora of clinical studies would go a long way toward determining the efficacy of cannabis once and for all. But why stop there? There is something else the industry can do to settle the issue.

Prescription Standardization

Because medical marijuana currently is not prescribed the same way doctors prescribe antibiotics, pain medications, etc., there is no standardization at the dispensary level. Patients go into their local dispensaries and buy a variety of products they think will help them. But there are plenty of variables in terms of dosage, delivery, and so forth.

Properly conducted clinical studies would naturally result in standardization. In order to get a product approved, a manufacturer would have to clearly establish its active ingredients. It would have to establish dosage and delivery, as well as efficacy based on both. Subsequent FDA approval would create a standard product completely lacking in ambiguity.

The FDA could end the medical cannabis debate for good by taking a hard look at clinical research. But for that to happen, marijuana has to be rescheduled and greater access given.