Medical Marijuana: An Oncologist’s Viewpoint

November 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm Leave a comment

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the state of California was not approved by voters in the November 2, 2010 election. However, the use of marijuana for persons with serious medical conditions, including cancer, was passed in 1966 in California by the Compassionate Use Act. Thus, the Medical Marijuana Program was established within the California State Department of Public Health, and administered through a patient’s county of residence. For use of medicinal marijuana (cannabinoids), a physician’s recommendation must be obtained, and then patients and their primary caregivers apply for and can be issued a Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

However, a legal conundrum was created by the US Supreme Court decision when it ruled that the federal government has power, as part of the Controlled Substances Act, to regulate interstate commerce, arrest and prosecute patients and their suppliers, even if marijuana was permitted under state law. This was partially rectified by the October 2009 Department of Justice memorandum to US Attorneys stating federal resources should not be used to prosecute persons whose actions comply with their states’ laws, thus permitting medical use of marijuana. This helped states to implement new laws solving the legal controversy between the opposing state and federal law.

Clinical observations indicate that there are some cancer patients who derive significant benefits from various approved oral and inhaled preparations, such as pain relief, stimulation of appetite, suppression of nausea and controlled vomiting. However, for physicians, the use of medical marijuana still remains a highly controversial subject. This is because of the paucity of valid scientific studies needed to assess its benefits and drawbacks in cancer patients. Unfortunately, adequate clinical trials are constrained by regulatory and legal entanglements, and the federal level barriers limit legitimate research regarding its potential salutary effects. Therefore, the continued and unresolved legal problems of marijuana will continue to affect conducting scientifically sound clinical research. Ultimately, this will impact the ability to inform the medical community of all the true risks and benefits of marijuana for cancer patients, and the role it might have in medical practice.

If you would like more information and referrals for resources on medical marijuana for cancer patients in Los Angeles County, please contact the social work manager, Phyllis Ruja Tell, MSW at Ronnie Lippin Cancer Information and Resource Line 800-RLC-2120 or


Entry filed under: advocacy, RLC Info & Resource Line, Tower Cancer Research Foundation.

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