The Scientific Activist

Yesterday, the influential AMA (American Medical Association) announced that it would cease its opposition to the concept of medical marijuana and instead advocate for a change in federal classification of the drug. From the LA Times:

The American Medical Assn. on Tuesday urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use, a significant shift that puts the prestigious group behind calls for more research.

The nation’s largest physicians organization, with about 250,000 member doctors, the AMA has maintained since 1997 that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive category, which also includes heroin and LSD.

In changing its policy, the group said its goal was to clear the way to conduct clinical research, develop cannabis-based medicines and devise alternative ways to deliver the drug.

“Despite more than 30 years of clinical research, only a small number of randomized, controlled trials have been conducted on smoked cannabis,” said Dr. Edward Langston, an AMA board member, noting that the limited number of studies was “insufficient to satisfy the current standards for a prescription drug product.”

This is still a relatively conservative position, as it doesn’t directly advocate the medical use of marijuana directly, but rather more research on the subject. I find this quite reasonable, because although marijuana has demonstrated some clear health benefits, harsh drug laws have severely limited the amount of quality clinical research on it, and our knowledge in this area is just not up to par with what it needs to be for a routine medical treatment.

It’s of note that the Obama administration has already adopted a more relaxed policy toward medical marijuana, making prosecution of medical marijuana users and dispensers no longer a federal priority. Still, these actions haven’t changed the underlying federal laws regarding marijuana–which remain overly severe–but have just altered the enforcement of them. Hopefully the increasing number of voices advocating for such a change–now including the AMA–will eventually be heard.

An interesting aspect of the AMA’s change in policy is that it fits in with a larger shift in the organization’s positions. Traditionally, the positions of the AMA have been on balance fairly politically conservative. However, this year, for example, the AMA has come out in favor of sweeping health care reform–despite its many years of trying to block similar reforms. This brings the position of the AMA more in line with the views of the physicians it represents. Arguably the most definitive survey on this subject to date (published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine) found that 72.5% of physicians support a public health care option (either or alone or with private options as well, the latter being by far the most popular view).

The fact that even the AMA is taking now these positions–both on health care reform and on marijuana laws–should be an indication of just how needed these changes are.


Hat tip to Meredith for pointing me toward this story.

Comments

  1. #1 Pablo
    November 11, 2009

    The AMA also apparently supports gay marriage. From a press release by the GLMA

    *AMA Says Gay Marriage Bans
    Contribute to Health Disparities*

    *Gay and Lesbian Medical Association Praises AMA Policy Declaring
    Same-Sex Marriage Bans to be Harmful to the Health of LGBT Families*

    The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) today praised the American
    Medical Association’s (AMA’s) adoption of policy declaring that gay marriage
    bans contribute to health disparities for gay couples and their children.

    As part of the newly adopted policy, the AMA “supports measures providing
    same-sex households with the same rights and privileges to health care,
    health insurance, and survivor benefits, as afforded opposite-sex
    households.”

  2. #2 Ryan
    November 11, 2009

    Thank god. Baby steps, but baby steps nonetheless.

    The AMA’s recent political shift has been pretty interesting. I’d like to see some longitudinal data on the makeup of the AMA. From what I hear the group has lost a lot of its respectability among younger doctors because of its traditional conservatism. But it seems that enough of these doctors are joining to shift the politics of the group to the left…

  3. #3 brian
    November 11, 2009

    So the AMA cowards don,t stand up for people that would have a better life with medical marijuana till now??? but they support abnormel sex between two men ripping there buttholes apart heving sex and spreading nasty disease???
    WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

  4. #4 mydnytmover
    November 11, 2009

    I have been paralized from the chest down for 28 years and have seen medical marijuana help Many.
    The A.M.A. took to damn long to help us, GO TO HELL your Nothing but scum

  5. #5 Scott
    November 11, 2009

    This sounds suspiciously like “AMA figures out it can get grant money to study drug and immediately changes stance.”.

    The unfortunate reality of a lot of professional organizations is that their publicly stated opinions reflect the consensus of 15-25 years ago. The people who end up in charge tend to be older, more conservative and willing to attend a lot of boring meetings.

  6. #6 Ange Lobue, MD, MPH, BSPharm
    November 11, 2009

    The fact that the AMA is beginning to adopt policies and positions that represent the majority of its membership is reason for hope that scientists can and will play a more responsible role in the pseudo-debates that have paralyzed the politicians of this nation into a state of rigor mortis.

    The utility of science to help reduce the suffering and death of human beings throughout the world is reason enough for scientists to speak uniformly, clearly and powerfully in advocating for more compassion and empathy in our national behavior, a position fundamental to most religions and philosophies.

    Moreover, the scientific discovery, ten years ago, of mirror neurons, a network or system in the brains of humans and other animals that is responsible for the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, may be the single most significant research finding since the discovery of the double helix.

    This paradigm-shifting discovery may help us in the future to neurologically distinguish between those with or without a critical mass of functional neurons from which compassion and empathy are derived. Such knowledge could lead to treatments programs designed to improve the brain capacities of autistic individuals who have difficulty understanding the emotions of others.

    Some of us who work with developmentally disabled adult patients have seen evidence of neurogenesis throughout the life span resulting from particular kinds of mental or communication experiences, exercises, and relationships in concert with some newer psychopharmacological agents in our practices.

    Could such experience and training be prerequisite for candidates seeking positions of authority over national security, health and welfare?

    Would that it were so easy, now.

    Ange Lobue, MD, MPH, BSPharm
    American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology
    Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
    trinidadca@gmail.com

  7. #7 John
    November 11, 2009

    One of many things the AMA suddenly publicly supports. I smell a shotgun. This many “controversial” positions released all at once isn’t a coincidence for an organization like the AMA. Is this a blizzard meant to conceal something significant they’re pushing through at this critical time? Or is this an onslaught of support recruitment for health care?

  8. #8 Joseph j7uy5
    November 12, 2009

    Just so people know, the AMA itself does not get grants, not do research. If there is a financial motivation for this shift, it is the motivation to reverse the declining membership.

    No, this probably is exactly what it appears to be: a shift away from ideology, toward a rational appraisal of evidence. Any yes, the increasing influence of younger members may have something to do with it.

    BTW, I am not a member of the AMA; I let my membership lapse about 15 years ago, because I was fed up with their opposition to single-payer health care coverage.

  9. #9 Bali Accommodation
    November 13, 2009

    In my country, Marijuana can bring you to the jail, and you can get death penalty from the government.

  10. #10 sliderossian
    November 13, 2009

    As long as cigarettes and alcohol and coffee are legally sold and purchased in this country, anything short of sensible legalization (with government regulation, like booze and cigarettes) is hypocrisy and posturing. Everyone should know by now that test after test after test has shown marijuana to be benign and in a lot of cases beneficial (see the Jamaica study). Political interests (both Republicans and Democrats) have used not marijuana, but the distortions, lies and disinformation about it to enact harmful laws which have imprisoned and ruined the lives of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

    The AMA is not coming clean – over 30 years of scientific, peer-reviewed studies available from the US and around the globe for perusing, and they advocate for … studies.

  11. #11 DrGreenBud
    November 13, 2009

    II would like someone to explain to me how cocaine and meth can be schedule 2 but yet cannabis is considered much more dangerous and deadly so it needs to be schedule 1? You cannot overdose from cannabis, in thousands of years of use by man there is not one recorded death. Pardon me but isn’t there thousands of people a year who overdose on those schedule 2 narcotics and DIE? Not to mention the legal drugs like alcohol, sleeping pills, aspirin, and caffeine. Or the presciption ones like xanax or oxycotin. Sad that the government would rather me comsume synthetic heroin (oxycotin) for pain, that I could overdose on, instead of a plant that cannot kill me…wtf America?

    Don’t be lied to anymore America (Home of the Free) get out of the Nixon era. As for those who will say smoking cannabis is bad need to know smoking is not the way to use cannabis…you have to vaporize it. For those who are clueless to this process, it is when you vaporize the essential oils on/in the flower of the plant with heated air and inhale it similar to someone with an inhaler for asthma. In this way there is only essential oils which contain the valuable cannabinoids and thus no smoke (carcinogens) but the same effect as smoking. This is the 21st century not 1972 and times are changing. Soon my generation, I’m 38, will be in control and many, many of us have used cannabis and know the truth about this wonderful plant.

  12. #12 J
    November 16, 2009

    The American Medical *Student* Association has always been more reliably in favor of Kindness and Decency than their teachers and bosses in the AMA.

  13. #13 SunflowerPipes
    November 19, 2009

    Someday I imagine we will all live in a land were men and women alike are free to do what they choose to do with their own bodies. A world were one really does have right to pursue happiness as they see fit. Even if it is sitting at home smoking from a glass pipe.
    Sunflowerpipes.com

  14. #14 What's the frequency, Kenneth?
    November 21, 2009

    Amen brother!

  15. #15 mkandefer
    November 24, 2009

    “The American Medical *Student* Association has always been more reliably in favor of Kindness and Decency than their teachers and bosses in the AMA.”

    Except when they aren’t:

    http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Homepage/About/Committees/NaturopathicMedicine.aspx

  16. It’s funny how this news item kind of slide under the radar. I hadn’t realized the AMA’s change in position until the recent hearings in Washington (state). It turns out California and Washington are both moving to legalize marijuana. It amazing what a bad economy can do to change ones view point.

  17. #17 frokostordning
    March 1, 2010

    In Denmark it’s quiet common actually…

  18. #18 capsiplex
    March 18, 2010

    As long as cigarettes and alcohol and coffee are legally sold and purchased in this country, anything short of sensible legalization (with government regulation, like booze and cigarettes) is hypocrisy and posturing.

  19. #19 houston chiropractor
    March 14, 2011

    The fact that the A.M.A. is actually looking at this is that they see that they can profit off it. To get your marijuana you have to get your script filled. And if I have the product to sell you as well I get to doubly profit. I just haven’t seen anyone overdose from marijuana before; have you? Hard to believe you are going to have to get a script to smoke a weed that could grow in your backyard.