Commentary: Science comes to marijuana

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The counterargument, of course, is that since cannabis has no bad effects, it shouldn’t require rigorous testing. If it’s safe and it works, why sweat approvals? After all, certain foods provide medical benefits and none of them requires a prescription.

But is pot really safe? Its effects on adolescents can be devastating. There’s powerful evidence marijuana is addictive and a gateway drug. And it can put others at risk. Unchecked use has been shown to double the rate of car accidents and increase local theft.

But presumably, none of this applies to medical marijuana, where supply is limited and doses are controlled. Because of the apparent low risk, physicians are starting to accept pot. Nearly half of the cancer doctors recently surveyed by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute say they recommend marijuana for controlling pain and nausea.

Science to support this is starting to trickle in. A recent Israeli cancer study showed a verifiable 84 percent to 96 percent reduction in pain, nausea and anxiety.

Research at the Touro College of Pharmacy in New York revealed cannabis may also slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Touro cited laboratory evidence that the antioxidant properties prevented neuron damage.

Even more striking is a big study by GW Pharmaceuticals in which Phase III trials showed that an extracted form of cannabidiol sharply reduced the frequency of epileptic seizures. FDA approval is expected.

Three other marijuana ingredients already have been approved for treating various diseases. And research is ongoing. In one promising development, tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychedelic component of marijuana, was chemically modified to enhance its compatibility with eye fluid, opening the way for improved glaucoma treatment.

While this all bodes well, there is still a long way to go. Evidence remains scant. But very gradually the medical benefits of marijuana, or at least some of its ingredients, are being taken seriously. The stuff may really work.

Trecker, who holds a doctorate in chemistry and is a retired executive of Pfizer, serves on a number of local boards.

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By: Dave Trecker, Naples Daily News

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