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Health Czar Shows Amazing Ignorance About Marijuana Facts

You'd think the director of NIH would know a thing or two about the science of cannabis. You'd be wrong.

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Finally, Collins implied that there remain unanswered questions surrounding pot because the illegal nature of the substance makes it difficult to study its effects within the general population. "There's a lot we don't know because it's been an illegal drug, so how do you run a research project asking people to sign up who by their signing up are admitting they are breaking a law and might get into trouble?" Actually, such observational studies—where scientists recruit subjects who acknowledge a history of cannabis use and then match them with controls of similar age, ethnicity, and environment but without a history of cannabis use—are plentiful in the peer-reviewed literature. In fact, the IQ study specifically cited by Collins is one such example of an observational trial. (Here’s an example of another. And another.)

By comparison, there are fewer controlled, clinical trials assessing the safety and potential therapeutic efficacy of whole-plant cannabis. (Nonetheless, enough of these trials are available for scientists to recently conclude: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”)

But it is NIH that is to blame for this situation, largely because the policy of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (an institute of the National Institutes of Health established in 1974) has final say on all FDA-approved clinical trials involving cannabis and has publically acknowledged a bias against allowing such trials to go forward. As the director of NIH, one would think that Collins would not only be aware of this reality, but that he would be proactively working to change it. Unfortunately, rather than using his position to foster further scientific exploration of the cannabis plant, Collins appears content to simply promote the politics of prohibition.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (Chelsea Green, 2009).


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