Letters to the Editor

Clinical evidence supports medical marijuana

Marijuana products, including pre-rolled cigarettes and buds, are displayed at a medical marijuana dispensary in California.
Marijuana products, including pre-rolled cigarettes and buds, are displayed at a medical marijuana dispensary in California. AP

Critics downplay the evidence for adding South Carolina to the 28 states that allow the use of medical marijuana, but even the nation’s most prestigious scientific association, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, has concluded that cannabis is highly effective against chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer and multiple sclerosis patients.

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The medical benefits of marijuana come from THC (psychoactive) and CBD (non-psychoactive). Synthetic THC has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients and to stimulate appetite and prevent weight loss in AIDS patients. A combination of THC and CBD obtained from marijuana plant extract is available as the drug Sativex to treat multiplesSclerosis in more than 25 countries. An experimental drug derived from marijuana (Epidiolex) was recently shown to significantly reduce epileptic seizures. And a combination of THC and CBD obtained from marijuana was shown in a recent clinical trial to benefit patients with gliomas, cancers of the brain.

Our laboratory at USC has been researching cannabinoids for the past 17 years and has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals on its potential use in cancer and autoimmune diseases. In fact, we were the first laboratory to demonstrate that marijuana cannabinoids can cure cancers in animal models and can kill human leukemic cancer cells. Moreover, our research demonstrated cannabinoids can target immune cells to suppress inflammation.

There are more than 80 autoimmune diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and destroys organs and tissues through chronic inflammation. These include MS, arthritis, colitis, lupus and type 1 diabetes, against which there is no cure. Several studies suggest that cannabinoids are effective to treat such diseases because they suppress inflammation and subsequently chronic pain. It is noteworthy that we produce our own cannabinoids called endocannabinoids — which are similar to those found in the marijuana plant — that regulate memory, mood, appetite and sensation of pain. Thus, it is likely that some of the diseases may be triggered by deficiencies in endocannabinoids that we produce, and use of marijuana may help reconstitute that defect.

While additional research and clinical trials are necessary to further evaluate the medical benefits of marijuana, we should not deny its use to patients with debilitating disorders where there is no other treatment available and where the evidence for cannabis is highly indicative.

Prakash Nagarkatti

USC Vice President for Research

Columbia

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