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AMA urges clinical studies of marijuana

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By Sheilah Downey

The American Medical Association may have helped push marijuana further into the medical mainstream when it urged the federal government to allow the herb to be used for studies in the development of cannabis-based medicines.

In a meeting in Houston on Tuesday, the AMA voted to urge the changing of marijuana from a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the same category as heroine, cocaine and methamphetamine, so that access to the herb would be easier for scientific studies.

The AMA statement was clear in suggesting marijuana's change of status -- for reasons of science -- and distancing itself from other uses currently in fashion.

"This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs," the statement reads, "the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription product."

Marijuana was first criminalized with passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Many activists and marijuana legal scholars have claimed for years that pot is illegal because major pharmaceutical companies would lose profits once people learned of the medical benefits of pot.

Marijuana has been slowly sliding into mainstream America for years, perhaps beginning with the legalization of medical marijuana in California in 1996. Medical marijuana has since been legal in 13 other states as well as Canada, Spain, the Netherlands and Austria.

In 2004, the United Nations estimated that 162 million people throughout the world use marijuana annually, and more than 2.5 million people use it everyday.

The scientific community has also taken notice. Early in this decade there was a trickle of scientific studies done on cannabis, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

In 2008, says their website, there were 2,100 published scientific studies on the potential medical uses and benefits of marijuana, all published on the National Library of Medicines PubMed website.

Besides combating nausea and treating pain, its two most common uses, scientists are also looking at the role of cannabis in treating Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Lou Gehrigs disease, and as an anti-cancer drug.

An emerging pharmaceutical cannabis company, Cannabis Science Inc., based in San Francisco, has been trying to get public health officials to "take medical cannabis seriously," according to CEO Steven Kubby.

In a statement last month, Kubby discussed the company's efforts to market a cannabis-based lozenge for treatment of the H1N1 virus.

"For decades, governments have ridiculed and suppressed overwhelming evidence that cannabis has many important medical uses," said Kubby, "but in the present public health crisis we should no longer tolerate this malign neglect. Our government ought to take medical cannabis seriously, just as voters in 14 States have voted overwhelmingly for medical marijuana legalization."

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