The Government and Cancer Research: A Tumultuous Relationship The 420 Times)  Despite numerous studies that have shown that marijuana could potentially aid in treating various types of cancer, the United States government has yet to embrace the drug’s medical applications. Instead, the government’s strict regulations have unfortunately acted as a barrier that has suppressed insight into cannabis’s medical applications.

Guillermo Velasco and his colleagues at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain have recently found that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, caused brain cancer cells to undergo self-digestion, a process known as autophagy, thus suppressing the growth of cancerous tumors.

This is autophagy: Vodpod videos no longer available.

Velasco’s study, titled “Cannabinoid action induces autophagy-mediated cell death through stimulation of ER stress in human glioma cells,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in April 2009.

“These results may help to design new cancer therapies based on the use of medicines containing the active principle of marijuana and/or in the activation of autophagy,” Velasco told US News.

The findings of Velasco’s study were promising. However, it was not the first of its kind – some of the earliest tests showing THC’s useful medical applications were funded by the U.S. government itself.

In 1974, scientists at the Medical College of Virginia, at the request of the U.S. government, undertook a study that concluded that THC slowed the growth of lung and breast cancers in laboratory mice and even prolonged their lives by as much as thirty six percent.

Although the conclusions looked hopeful, the U.S. government did not fund any more similar studies until 1996. The study, conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology program, found that mice and rats that were administered high doses of THC over extended periods of time showed greater protection against malignant tumors than untreated mice and rats.

But despite its own findings and currently emerging evidence that THC could effectively help in treating various types of cancer, the government has failed to make any continued effort to exploit marijuana’s medical applications. After the conclusion of the study in 1996, the government ceased to fund any further research.

See our post, Marijuana cures cancer – US government has known since 1974

It is unfortunate that the government has not made any substantial effort to seriously look into marijuana’s medical benefits; however, the problem does not end there: tight regulations on studying marijuana have done much to prevent investigation of the drug.

The crux of the problem revolves around the Drug Enforcement Administration’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, which lumps it into the same category as drugs such as LSD, heroine, and PCP.

Obtaining permission to study Schedule 1 drugs is exceedingly hard to do. Researchers have to gain approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a special Public Health Service panel, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration.

And for those brave researchers who apply, federal officials have often failed to respond to requests in a timely manner or have otherwise denied them.

Lyle E. Craker, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Massachusetts, has been trying, for nine years, to obtain permission from federal authorities to grow his own supply of marijuana for the sake of research. Unfortunately, DEA has refused to grant Professor Craker permission to do so.

“All I want to be able to do is grow it so that it can be tested,” Professor Craker told the New York Times.

But bureaucratic nightmares and nonsensical categorizations aside, there is reason to remain optimistic.

In an effort to facilitate studies of marijuana, The American Medical Association has, late last year, asked the federal government to reconsider their classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance.

The federal government has long found a useful ally in the AMA, whom the justice department often relies upon for medical justification when enforcing marijuana policy. Thus, the AMA’s reversal of its longstanding marijuana policy came as a surprise, to say the least.

Unfortunately, it is hard to say if the government will take the AMA up on its request. The government has been well aware of the prospective medical benefits of cannabis for over three decades and has yet to change its stance with respect to the drug – it is questionable whether or not a mere request by the AMA would do much to change the status quo.

But given that the AMA reversed its pot policy after seventy-two years, we can take solace in the fact that things are changing slowly, but surely.

Larry Lechuga


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