Major New Study Supports Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana

Press Release February 12, 2007
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

Trenton — A major new study appearing in today’s issue of the journal Neurology concludes that AIDS patients suffering from a painful nerve condition in their hands or feet received as much or more relief from smoking marijuana as they would typically get from prescription drugs, though with fewer side effects. The study, “Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: A randomized placebo-controlled trial,” was conducted in a specially ventilated hospital ward under rigorously controlled conditions with government-grown marijuana.

Over a five-day inpatient intervention period, more than half of the AIDS patients smoking marijuana cigarettes three times a day experienced significant reductions in pain of peripheral neuropathy, which patients liken to a stabbing or burning sensation, usually on the bottoms of their feet. HIV patients are not the only group to experience peripheral neuropathy.

Diabetics, cancer patients and people with injuries or infections affecting nerve tissue have also been afflicted with different strains of the painful condition. Conversely, less than one-quarter of those who smoked the “placebo” marijuana cigarettes, which had its primary psychoactive ingredients removed, reported benefits as measured by subjective pain reports and standardized neurological tests.

“This is evidence, using the gold standard for clinical research, that cannabis has some medicinal benefits for a condition that can be severely debilitating,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, lead author of the study.

New Jersey is home to approximately 32,300 people living with HIV. Additionally, some 2,500 New Jerseyans are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year. Around 43,000 New Jerseyans are diagnosed with cancer each year; hundreds more are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“The suffering of these patients, many in the final stages of their lives, is devastating for them and their families. For some of these patients, currently available medications are not effective in alleviating terrible symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, nausea, loss of appetite and wasting,” said Roseanne Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “Compassion and common sense dictate that doctors be allowed to recommend, and patients be allowed to access, the medicine best able to relieve suffering and improve quality of life.”

Don McGrath, whose son–a cancer patient who suffered from wasting syndrome–found medical marijuana drastically improved his quality of life during the end of his battle, was delighted but not surprised with the study’s conclusions. “It’s great to see far-reaching medical research on the topic of medical marijuana. This study confirms what both Sean’s mother and I already knew was effective medicine that helped relieve our son’s suffering. We hope the results of this study will help move this critically important issue forward in the State of New Jersey.”

Legislation supporting the compassionate use of marijuana, known as the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,” is now pending before the New Jersey State Legislature. Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, and Assembly Bill 933, sponsored by Assemblymen Reed Gusciora, Michael Patrick Carroll and Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss, would allow seriously ill patients access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.

“This study, financed by the State of California, is the latest to indicate that marijuana can play a significant role in pain management for the chronically ill,” said State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd Legislative District). “The question is how much longer will we continue to ignore what science is saying on this subject before we decide to implement a safe and controlled program for the use of marijuana in a medical context?”

On June 8, 2006, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee held an informational hearing on Senate Bill 88. Television personality Montel Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, appeared alongside other advocates of medical marijuana to testify before the committee in support of the “Compassionate Use” legislation. A poll released at the same time, conducted by the polling company, inc., found that 86% of New Jerseyans support medical marijuana.

Supporters of medical marijuana include the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the New Jersey Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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