NIH Press Release
National Institutes of Health

Friday, August 8, 1997

Bobbi Bennett

NIH Releases Panel's Report on the Possible Medical Uses of Marijuana

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made available the report of the group of experts it convened February 19-20, 1997, to review the scientific data concerning the potential therapeutic uses for marijuana and the need for, and feasibility of, additional research. The report was made available even as NIH reviews its substance and conclusions.

This report is a compilation of the opinions of the group of experts on the potential therapeutic efficacy of marijuana in five areas: analgesia; neurological and movement disorders; nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy; glaucoma; and cachexia and appetite stimulation in patients with AIDS or cancer.

The experts stated that, "There were varying degrees of enthusiasm to pursue smoked marijuana for several indications. This enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that, for many of these disorders, effective alternative treatments are already available. Given the general consensus among the experts that the number, design and documentation of studies performed to date with smoked marijuana did not provide definitive answers, it was difficult to compare marijuana with products that had received regulatory approval under more rigorous experimental conditions. This does not mean, however, that the issue should be foreclosed. It simply means that in order to evaluate various hypotheses concerning the potential utility of marijuana in various therapeutic areas, more and better studies would be needed."

The risks associated with marijuana, especially smoked marijuana, must be considered not only in terms of immediate adverse effects on the lung, but also the long-term effects in patients with chronic diseases, the group of experts noted. They also felt the possibility that frequent and prolonged marijuana use might lead to clinically significant impairments of immune system function is great enough that studies on immune function should be part of any research project on the medical uses of marijuana. This is especially true in studies involving patients with compromised immune systems. Members of the group also were concerned about the effects of the dangerous combustion byproducts of smoked marijuana on patients with chronic diseases. So, they favored the development of a smoke-free inhaled delivery system that could deliver purer forms of marijuana's most active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or its related compounds known as cannabinoids.

"As we review the report of the group of experts, we want to make clear what has always been the case--NIH is open to receiving research grant applications for studies of the medical efficacy of marijuana," said Harold Varmus, M.D., NIH Director. " We will put the applications through our normal scientific review and are prepared to fund applications that meet the accepted standards of scientific design and that, on the basis of peer review, are competitive with other applications that qualify for funding," he said.

The full text of the report is available at (