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New England Journal of Medicine Endorses Medical Marijuana (January 1997)

posted Jan 30, 2013, 11:23 PM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 4, 2013, 3:06 AM ]

On January 30, the New England Journal of Medicine endorsed the medical use of marijuana for terminally and seriously ill patients in an editorial by Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., which made the following points:

(1) The "federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane."

(2) Marijuana may have long-term adverse effects and may lead to addiction, but that those issues are irrelevant in those patients.

(3) Federal policy is hypocritical since doctors are allowed to prescribe morphine and meperidine. Excessive doses of such drugs could "hasten death," while "there is no risk of death from smoking marijuana."

(4) It is difficult to quantify marijuana's therapeutic benefits in controlled experiments, and that, given marijuana's safety margin, it is more important that a seriously ill patient feels relief from the drug than whether a controlled trial "proves" its efficacy. In addition, the editorial contends that "federal officials are out of step with the public" given that dozens of states have eased restrictions on medical marijuana and public polls consistently favor it.

Kassirer further argues that the government should reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II to allow for some medical uses of marijuana:

"Federal authorities should rescind their prohibition of the medicinal use of marijuana for seriously ill patients and allow physicians to decide which patients to treat. The government should change marijuana's status from that of a Schedule 1 drug (considered to be potentially addictive and with no current medical use) to that of a Schedule 2 drug (potentially addictive but with some accepted medical use) and regulate it accordingly."

He concludes that the central conflict "is between the rights of those at death's door and the absolute power of bureaucrats whose decisions are based more on ideology and political correctness than on compassion."


Associated Press, "Medical Journal Says U.S. Stance Against Marijuana is 'Inhumane,'" Washington Post, January 30, 1997, p. A2.

Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., "Federal Foolishness and Marijuana," New England Journal of Medicine, January 30, 1997, Volume 336, Number 5, p. 366.

"New England Journal Of Medicine Argues For Medical Marijuana; Proposed NORML Bill Echoes Medical Journal's Sentiments." National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 30 Jan. 1997. Web. 30 Jan. 2013. <>.

Terence Monmaney and Eric Bailey, "Journal Assails U.S. Stand on Medical Pot Use," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 30, 1997, p. A1.