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EDITORIAL: Something needed to get the ball rolling

We already know that anecdotal evidence is just what it implies – someone’s personal account. In the world of science and medicine it might offer some indication, but it doesn’t carry a lot of weight.

And we’ve all heard before in the medical world that there’s not a lot of evidence to support the benefits of using marijuana to treat various ailments. One would think the logical follow-up to that, considering the wealth of testimonials, would be to add to that body of research and determine whether there is potential – that will satisfy the medical world.

The cautious approach has persisted – and well it should when proof is lacking – but a journal has recently repeated the advice. An article in the medical journal Canadian Family Physician says there is limited evidence to support the reported benefits of medical marijuana for many conditions. It suggests that physicians should think twice before prescribing it for patients.

Hopefully most doctors do that anyway, with any kind of medication. So the advice stands.

But it’s fair to wonder why we aren’t seeing more research to get a clearer picture of where patients can benefit from cannabis or products derived from it.

The article, The Simplified Guideline for Prescribing Medical Cannabinoids in Primary Care, was compiled by researchers from a review of clinical trials and peer reviewed by a group that included doctors, pharmacists, nurses and patients.

The committee found acceptable research for some uses, such as nerve pain, palliative cancer pain, muscle stiffness related to multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury, and nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.

But they found the benefits minor, and on the flip side, that there could be negative effects that outweigh the good. And then of course there are potential side effects such as confusion and dizziness.

Those come across as perfectly good reasons for more research. People in pain, or suffering from nausea, for example, want to feel better. But they don’t necessarily want to feel stoned.

We need more research to determine benefits and whether products can be fine-tuned to help various conditions. The researchers involved in the Simplified Guideline, in fact, suggest that pharmaceuticals derived from cannabis be tried before recommending smoking it. That would keep a better handle on dosage while also avoiding the negative consequences of the smoke.

Many have made the point that cannabis could represent a good alternative for pain relief, particularly at a time of huge concern over opioid use – overuse, abuse and misuse.

Amidst all this, one insurance company, Sun Life, recently signalled it would be adding medical marijuana coverage to the options in group benefit plans. Such a move might be just the push needed to help legitimize these products in the eyes of the medical and pharmaceutical communities.

And that, in turn, might be what it takes to spur more extensive research into potential benefits and improved products.

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