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Advisory Panel Calls for Studies Of Marijuana's Medical Benefits

By Marlene Cimons
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

A federal advisory panel, thrusting into the center of a standoff between federal drug authorities and advocates of marijuana use for medicinal purposes, said Thursday that the drug may have promising therapeutic results, calling for clinical trials of its medical effectiveness.

Following a two-day workshop at the National Institutes of Health, panel members said they believed marijuana could have some value in treating nausea among cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, wasting syndrome among AIDS patients, and glaucoma.

The call for research stopped well short of advocating that doctors be allowed to prescribe marijuana, but neither did the specialists dismiss anecdotal evidence indicating that the drug helped certain patients.

The advisory panel shied away from discussing the national debate after voters in California and Arizona approved initiatives allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes - and the Clinton administration responded by announcing it would go after any doctors who did.

California's Proposition 215, approved by 56 percent of the voters, decriminalized possession of marijuana by patients and caregivers if the drug was recommended by a physician. Arizona's Proposition 200 allows patients to use stronger drugs, including heroin or LSD, if approved by two physicians.

Federal drug officials responded with stern warnings that the propositions were in conflict with U.S. drug laws and that physicians who prescribed marijuana would be criminally prosecuted. But they have suggested they do favor more scientific research into marijuana.

National Drug Policy Director Barry R. McCaffrey has indicated he would support studies that examined the medical value of marijuana.

Immediately after the panel's announcement Thursday, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, immediately urged researchers to seek federal funding for marijuana studies.

Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner stressed the "openness and willingness" of the federal biomedical research agency to review such grant proposals and, if they are approved, to "provide the product," in other words, the drug.