Shocking Medical Marijuana Findings
State Health Department Studies
In addition to the published research there have been a series of six studies conducted by state health departments under research protocols approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.The focus of these studies, conducted by six state health agencies was the use of marijuana as an anti-emetic for cancer patients. The studies, conducted in California, Georgia, New Mexico, New York, Michigan and Tennessee, compared marijuana to antiemetics available by prescription, including the synthetic THC pill, Marinol. Marijuana was found to be an effective and safe antiemetic in each of the studies and more effective than other drugs for many patients.
Highlights of the Studies
New Mexico: This study involved 250 patients.The study compared marijuana to THC capsules. The research protocol was approved by the FDA in 1978. In order to participate in the research the patient had to be referred by a physician and had to have failed on at least three other antiemetics. Patients were permitted to choose marijuana or the THC pill.
Both objective (e.g., frequency of vomiting, amount of vomiting, muscle biofeedback, blood samples and patient observation) and subjective measures were made to determine the effectiveness of the drug.
The study concluded that marijuana was not only an effective antiemetic but also far superior to the best available conventional drug, Compazine, and clearly superior to synthetic THC pill." The study found that [m]ore than  percent of the patients who received marijuana . . . reported significant or total relief from nausea and vomiting." The study found no major adverse side effects. Only three patients reported adverse reactions, none of these reactions involved marijuana alone. The 1984 report concluded . . . the data accumulated over all five years of the program's operation do show that marijuana smoked resulted in a higher percentage of success than does THC ingested."
California: California conducted a series of studies from 1981 through 1989. Annual reports were submitted to the FDA, state legislature and Governor. Each year approximately 90 to 100 patients received marijuana. The California research was described as a Phase III trial."
The study protocol preferred THC pills by making it much easier for patients to enter that portion of the study. Patients who received marijuana had to be over 15 years of age (the THC pill patients had to be over 5 years of age); had to be marijuana experienced, use the drug on an in-patient basis (patients could only use marijuana in the hospital and not take the medicine home) and had to be receiving rarely used and severe forms of chemotherapy. Thus, the design of the study did not favor marijuana.
Even with this built in bias against marijuana, the study consistently found marijuana to be an effective antiemetic. In 1981 the California Research Advisory Panel reported: "Over 74 percent of the cancer patients treated in the program have reported that marijuana is more effective in relieving their nausea and vomiting than any other drug they have tried." In 1982, a 78.9 percent effectiveness rate was found for smoked marijuana. By 1983 the report was conclusory in its findings stating:
The California Program also has met its research objectives. Marijuana has been shown to be effective for many cancer chemotherapy patients, safe dosage levels have been established and a dosage regimen which minimizes undesirable side effects has been devised and tested.
The California Research Advisory Panel continued to review data on marijuana until 1989 with similar results.
Michigan: The Michigan research compared marijuana to Torecan. It involved 165 patients. Upon admission to the program patients were randomized into control groups with some randomized on the conventional antiemetic Torecan and the remainder randomized to marijuana. When failure on the initial randomized drug occurred, patients could elect to crossover to the alternate therapy. This procedure allowed the Michigan Department of Health to evaluate how well patients responded to both drugs and allowed patients to register their preference.
The Michigan study reported 71.1 percent of the patients who received marijuana reported no emesis to moderate nausea. Ninety percent of the patients receiving marijuana elected to remain on marijuana. Only 8 of 83 patients randomized to marijuana chose to alter their mode of antiemetic therapy. This was almost the inverse of patients randomized to Torecan, there more than 90 percent - 22 out of 23 patients - elected to discontinue use of Torecan and switched to marijuana.
Very few serious side effects were found related to marijuana use. The most common side effect was increased appetite - reported by 32.3 percent of patients - this was a positive effect. The most common negative effects were sleepiness, reported by 21 patients and sore throat, reported by 13 patients.