There’s been a lot of talk over the past year about the use of marijuana as a treatment option for disease, particularly for rheumatologic conditions associated with chronic pain. But the lead investigator of a new report on the topic wants to make one thing clear: Talk is all it is until there’s science to back it up.
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Canadian rheumatologist Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, MD, of McGill University Health Centre in Quebec, writes in an e-mail to The Rheumatologist, that in Canada, the government has recently changed the medical marijuana program, putting it in line with “a normal prescription process whereby physicians are the sole gatekeepers.” As such, she and her colleagues felt it was important to produce their report, “The dilemma of medical marijuana use by rheumatology patients,” which was published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research in June 2014.1
“There are no randomized controlled trials looking at the efficacy or side effects of marijuana in rheumatic disease patient populations,” Dr. Fitzcharles writes. “Current use is reliant on anecdotal report only.” There is “therapeutic potential for marijuana,” but more work needs to be done.
“It is difficult to recommend the use of marijuana when adhering to practice standards of evidence-based medicine,” she writes. “While we can tolerate the use of marijuana in some rheumatic disease patients, we certainly cannot recommend it in view of the absence of studies in rheumatology patients.”
Dr. Fitzcharles sees her paper as a “call for more research” that could attempt to more definitively answer the question of whether rheumatologists should recommend medical marijuana to their patients.
“If health regulatory agencies and jurisdictions are asking physicians to treat marijuana as if it were any other prescription drug,” she writes, “they should also encourage further study to validate its safety and efficacy.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.