While Americans spend about $200 billion every year on prescription medicines, they spend $20 billion more on alternative remedies in the way of herbal supplements and homeopathic treatments that in some cases have not been proven to have real health benefits and in fact may be dangerous.
The federal Food and Drug Administration is now poised to crack down on some of those alternative remedies often marketed with unsubstantiated claims about their ability to treat various conditions or diseases.
The FDA is right to take that posture when it comes to unproven health products, but it is incongruous for the agency to take that action while at the same time failing to clear the way for research into remedies with potential medical benefits.
For example, more research on cannabis is needed before Utah considers legislation on whether marijuana could be used for any medicinal purposes. Regulations, however, have not permitted research to take place.
Most marijuana use in the United States is for recreational purposes — which this paper opposes. But we have great sympathy for parents seeking treatment for children and others who say they have found some benefit from cannabis in certain cases. Marijuana's use for health reasons is legal in several states, even though there is a dearth of scientific vetting of its actual benefits. It’s time to allow real investigation of potential medical effects.
Politicians are not typically experts in the field of medicine, and marijuana is yet to be properly studied. Passing legislation without first conducting research is not the right path for this kind of policy.
On one hand, the FDA seems to be acknowledging that it should not be allowing marketers of homeopathic products to claim they treat or even cure serious diseases. On the other hand, states continue to allow medical marijuana without fully researching its effects. It is a case of inconsistent policy trends.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has long been influential in forming policy favorable to the alternative medicines industry, is now pushing to break down bureaucratic barriers blocking research into marijuana. The research is vital before Utah makes any move this legislative session to push forward a medical marijuana bill. The Utah Legislature has made efforts to encourage studying cannabis before contemplating laws that would allow its use.
It makes no sense to allow sale and use of marijuana for medical treatments based largely on anecdotal reports of its efficacy. It is important the regulatory agencies that oversee public health are consistent and vigorous in applying standards for products before they are purchased and consumed.
There are strict standards that apply to the sale of traditional pharmaceutical medicines. The standards should not necessarily be just as strict for the sale of supplements and alternative remedies, but there should be enough regulatory monitoring to at least make sure they aren’t dangerous. It’s a positive use of FDA resources to halt or limit the marketing of substances that have little or no benefit with possible negative side effects. It would also be a positive use of resources for the FDA to help further the process of figuring out whether marijuana has legitimate medical benefits.
Until then, Utah should remain cautious about cannabis.