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Updated Jul 13, 2012 - 3:36 pm

Data to expand Arizona medical-pot program lacking

PHOENIX – Requests to allow medical marijuana use in Arizona for
additional medical conditions could be doomed by University of Arizona
researchers’ reports that they found little or no scientific evidence to support
the proposals.

The state Department of Health Services hired university researchers to look
for credible scientific articles and studies on harms and benefits of marijuana
use for post-traumatic stress, migraine headaches, anxiety and depression.

The requesters included veterans, who have told the department that in some
cases, cannabis helps them more than prescription drugs.

Health Services Director Will Humble will decide later this month whether to
approve the expansion proposals, and he has said the existence or absence of
peer-reviewed scientific studies would play a big role in his decision.

Humble reiterated that stance Friday while saying he has not yet made up his
mind on the proposals. He said he has read the university researchers’ reports
but plans to analyze them further after he receives recommendations due from
medical advisers.

“I agree there’s not a ton of compelling evidence, but I want to look at it in
more depth,” he said in an interview.

The Department of Health Services is required under the 2010 law to consider
requests to expand coverage. The requests now being considered were the first.

Arizona already permits medical marijuana use for such medical reasons as
cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, chronic pain, muscle spasms and hepatitis C.

The state has awarded medical marijuana user cards to more than 28,000 people.
Chronic pain is the most common medical condition, though users can have more
than one. Most of the users also got permission to grow marijuana until there is
a dispensary in their area.

Arizona is among 17 states that allow medical marijuana use, according to the
National Conference of State Legislatures.

States’ programs vary, and some already cover the additional medical conditions
being considered by Arizona. For example, New Mexico allows medical marijuana
use for PTSD, while California’s covered “serious medical conditions” include
migraines. Colorado’s decade-old program has denied petitions to add more than a
dozen conditions, including PTSD, hepatitis C and depression.

Humble said he feels a need to be cautious about adding conditions because he
doesn’t want patients to ignore proven treatments in favor of seeking
questionable benefits from marijuana.

He also said he needs to be careful because the medical marijuana law doesn’t
allow him to remove a condition once listed.

“This is a one-way street in these petitions,” Humble said. “There’s no way
to pull it off if later there’s data that’s harmful.”

The four reports prepared by the university researchers said they found
relatively few relevant articles and studies. Many were flawed scientifically by
being biased or involved clinical trials that were too small.

“There is no credible evidence regarding the effectiveness or harms of
marijuana for the treatment of depression,” the researchers who prepared that
report concluded.

The report on PTSD said the researchers found no research “that directly
addressed the key questions of the benefits and harms of marijuana use for
treatment of PTSD.”

“The most relevant literature generally was of low or very low quality and no
conclusions can be drawn about the benefits or harms of marijuana use for the
treatment of PTSD,” the report said.


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