Earlier this month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) updated its web page on medical marijuana. The change is subtle, but significant.
For several years, NIDA’s primer on medical cannabis started with a fundamental question: “Is marijuana medicine?” before diving into the ensuing discussion. The conclusion one could draw, without reading a word further, was that nobody was really sure one way or the other; the question was an open one.
Since then, a majority of states across the country have gone ahead and answered with a resounding “Yes.”
This was before the National Academy of Sciences published its landmark review in January, in which it found “conclusive” evidence of cannabis’s efficacy as a medicine for certain medical conditions—with some very suggestive evidence, unproven for lack of research, for its value in other ailments.
Whether it was red states like Arkansas and North Dakota embracing cannabis or a massive gang of scientists too large to ignore, NIDA has stopped asking the question—at least on its official web resource.
Instead of asking “Is Marijuana Medicine?,” as it has since the last revision in July 2015, the official DrugFacts page on cannabis, updated in March 2017, now leads with the declaration “Marijuana as Medicine.”
— Tom Angell (@tomangell) March 15, 2017
Other changes include further information on synthetic marijuana, which has exploded in popularity, potency and as a public-health menace over the past year. The NIDA page now also includes a warning for pregnant women considering whether to use cannabis to soothe morning-sickness-induced nausea.
Even that note is shockingly positive, considering the source: NIDA declares that there is “no research that shows that this practice is safe,” and encourages women to check with their doctors before taking cannabis during pregnancy.
As we wrote earlier this year, NIDA is relying on some flawed studies to declare cannabis a health risk to developing fetuses—some research involved mothers who also drank alcohol or used tobacco while pregnant—but on the whole, the agency cannot be faulted for publishing what is a mostly sober and straightforward summation of the facts.
But back to the main point—the loss of a question mark.
Can the change in headline be interpreted as tacit admission from NIDA and its parent agencies that it’s now beyond doubt that marijuana is medicine? Keep in mind that Tom Price is America’s health secretary. As a member of Congress, Price was a reliable vote and voice against accepting cannabis’s legitimacy as a medical treatment—and Price is now NIDA’s ultimate decider.
Perhaps this is the act of some NIDA staffer before the Trump axe falls. Or perhaps we’ve reached the point where nobody, not even the federal government, can deny the obvious.