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National Cancer Institute Biography

Not Clearly Pro or Con to the question "Should Marijuana Be a Medical Option?"

“There has been much interest in the use of marijuana to treat a number of medical problems, including chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. Two forms of marijuana have been used: compounds related to the active chemical constituent of marijuana taken by mouth and marijuana cigarettes. Dronabinol (Marinol®), a synthetic form of the active marijuana constituent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is available by prescription for use as an antiemetic…

National Cancer Institute (NCI) scientists feel that other antiemetic drugs or combinations of antiemetic drugs have been shown to be more effective than synthetic THC as ‘first-line therapy’ for nausea and vomiting caused by anticancer drugs…

Marijuana cigarettes have been used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and research has shown that THC is more quickly absorbed from marijuana smoke than from an oral preparation. However, any antiemetic effects of smoking marijuana may not be consistent because of varying potency, depending on the source of the marijuana contained in the cigarette.”

[Editor’s Note: In response to an Aug. 26, 2009 email to the NCI asking for a current position on core question “Should marijuana be a medical option?,” the NCI responded on Sep. 3, 2009, stating in part:

“In your e-mail, you asked about the NCI’s stance on medical marijuana to include on your Web site. The NCI, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the Nation’s principal agency for cancer research. The NCI is responsible for coordinating the National Cancer Program and for maintaining our momentum in cancer research. We hope you will understand that, as a Federal research agency, the NCI does not approve treatment approaches. However, we can offer information that you may find useful.”]

The NCI then directed us to the “Cannabinoids” section of their “PDQ(r) Supportive Care Summary for Health Professionals on Nausea and Vomiting” which stated in part:

“Cannabinoids presumably target higher CNS [central nervous system] structures to prevent nausea and vomiting. Dronabinol (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of the psychoactive substances present in crude marijuana. Because of cultural and societal constraints and a low therapeutic index at clinically useful dosages, cannabinoids are often not among agents that are first selected for clinical use, but may be accepted and useful in selected patients…

Adverse effects experienced along with the pharmacologic and psychogenic effects of cannabinoids include the following:

• Acute withdrawal syndrome.
• Sedation.
• Dry mouth.
• Orthostatic hypotension.
• Dizziness.
• Ataxia.”

“Marijuana Use in Supportive Care for Cancer Patients,”, Dec. 12, 2000


“The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of eight agencies that compose the Public Health Service (PHS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The NCI, established under the National Cancer Act of 1937, is the Federal Government’s principal agency for cancer research and training. The National Cancer Act of 1971 broadened the scope and responsibilities of the NCI and created the National Cancer Program. Over the years, legislative amendments have maintained the NCI authorities and responsibilities and added new information dissemination mandates as well as a requirement to assess the incorporation of state-of-the-art cancer treatments into clinical practice.”


“The National Cancer Institute coordinates the National Cancer Program, which conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients.”

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  1. Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Reducing Nausea and Vomiting from Chemotherapy?