Last updated on: 8/31/2009 10:54:00 AM PST
Is Marijuana Too Dangerous to Be Used as Medicine?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Alex Kozinski, Circuit Judge in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, wrote the following in his Oct. 29, 2002 concurring opinion in the case of Conant v. Walters:

"The evidence supporting the medical use of marijuana does not prove that it is, in fact, beneficial. There is also much evidence to the contrary, and the federal defendants may well be right that marijuana provides no additional benefit over approved prescription drugs, while carrying a wide variety of serious risks.

What matters, however, is that there is a genuine difference of expert opinion on the subject, with significant scientific and anecdotal evident supporting both points of view."

Oct. 29, 2002 - Alex Kozinski, JD 

PRO (yes)

Eric Voth, MD, Chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, wrote in a Dec. 3, 2001 email to

"Yes, Marijuana is too impure to use as a medicine and the side effects (examples are dysphoria, tachycardia, motor and coordination impairment, and introduction of contaminants) are too great for the potential benefits for the maladies it is to be used to treat."

Dec. 3, 2001 - Eric A. Voth, MD 

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated in its online article "'Medical Marijuana' - The Facts" (accessed Apr. 3, 2006):

"Smoked marijuana... contains more than 400 different chemicals, including most of the hazardous chemicals found in tobacco smoke...

There are no FDA-approved medications that are smoked. For one thing, smoking is generally a poor way to deliver medicine. It is difficult to administer safe, regulated dosages of medicines in smoked form. Secondly, the harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are byproducts of smoking create entirely new health problems. There are four times the level of tar in a marijuana cigarette, for example, than in a tobacco cigarette."

Apr. 3, 2006 - US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 

John Walters, Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, wrote in a Sep. 27, 2004 article in the National Review:

"The truth is, there are laws against marijuana because marijuana is harmful. With every year that passes, medical research discovers greater dangers from smoking it, from links to serious mental illness to the risk of cancer, and even dangers from in utero exposure.

In fact, given the new levels of potency and the sheer prevalence of marijuana (the number of users contrasted with the number of those using cocaine or heroin), a case can be made that marijuana does the most social harm of any illegal drug."

Sep. 27, 2004 - John P. Walters 
Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) 

The California Narcotics Officers' Association (CNOA) stated in its position paper "The Use of Marijuana as a Medicine," published on its website (accessed Oct. 8, 2003):

"Common sense dictates that it is not good medical practice to allow a substance to be used as a medicine if that product is not FDA-approved,

  • ingested by smoking,
  • made up of hundreds of different chemicals,
  • not subject to product liability regulations,
  • exempt from quality control standards,
  • not governed by daily dose criteria,
  • offered in unknown strengths (THC) from 1 to 10+ percent, and
  • self-prescribed and self-administered by the patient."

Oct. 8, 2003 - California Narcotics Officers Association (CNOA) 

The Eagle Forum stated in its online brochure, "Facts You Need to Know About ... Marijuana," (accessed Mar. 31, 2006):

"Medical evidence has proven that marijuana is highly dangerous, in and of itself. It seriously harms the brain, the chromosomes, the sex and reproductive organs, the hormones, the lungs, and the immune system.... There is no legitimate need for marijuana as medicine...

Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy often die from infection because chemotherapy weakens the body's immune defenses. THC reduces the nausea experienced by chemotherapy patients, but can be dangerous to these patients because THC also damages the immune system"

Mar. 31, 2006 - Eagle Forum 

CON (no)

The Institute of Medicine published in its Mar. 1999 report titled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:"

"Marijuana is not a completely benign substance. It is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harm associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications. Thus, the safety issues associated with marijuana do not preclude some medical uses."

Mar. 1999 - Institute of Medicine 
"Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base" (988 KB)  

Frank Lucido, MD, wrote in his article, "Implementation of the Compassionate Use Act in a Family Medical Practice," published in the Spring 2004 edition of the journal O'Shaughnessy's:

"Cannabis has a long, impressive history as a safe and effective medicine....

Possible benefits might include improved symptom relief, fewer side effects, and/or lower cost than many commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals."

Spring 2004 - Frank Lucido, MD 

Lester Grinspoon, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, stated in his article "The Medical Marijuana Problem," published in Cannabis Health in Mar./Apr. 2006:

"There are many thousands of patients who currently use cannabis as a medicine... There is no question about its safety.

It is one of humanity's oldest medicines, used for thousands of years by millions of poeple with very little evidence of significant toxic effects. More is known about its adverse effects than about those of most prescription drugs."

Mar./Apr. 2006 - Lester Grinspoon, MD 

Joycelyn Elders, MD, former US Surgeon General, wrote the following in a Mar. 26, 2004 editorial published in the Providence Journal in Rhode Island:

"Marijuana does not need to be smoked. Some patients prefer to eat it, while those who need the fast action and dose control provided by inhalation can avoid the hazards of smoke through simple devices called vaporizers.

For many who need only a small amount -- such as cancer patients trying to get through a few months of chemotherapy -- the risks of smoking are minor."

Mar. 26, 2004 - Joycelyn Elders, MD 

Mollie Fry, MD, told in an Apr. 7, 2006 interview:

"I took an oath to do no harm. If a doctor is willing to give you a prescription for a drug that is addictive or could kill you, then why should you not be able to choose a non-toxic drug like marijuana?"

Apr. 7, 2006 - Mollie Fry, MD 

Ethan Russo, MD, Senior Medical Advisor at the Cannabinoid Research Institute, wrote in a Dec. 3, 2001 email to

"Cannabis has been used by man for 5,000 years or more, with no well-documented cases of attributable mortality."

Dec. 3, 2001 - Ethan Russo, MD