In a stunning contradiction to decades of anti-marijuana rhetoric, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) posted information about the efficacy of cannabis in fighting cancer. The NCI is a branch of of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, making this admission particularly paradoxical.
Last updated on July 16, 2015, the NCI’s cancer information database (known as the Physician Data Query or PDQ) contains an entry titled “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®)” that speaks to variety of points on medical cannabis. The most notable of these points states “Cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies”. In other words, cannabis helps cancer patients. This acknowledgement is a far cry from the government’s longtime misinformation propaganda, and certainly raises questions about cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
Obviously, an admission by the federal government that cannabis can treat cancer would completely undermine the plant’s Schedule 1 classification. However, it would appear this change in position has been widely misreported.
Closer inspection of the information on the PDQ entry update provides clarification. According to this section, “In writing Cancer Information Summaries, PDQ Editorial Boards review current evidence. They do not make recommendations or develop guidelines. Their work is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This summary on Cannabis and cannabinoids does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. The summary statement represents an independent review of the literature; that review is not influenced by NCI or any other federal agency.”
Essentially, neither the NCI nor the NIH have endorsed this position. Instead, the updated section on cannabis is the product of an independent editorial board of physicians. Nonetheless, the NCI was willing to publish the update, which is surely a sign of progress in the fight to provide safe access to life-saving medicine for millions of patients. While no branch of the federal government has truly asserted that cannabis has medical value, information about its potential in cancer treatment is now available on a federal website – a refreshing development that can only be indicative of national shift in attitudes regarding cannabis prohibition.