A systematic review and accompanying commentary in the June 17 issue of CMAJ, the medical journal published by the Canadian Medical Association, look at the side effects of cannabinoid medications. The results are generally reassuring.
Researchers reviewed published studies of various cannabinoid preparations, including Marinol, the THC pill, and Sativex, a marijuana-based oral spray (but not, unfortunately, smoked or vaporized whole marijuana). They found no increase in serious or life-threatening reactions to the drugs as compared to placebo. The less serious side effects that did occur were just what you'd expect -- dizziness, for example. But the commentators expressed concern over the relative lack of data on smoked marijuana and on long-term use of other cannabinoids.
We could have such data if the U.S. government wanted us to. The Feds have been giving medical marijuana to a small number of patients for over 30 years in a program closed to new enrollment in 1992, but have never published any data on these patients, of whom only four now survive. And back in 1999 the Institute of Medicine raised the possibility of doing "n-of-1 studies" (for example, by reopening that closed federal program) in order to collect data while allowing access to medical marijuana for patients in great need. The suggestion was ignored.
Once again, our government is doing everything it can to avoid knowing that medical marijuana is safe and effective.