Marijuana, the FDA, and the Broken System of Pharmaceutical Research

Sep 19, 2008

FDA, junk science, Medical Marijuana, science

Medical marijuana advocates often hear that marijuana can't be a real medicine because it hasn't been approved by the FDA. One common response to this is that the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to block the only avenue that could produce the research needed to seek FDA approval for medical marijuana, over a year and half after an administrative law judge ruled that the project should go ahead

But that's just the start. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a scathing critique of the drug company research that does lead to FDA approval,  demonstrating that the system is even more fundamentally rotten than most of us suspected. The author is Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, arguably the most prestigious medical journal on the planet, and now a professor at Harvard Medical School.

"Drug companies now finance most clinical research on prescription drugs," Angell writes, "and there is mounting evidence that they often skew the research they sponsor to make their drugs look better and safer." Angell walks readers through a depressing litany of conflicts of interest, showing how researchers, the academic institutions they work for, and even members of FDA review panels are financially in bed with the drug companies whose products they test and evaluate. Drug company control of research on their products is now so complete, she explains, that the companies "often design the studies; perform the analysis; write the papers; and decide whether, when, and in what form to publish the results."

Companies controlling research on their products not only skew that research to produce positive results, they suppress negative results that would interfere with marketing -- suppression that, Angell explains, has often only been uncovered as a result of lawsuits or congressional hearings. The bottom line, this esteemed physician and journal editor writes, is that bias in favor of drug company products "permeates the entire system. Physicians can no longer rely on the medical literature for valid and reliable information [italics mine]."

Natural marijuana, of course, has no drug company sponsor. And yet we're told it can't be a real medicine because it hasn't been fully run through this broken, biased, dysfunctional system.