Bioethics Blogs

Is Medicinal Marijuana Bad Medicine?

David Moscrop argues that Canadian debates concerning medicinal marijuana should be empirically grounded.


In August, the president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) called marijuana “bad medicine.” According to the CMA the practice of prescribing marijuana is bad medicine because there is limited available data to serve as a guideline for determining potential interactions, side-effects, proper dosage, and effectiveness. The absence of the pharmaceutical industry in the development of marijuana as a drug has been an issue for the CMA because conventional and rigorous research procedures have not been followed. More rigorous empirical research (e.g., clinical trials) would generate data that could provide missing information and determine which forms of the drug were most effective and safe (e.g., smoking, vaporization, edibles, patches, and so on). If we can set aside purely normative concerns and focus on setting clear, empirically-supported terms of debate, then it is more likely that we will arrive at a consensus that balances patient needs and broader public health concerns.

With such a sensitive and controversial subject, issue framing matters; and when the debate over medicinal marijuana is framed as a question of adequate research into the drug’s risks and rewards, the ethical concerns shift. The emergent core question becomes one of striking a balance between the potential risks to patients when prescribing marijuana versus potential rewards for them. The risks could include unwanted and unknown side-effects and drug interactions or diminished effectiveness due to ineffective dosage. The rewards might include safe, easy, effective, and inexpensive forms of prescription medicinal marijuana for the management of symptoms for a number of mental and physical illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and depression.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.