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Minnesota doctors mulling pros, cons of medical marijuana

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Minnesota doctors are debating whether medical marijuana is an effective treatment for pain, illness and disease as the Legislature prepares to debate a measure that would make it legal for doctors to prescribe a form of the drug, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

The MPR report comes as the Minnesota Medical Association prepares for a policy forum Tuesday in Eagan to gauge physician interest in the legislation.

The forum will feature two psychiatrists, an addiction medicine physician, a pediatrician in palliative care and a specialist in internal medicine and homeopathy, the MMA says.

The featured guest at the forum will be Mayo Clinic College of Medicine professor J. Michael Bostwick, M.D. Bostwick is expected to deliver the presentation “Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana,” the MMA says.

Bostwick – who has reviewed more than 100 medical studies and reports on the possible benefits and risks of marijuana – tells MPR that most marijuana studies aren't high-quality because they're not randomized, controlled studies, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to approve any kind of medication.

However, Bostwick says, such controlled studies are hard to conduct since the U.S. classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970.

Despite a 10 percent risk of addiction in users, and the worsening of psychosis in a small number of patients who are predisposed to schizophrenia, Bostwick tells MPR that there are some people would could benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

"If you're a person dying of a terminal illness and you have intractable pain, and smoking marijuana actually helps you, then it can be a great thing," Bostwick told MPR.

While Dr. Jacob Mirman – a medical director at the private, primary care clinic Life Medical in St. Louis Park – agrees more research is needed, he doesn't think the Legislature should wait for it to happen, MPR says.

"I feel it's safe, much safer than some of the other drugs we use and some of the substances that are sold in stores without a prescription," Mirman tells MPR.

American Society of Addiction Medicine member Dr. Sheila Specker is an opponent of the use of medical marijuana in the state, and feels Minnesota lawmakers shouldn't circumvent the federal drug-approval process, MPR says.

"I don't think that the public or legislators understand the medical aspect of this or should be voting," Specker tells MPR. "That's not their domain."

Specker also worries the approval of medical marijuana would make it easier for youths to obtain the drug.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May found that 76 percent of participating medical professionals were in favor of the use of medical marijuana, CBS News reported.

The responses to the NEJM survey came from 1,446 doctors from 72 countries, and 56 different states and provinces in North America.

Results of a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll last month found that 51 percent of people in the state support legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses, while 41 percent oppose a change in state drug laws.

The Star Tribune said 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, already allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of medical conditions.

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