Newton D. Bowdan: ‘Alternative medicines’ not automatically medicines

Last modified: Saturday, May 24, 2014
To the editor:

On Wednesday, April 30, there appeared a front page Gazette article about a Florence man who said that marijuana worked wonders for the pain and nausea associated with his terminal melanoma. He said that the cannabis dulls the pain, helps keep nausea under control, and lets him sleep, while traditional pain killers don’t.

I am sorry for his loss and appreciate his balanced opinion of the drug as a tool, not a cure-all. But his is one case.

The FDA does not allow medicines on the market based on anecdotes and testimonials, no matter how heart-warming. Enthusiasts, cultists and aficionados have raised their voices in a wave of pro-marijuana acclaim leading to legalization for different uses in different jurisdictions without the gold standard of randomized, controlled, double-blind studies which the FDA requires of drug companies to prove their products are safe and effective.

“Alternative medicines” and “supplements” need not show such proof, thanks to the political clout of their companies, which both tout their health-giving qualities and deny they are medicines, but, being like foods, do not need to be evaluated as medicines.

This paean of acclaim is also sung by people who hope for an increase in tax revenues and a decrease in crime rates, or at least the cost of keeping people in jail.

But that doesn’t make “alternative medicines” medicines. Nor does it deal with adverse effects on young people who will no doubt have increased access to it since its legalization. I suppose if we are terminal it’s more important to keep us comfortable than to worry about long-term effect on our brains, but it does matter if we are young, with a growing, actively connecting, brain.

Newton D. Bowdan, M.D.

South Hadley