But the public controversy over the medical use of marijuana does not reflect scientific controversy. Scientists who study marijuana and its effects on the human body largely agree about the risks posed by its use as well as the potential benefits it may provide. That is what researchers at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) learned when they undertook the study on which this book is based.

The goal of the study, performed at the request of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was to conduct a critical review of all scientific evidence pertaining to the medical use of marijuana and its chemical components. For more than a year, researchers from the IOM—an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which acts as an independent adviser to the federal government—compiled and assessed a broad range of information on the subject. One of us (Janet E. Joy) coordinated the IOM study. John A. Benson, Jr., dean and professor of medicine emeritus from the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine and Stanley J. Watson, Jr., codirector and research scientist at the University of Michigan's Health Research Institute in Ann Arbor, served as its chief investigators. Nine other medical scientists with expertise concerning the medical use of marijuana served as technical advisers throughout the project.

In the course of its work, the study team examined research on how marijuana exerts its effects in the body and its ability to treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Team members compared the effectiveness of using marijuana versus approved medicines to treat numerous specific disorders. They also evaluated the effects of chronic marijuana use on physical and mental health as well as its possible role as a “gateway” drug to cocaine, heroin, and other illicit drugs.

To gather this information, the researchers analyzed scientific publications, consulted extensively with biomedical and social scientists, and conducted public scientific workshops. They also visited four so-called cannabis buyers' clubs and two HIV-AIDS clinics. Organizations and individuals were encouraged to express their views on the medical use of marijuana at the public workshops as well as via the Internet, by mail, and by telephone. The team's draft report was reviewed and critiqued anonymously by more than a dozen experts, whose comments were addressed

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