By Dan Bernath

Anyone still doubting the Bush Administration's ability to insulate itself from reality has never considered the White House's pathological denial of marijuana's medical value despite mountains of scientific research proving its worth.

Such resolve would be impressive if it weren't so dangerously misinformed. Or dishonest. Or both.

Whatever the reason, given that in 2003 the administration could contradict more than 70 government and academic studies with a statement saying, "research has not demonstrated that smoked marijuana is safe and effective medicine," it's doubtful they could be swayed by any amount of evidence.

We'll soon find out. A research team led by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California, San Francisco, has just published a study offering some of the most conclusive proof yet of marijuana's potential to help the sick and dying.

The report, which appears in the Feb. 13, 2007, issue of the journal Neurology, found that smoking marijuana significantly reduced a specific type of pain that often afflicts patients with HIV/AIDS. Patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy can feel as if their hands and feet are on fire, or as if they're being stabbed with a knife. Neuropathic pain - that is, pain caused by damage to the nerves - is also common in several other illnesses, including multiple sclerosis.

Until now, there was little doctors could do to help ease the suffering caused by neuropathy; even powerful, dangerous, and highly addictive narcotic painkillers often do little to ease this pain. There are no FDA-approved treatments for peripheral neuropathy in HIV patients.

Yet in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the "gold standard" of scientific research), a majority of HIV/AIDS patients participating in the study experienced more than 30% pain reduction after smoking marijuana. By some measures, the pain relief was even greater. Considering that the study used government-supplied marijuana of notoriously poor quality, the benefits of medical marijuana could easily be greater than the study results indicate.

Let's hope the administration acknowledges the latest scientific evidence and puts aside its anti-marijuana fervor to allow those suffering this type of pain access to what could be the only medicine to provide them some relief.

That's not likely, however. If it were, then any number of recent, compelling studies would already have shamed the White House into abandoning its ideological campaign against sick people who rely on medical marijuana.

For example, it might have celebrated – rather than ignored – a UCSF study published last October that found that hepatitis C patients using medical marijuana were more likely to stay on their antiviral medications and three times more likely to clear the deadly hepatitis C virus from their bodies.

Or it might have called for further research after an animal study appeared in the February 23, 2005, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience suggesting marijuana may show promise in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

If President Bush and his administration are unsure where to find serious, objective research on medical marijuana, they might contact the University of California's Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which sponsored the Abrams study. CMCR has published some two-dozen scientific articles and has additional research in the works.

Clearly, the White House is more concerned about staying the course in its crusade against marijuana users than it is about improving the quality of life and alleviating the suffering of seriously ill Americans.

That leaves it to Congress to bring in a little compassion and rationality to the federal government's medical marijuana policies. A good start would be passing the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, which would prevent the DEA from interfering in states that have laws protecting patients who use medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

It's also time to finally correct the politically motivated misclassification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, placing it in the same category as LSD, heroin, and other drugs with "no currently accepted medical use."

If President Bush is reluctant to consider the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting medical marijuana's safety and efficacy, there is one person's opinion he might consider: his own.

"In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are not made by government and insurance companies," he said in his State of the Union address last month, "but by patients and their doctors."

We couldn't have said it better.

Dan Bernath is the Marijuana Policy Project’s assistant director of communications, www.mpp.org. Email him at dbernath@mpp.org.