Public opinion on weed has changed considerably in recent years. Long gone are the days of Harry J. Anslinger, a former director of the Bureau of Narcotics (known today at the Drug Enforcement Agency), telling the American public that marijuana is evil and dangerous. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, and recreational marijuana is legal in 7 states. According to studies, marijuana can reduce epileptic seizures and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Marijuana cannot, however, cure cancer and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants businesses to stop saying it can.
On Wednesday, Nov. 1, NBC News reported that the FDA warned four cannabis companies to stop making unproven claims about the medical benefits of their marijuana products. The FDA is responsible for regulating the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of foods and drugs. Part of the agency’s mission is to help the public improve its health by providing science-based information regarding food and medicine. The FDA says the claims some companies are making about their marijuana’s ability to target or shrink tumors are not backed up by science.
“We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors.”
While there is no evidence that marijuana can target tumors or cure cancer, cancer patients have reported positive results when using marijuana to ease the negative side effects of chemotherapy and nerve damage. The American Cancer Society highlights a number of small studies that found that smoked marijuana can be helpful in treating nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy on its website. "Relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences," the American Cancer Society said on its website. So marijuana can be helpful in regards to cancer symptoms, but easing symptoms isn't the same thing as curing the disease — a fact that the FDA wants to make crystal clear.
The FDA’s statement focused on CW (Charlotte’s Web) Hemp; Natural Alchemist; Greenroads Health; and That’s Natural Marketing and Consulting, but it serves as a warning to all businesses that make similar claims. According to the FDA, the warning isn’t meant to stop sales of marijuana completely, but the agency is worried that these unproven claims will dissuade cancer patients from seeking conventional medical therapies for cancer.
“There are a growing number of effective therapies for many cancers. When people are allowed to illegally market agents that deliver no established benefit they may steer patients away from products that have proven, anti-tumor effects that could extend lives,” Gottlieb said.
CW Hemp tells Bustle their customer testimonials were to blame for the confusion. “Our customers love to share their very personal stories about how our products helped improve their lives or those of their loved ones," Dara Kaplan, a representative for the company, tells Bustle via email. “We will work with the FDA to ensure that we better monitor how we share third-party testimonials on the CW Hemp website and social media channels.”
That’s Natural has taken the language off its website that the FDA disputed, but its leadership disagreed with the agency in a statement. Tisha Casida, That’s Natural’s CEO, said in an email to NBC: "Anything that comes naturally from a plant should never be able to be taken away from the people. People have a right to grow and consume plant-based medicines without the approval of any government agency."
The effects of marijuana have been highly studied since stigma towards the drug has abated. Several new scientific studies come out each year. Until there is scientific evidence that marijuana can target tumors or completely cure cancer, however, those in the cannabis industry will not be able to make that claim in relation to their products.