INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said medical marijuana should be studied and treated like other pain relief drugs but said he could not favor legalizing its recreational use.
"Under medical marijuana, I believe it should be like any other drug," Adams said Friday in Indianapolis. "We need to let the FDA vet it, study it, vet it. The FDA has actually approved cannabidiol oil and some derivatives of marijuana, Marijuana is not one substance. It's actually over 100 different substances, some of which benefit, some of which are harmful."
Adams, the former Indiana state health commissioner who was sworn in as surgeon general in September, acknowledged that his national post has typically opposed tobacco smoking, a position that fits into his opposition to marijuana for recreational use.
"How am I going to tell you not to smoke a cigarette but I am going to tell you to pick up a joint? I can't do it, can't do it," he told about 125 people at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators annual conference, which includes representatives from most states.
"So while I want to make sure we can get the ingredients of medical marijuana appropriately derived so that folks can access treatment, I also have concerns about us encouraging folks to go out and smoke because there's unintended consequences.
"I don't want 10 years down the road where we're seeing an epidemic of lung cancer among folks who are smoking medical marijuana," Adams said.
Adams said he had recently met with Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, to discuss non-opioid treatments for pain management.
Adams also said the two top health issues facing Americans were smoking and obesity.
Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly approved cannabidiol, or CBD, for patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy. Patients must register with the Indiana State Department of Health.
In the upcoming Indiana General Assembly, State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, plans to introduce two marijuana-related bills, one to widen availability of CBD if it has less than .3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, which produces the "high" in marijuana. His second bill would address legalization of medical cannabis.
"I want to put another tool in the toolbox for physicians," Lucas said Friday.
Adams' remarks come within a week of Gov. Eric Holcomb's directive to state excise police to resume their checks of stores for CBD after Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill declared them illegal in an opinion.
"We understand that cannadidiol is substance about which we know very little and about which many hold out a good deal of hope that it may be that elusive cure for any number and kind of disease," Hill wrote in his Nov. 21 opinion. "But hoping and wishing are not the proper role of government."
Hill said anyone possessing a substance containing cannabidiol is subject to having it seized. Also, Hill said, no one is Indiana is authorized to sell CBD.
Indiana legislators are saying they'll review the law concerning CBD.
"It was our intent to allow someone to be able to acquire that under those limited circumstances," said Senate Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "You have to buy it from someone. So that's the problem."
"I thought there was a compelling argument for kids particularly having epilepsy where it was actually working. We're not legalizing medical marijuana. I thought that was pretty clear as well," Long said.
Though marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been approved by 28 states, including New York this week, to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Associated Press reported this week that a federal science advisory panel's recent evaluation of two decades' worth of studies found limited evidence that a synthetic chemical cousin of marijuana might help relieve PTSD, but also some data suggesting pot use could worsen symptoms.
A federally approved clinical trial of marijuana as a PTSD treatment for veterans is now underway in Phoenix, and results from the current phase could be ready to submit for publication in a couple of years, a researcher said.