Government Panel Urges 'Cannabinoid' Study

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President Clinton said he smoked but didn't inhale; now his panel of medical experts is considering the benefits of inhaling but not smoking. An Institute of Medicine panel on medical marijuana reported to the President Wednesday that the substance can help fight pain and nausea, and proposed that it be subjected to scientific trials. Despite fierce congressional opposition to medical marijuana, the only significant downside raised by the President's panel was the consequences of ingesting the substance through smoking. "They're saying the active ingredients of marijuana may well have medicinal use, but that smoking causes respiratory damage," says TIME medical correspondent Christine Gorman. To solve that problem, the panel recommended the development of standardized pharmaceutical forms of the drug that could be used in inhalers.

Given the potential for congressional backlash, the administration emphasized the report's no-smoking aspect: "The future of cannabinoid drugs lies not in smoked marijuana but in chemically defined drugs," the White House Office of National Drug Policy said in a statement. So even if it gets the go-ahead after scientific trials, marijuana's unlikely to be made legal without a prescription -- and unless it's sold by a pharmaceutical company rather than in a dime bag.