Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid By Painkiller Drug Companies

This article originally appeared on VICE.com.

photo-Image via Flickr -Marijuana

Image via Flickr -Marijuana

As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It’s too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate?


VICE has found that many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed.

photo-Marijuana  Brett Levin via Flickr

Marijuana Brett Levin via Flickr

Take, for example, Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University. Kleber has impeccable academic credentials, and has been quoted in the press and in academic publications warning against the use of marijuana, which he stresses may cause wide-ranging addiction and public health issues. But when he’s writing anti-pot opinion pieces for CBS News, or being quoted by NPR and CNBC, what’s left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro).

Denver’s Marijuana Gold Rush Is Forcing Out Locals. Read more here.
Kleber, who did not respond to a request for comment, maintains important influence over the pot debate. For instance, his writing has been cited by the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police in its opposition to marijuana legalization, and has been published by the American Psychiatric Association in the organization’s statement warning against marijuana for medicinal uses.

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Could Kleber’s long-term financial relationship with drug firms be viewed as a conflict of interest? Studies have found that pot can be used for pain relief as a substitute for major prescription painkillers. The opioid painkiller industry is a multibillion business that has faced rising criticism from experts because painkillers now cause about 16,000 deaths a year, more than heroin and cocaine combined. Researchers view marijuana as a safe alternative to opioid products like OxyContin, and there are no known overdose deaths from pot.


Other leading academic opponents of pot have ties to the painkiller industry. Dr. A. Eden Evins, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is a frequent critic of efforts to legalize marijuana. She is on the board of an anti-marijuana advocacy group, Project SAM, and has been quoted by leading media outlets criticizing the wave of new pot-related reforms. “When people can go to a ‘clinic’ or ‘cafe’ and buy pot, that creates the perception that it’s safe,” she told the Times last year.


These academic revelations add fodder to the argument that drug firms maintain quiet ties to the marijuana prohibition lobby.
Notably, when Evins participated in a commentary on marijuana legalization for the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the publication found that her financial relationships required a disclosure statement, which noted that as of November 2012, she was a “consultant for Pfizer and DLA Piper and has received grant/research support from Envivo, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.” Pfizer has moved aggressively into the $7.3 billion painkiller market. In 2011, the company acquired King Pharmaceuticals (the makers of several opioid products) and is currently working to introduce Remoxy, an OxyContin competitor.
As ProPublica reported, painkiller-funded researchers helped fuel America’s deadly addiction to opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These academics, with quiet funding from major pain pill firms, encouraged doctors to over-prescribe these drugs for a range of pain relief issues, leading to where we stand today as the world’s biggest consumer of painkillers and the overdose capital of the planet. What does it say about medical academia today that many of that painkiller-funded researchers are now standing in the way of a safer alternative: smoking a joint.

Follow Lee Fang on Twitter: @lhfang

Photo by Brett Levin via Flickr

This One Thing is Leading to Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths

This One Thing is Leading to Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths

Feb 21, 2015
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Cannabis Background
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The journal JAMA Internal Medicine published a study that showed that states which had legalized medical marijuana had a 25 percent drop in the number of deaths that were related to prescription drug overdoses.

The scientists who conducted the study found that the legalization of marijuana makes it more easily available for subjects with chronic pain and it provides a much less lethal alternative for managing to control pain over the long term.

When this research program began back in 1999, only 3 states had legalized medical marijuana. The study continued through 2010, at which time it was legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana has recently been legalized in all 50 states.

The states that were studied were the ones that allowed medical marijuana at the time. The study shows that those states had 1,729 fewer overdose deaths in 2010 than in states that still outlawed medical marijuana.

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Statistics from the CDC say that deaths from prescription painkillers have literally gone through the roof over the past 20 years, jumping 118 percent between 1999 and 2011. The CDC estimates that about 113 people die each day from drug overdoses and almost 7,000 people end up in hospital emergency rooms due to overdoses.

A researcher and physician working out of the University of Pennsylvania, and the lead author of this study, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, stated that although he did expect to see some changes between states that legalized marijuana and those that did not but he was shocked that the number were so huge.

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Dr. Bachhuber said that he dealt with many people who had problems with chronic pain and they sometimes told him that the only thing that worked to control their pain was marijuana. Read more how to stop chronic pain in 2015.

Doctors have been using a combination of different pain killers for quite some time, including Tylenol combined with opioids. When combinations of pain killers are used, they are generally able to reduce the amount of opioid dose, thereby decreasing the risk of an overdose.

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However, according to a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Colleen L. Barry, states that allow medical marijuana allowed doctors to use it as a replacement for other types of painkillers that carried a much greater health risk.

As our awareness of the problems of addiction and overdose that go along with the use of opioid medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin, doctors might just be choosing to treat pain completely, or least in part, with medical marijuana.

The use of medical marijuana means that there is the potential to save a large number of lives. Many people are rethinking what they have been told about the relative harm as compared to the relative benefits of marijuana.

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Of course some people don’t like the results of this study and doubt that a connection can be drawn between fewer deaths and the use of medical marijuana. Some people are concerned that patients might end up abusing their marijuana, as they would their prescription painkiller. There are also concerns that increasing access to marijuana also increases the risk that children or young people will begin abusing it. There really is no need to worry, however, as there has never been a reported case of anyone overdosing on marijuana.

SEE ALSO: Make Your Own Natural Salve for Pain Relief

Dr. Bachhuber and his research team would like to conduct more research so they can clearly understand the long term effects that might come with the regular use of cannabis, even for patients who have serious health conditions.


Marcus Bachhuber, M.D., researcher, Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center

John Thomas, J.D., M.P.H., professor, Quinnipiac University School of Law, Hamden, Conn

Bradley Flansbaum, D.O., M.P.H., hospitalist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Aug. 25, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine

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