Tablets containing the active ingredient of marijuana, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are being distributed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Bethesda, Md, for use by some patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy.
The NCI officials estimate that at present 200,000 Americans may be taking drugs to combat cancer. Perhaps 50,000 of these patients experience refractory nausea and, while estimates vary, it is suggested that THC might help about one half of this group.
The potential of THC for combating nausea has been studied since the early 1970s. Not long ago, the Food and Drug Administration finally accepted an advisory committee's recommendation that THC be made available to oncologists for antiemetic therapy (JAMA [MEDICAL NEWS] 1980;243:15-18,1980;244:754).
Marijuana is still illegal for most other uses, however, and under the distribution program for cancer patients, hospital pharmacies that stock THC tablets must be approved by the US Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).