Ask Dr. Hallberg: Research limited on medical marijuana

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Dr. Jon Hallberg
Dr. Jon Hallberg is assistant professor in family medicine at the University of Minnesota, and medical director at Mill City Clinic. He is a regular medical analyst on MPR's All Things Considered.
Photo courtesy Tom Bloom

It looks like Minnesota doctors won't be able to write prescriptions for marijuana anytime soon after a bill to legalize the drug hit a snag at the Capitol Tuesday.

The question of whether or not marijuana is a suitable treatment for pain is at the center of the debate. MPR News' Lorna Benson reported last week:

[Mayo psychiatrist Michael Bostwick] says most marijuana studies are not high-quality because they're not randomized, controlled studies -- the kind the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires to approve any new medication.

Randomized patient trials have been nearly impossible to conduct in the U.S. because marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act since 1970. Schedule I substances are regarded as having high abuse potential and no currently accepted medical use - which puts a damper on almost any treatment research.

Dr. Jon Hallberg, a family physician at the Mill City Clinic, told MPR News' All Things Considered that it's difficult to formulate an opinion on the medical benefits of marijuana when research is so limited. The Minnesota Medical Association is surveying doctors in the state for their opinions on medical marijuana.

"We're sort of in this middle zone," Hallberg said. "We're kind of looking for some guidance. Frankly, I'd love to see some studies I could hang my hat on and trust that they prove that [marijuana] works in these conditions."

Click the audio player above to hear the full conversation with Dr. Hallberg.

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