Does marijuana help or hurt users? Is it extremely dangerous or essentially innocuous? Should it be prescribed by doctors for special patients?
Recent studies have turned up contradoctory findings on marijuana's effects on male hormones and other data that raise questions about its effects on lungs.
"Scientific controversy and public confusion persist in spite of a number of reports on marijuana and health from authoritative agencies and organizations," according to a notice in the Feb. 24 Federal Register (page 13816).
To bring some order out of this chaos, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences is undertaking "an independent assessment of the physiological and behavioral effects of marijuana use, and of federal research programs in this area."
The IOM study, which is being financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, will analyze "existing scientific evidence that may suggest hazards . . . [and] certain health benefits" from marijuana.
"There is a need to address claims that marijuana us may be pyschosocially beneficial in some ways to certain people, and that, for some users, adult adjustment seems to have been relatively unaffected by a history of heavy consumption of marijuana during adolescence," the notice says.
On the other hand, studies have come up with "reports of marijuana's biological impact on hormonal systems and cell metabolism" that could be of great importance to pregnant women, and to children and youth who have not yet reached physical maturity.
Anyone interested in submitting views to the study should write to Dr. Queta C. Bond, IOM, National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20418 or call her at (202) 389-6947 .