Pubdate: Wed, 28 Nov 2001
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Seth Hettena, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2001 SAN DIEGO (AP) - The Drug Enforcement 
Administration granted final approval Wednesday for the first university 
study on medical marijuana in recent memory. The agency said it hoped to 
introduce some science into what has been an emotionally-charged debate. 
Two professors of neurology at the University of California, San Diego 
Medical Center will study the effects of marijuana on patients with 
multiple sclerosis and those who suffer neuropathy, or nerve pain, 
associated with AIDS.

The studies are the first to emerge out of the Center for Medicinal 
Cannabis Research at UCSD, a program created by the state Legislature in 
1999 to study the medical uses of marijuana.

The studies will involve about 60 people who will be studied over a period 
of several weeks. All subjects will smoke marijuana cigarettes provided by 
the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Washington. Half the cigarettes 
will look and smell like marijuana but will lack THC, the active chemical 
compound in marijuana.

THC has been available since the 1980s in a synthetic pill form called 
Marinol, but scientists say it is irregularly absorbed by the stomach.

"The smoking route is being explored not because people want to legalize 
pot - that's not our agenda - but because smoking is an effective way to 
deliver THC into the blood," said Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center 
for Medicinal Cannabis Research, the first program of its kind in the 
nation. The DEA's approval reflected the pressure from mounting public 
opinion that marijuana can ease pain for those who suffer from AIDS, cancer 
and other illnesses. Since California became the first state to approve 
medical marijuana in 1996, six other states have followed suit.

"The question of whether marijuana has any legitimate medical purpose 
should be determined by sound science and medicine," said DEA Administrator 
Asa Hutchinson.

The agency maintains that past studies have shown no medical benefit to 
smoking marijuana and that other substances available that can replace the 
drug. Federal authorities have refused to recognize the initiatives, 
reasoning that state laws do not apply to federal offenses.

"A lot of these initiatives are just smoke screens - pardon the pun - for 
legalizing drugs," said Donald Thornhill, a spokesman for the DEA in San 
Diego. He said the studies are part of an attempt to "put this thing to rest."

Opinions are fiercely divided over whether marijuana would help or harm 
patients, but the scientific community has pointed to a lack of evidence 
over whether the drug's benefits match its mystique.

The group that promoted California's medical marijuana initiative in 1996 
praised the DEA's decision to approve the studies.

"We support any and all continued research into the uses of marijuana for 
medicinal purposes," said Gina Palencar, a spokeswoman for Santa 
Monica-based Americans for Medical Rights.

"I don't see how the DEA could hope that any study conducted right now 
could put the whole issue of medical marijuana to rest," Palencar said. 
"Unfortunately for the DEA, there's already a body of research that does 
show therapeutic potential for marijuana for some conditions."

The final approval comes after an exhaustive review process by officials in 
California and several agencies in Washington: the Department of Health and 
Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, NIDA and the DEA.

It will a year before the UCSD studies gather enough data to show whether 
marijuana has any benefit, Grant said.

"If this method shows that there is something therapeutic, the next step 
will be to find ways of delivering these products that are socially 
acceptable," he said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Rebel