Pubdate: Sat, 03 Mar 2001
Source: British Medical Journal (UK)
Copyright: 2001 by the British Medical Journal.
Author: Xavier Bosch Barcelona
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


All five political parties in the Catalan parliament in Spain have signed a 
proposal to legalise the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The 
agreement asks the Catalan government to negotiate with the Spanish 
authorities so that cannabis--either as a drug or as a standardised extract 
of the plant--may be used to treat medical disorders.

Once the bill is approved in the Catalan parliament, it may be submitted to 
the Spanish parliament for discussion and eventual voting.

The initiative came from a collective of 300 women with breast cancer 
called the "Agata group" (after Saint Agata, who had her breasts removed 
under torture) and from a journalist, Nuria Nogueras, who recently died of 
the disease and who found the drug helpful during chemotherapy. Since last 
September, the Agata collective has held meetings with representatives of 
the five Catalan parties, as well as with the Catalan health department and 
oncologists and pharmacologists.

After these meetings, all political parties agreed to draft and release a 
consensus report to the Catalan parliament to decriminalise the therapeutic 
use of cannabis. But the measure, even if approved in the Catalan 
parliament--as is forecast--can take effect only if the Spanish ministry of 
health gives the go-ahead. The ministry is the only body with the power to 
authorise new drugs in Spain.

Mr Eduard Rius, head of the Catalan health department, has recently sent a 
letter to Spain's health minister, Ms Celia Villalobos, asking her to "back 
totally the importation of foreign drugs containing cannabis derivatives."

Mr Rius, who is from the "Convergencia i Unio" conservative party that is 
running the Catalan government, mainly supports the consumption of cannabis 
in the form of pills as it makes it possible "to control the dose more 

The Catalan socialist and green parties, however, advocate smoking the drug 
because, according to them, "the efficacy is higher."

The report said that cannabis contains over 60 chemical compounds, which 
can be classified into two main groups: (a) tetrahydrocannabinoids and (b) 
cannabidiols and cannabigerols. Whereas the first causes "psychoactive 
effects and mitigates vomiting and anxiety in disorders that require 
aggressive treatment, such as cancer or AIDS," the second group has "no 
psychoactive effects but has anti-inflammatory efficacy, especially in 

The consensus report also pointed out that despite scientific and clinical 
evidence for the medical potential of cannabis, its illegality means that 
it is not an option for many people. "Only a privileged and well informed 
minority can take advantage of this therapeutic resource," it said.

The report highlighted the properties of cannabis to alleviate pain in 
cancer and AIDS and said that it is especially useful in the fight against 
"hunger loss, anxiety, and chemotherapy related vomiting." A list of recent 
reports on the topic is also included.

Mr Ramon Colom, general director of the Drug Addictions and AIDS Department 
of the Catalan government, said that if the health ministry approves 
cannabis as a new drug, people might be able to start using it by the end 
of the year.

A spokesman for the health ministry said that regardless of the Catalan 
measure the Spanish National Plan on Drugs--a Home Office based body--is 
currently studying the potential medical use of cannabis, and a decision 
will be taken on the basis of the recommendations of the commissioned 
studies under way.

On behalf of the Agata group, Mr Xavier Capdevila, Mrs Nogueras's husband, 
said: "Since the beginning, we had wished that the initiative was agreed by 
all political parties and not capitalised by only one."

Mr Capdevila added that a year ago when his wife started a second cycle of 
chemotherapy "cannabis helped her to feel better, to make vomiting 
disappear and to start to be hungry."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager