Pubdate: Fri, 06 Aug 2004
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute
Author: Ellen Komp, AlterNet
Note: Ellen Komp manages the Web site:


If Kerry makes good on his promise to review research on medical
marijuana when he takes office, he'll be amazed at what has been
learned in the last several years.

John Kerry's acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential
nomination ended with a series of "what if's": "What if we find a
breakthrough to cure Parkinson's, diabetes, Alzheimer's and AIDS?" he
wondered aloud, to the cheers of the crowd.

Innovative treatments for these diseases, and many others, may be
closer than Kerry knows, and it won't take fetal tissue to find them.
If Kerry makes good on his promise to review research on medical
marijuana when he takes office, he'll be amazed at what has been
learned in the last several years.

After the voters of California and Arizona legalized medical marijuana
in 1996, then-drug "czar" Barry McCaffrey commissioned a $1 million
scientific review of existing studies on marijuana by the National
Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. Since the 1999 IOM report
was published, hundreds of studies on cannabinoids, the active
compounds in marijuana, and their newly developed cognates, have
uncovered astonishing results.

"Every one of our body's organized systems makes and responds to
marijuana-like compounds: cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine,
excretory, immunological, nervous, reproductive and respiratory," says
Dr. Robert Melamede, head of the biology department at the University
of Colorado (Colorado Springs). Endogenous (natural in the body)
cannabinoids and their receptors are popping up everywhere, and
showing beneficial effects in animal and clinical (human) studies.

Beyond the traditional symptomatic relief for nausea in cancer and
AIDS patients, or pain and spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis sufferers,
cannabinoids may actually retard the progression of diseases like MS,
Alzheimer's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In addition,
compounds in marijuana are showing anti-tumor effects and protective
properties in the brain and heart tissue of stroke and heart attack
victims, and those exposed to nerve gas. "When they say marijuana
destroys your brain, they have it exactly wrong," says Melamede.
"Marijuana protects your brain, from the lack of oxygen and
neurotoxins." The U.S. army is investigating the matter, and one
research team in Spain is shrinking human brain tumors by injecting
them with cannabinoids.

Just a quick literature search on the list of diseases Kerry mentioned
brings up scores of studies. Take Parkinson's, a progressive
neurological disease impacting brain cells that normally produce
dopamine, a neurotransmitter that coordinates movement. The IOM report
stated, "Theoretically, cannabinoids could be useful for treating
Parkinson's disease patients because cannabinoids have been shown to
be closely associated with dopaminergic pathways in the body." The
following year, a Czech research team wrote, "It seems that
cannabinoids could delay or even stop progressive degeneration of
brain dopaminergic systems, a process for which there is presently no

As well as their neurological activities, cannabinoids have various
immunosuppressive effects, and studies on autoimmune diseases like
diabetes have been promising. In one animal study using an
experimental disease model, cannabinoids reduced the severity of
diabetes symptoms and extended the time before their onset. In
addition, cannabinoids have been shown to promote peripheral
circulation, the lack of which can lead to loss of limbs in diabetes
patients. And THC receptors are replete in the retina, where they may
protect cells against the loss of sight, another horrific outcome.

Scientists at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists' 34th
annual meeting held in November 2003 in San Antonio, TX presented
Phase II studies showing that THC (tetrohydrocannabinol) reduces
agitation in patients with Alzheimer's disease. A side effect was
reducing the stress experienced by caregivers. Cannabinoids have also
been shown to ameliorate food refusal, a common problem in patients
who suffer from Alzheimer's-type dementia. As in AIDS wasting
syndrome, marijuana's appetite-enhancing properties can mean the
difference between life and death.

If elected, Kerry will take the helm of a federal government that
denies the medical value of marijuana, in defiance of DEA
Administrative Law Judge Francis Young's 1988 ruling that, "Marijuana
. is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known. ...
It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue
to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance."
With the new research, 34 states endorsing medical marijuana, and a
federal bill working its way up, the genie will be hard to put back
into the bottle. The Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case
challenging federal authority over medical marijuana, and unless the
Court wants to overrule its own conservative majority's series of
states' rights rulings, it will have to acknowledge the federal
government's limitations. "Direct control of medical practice in the
states is beyond the power of the Federal Government," the Court ruled
in 1925.

Both Kerry and John Edwards have admitted to smoking marijuana in the
past, but that is no indication of liberal action on this issue.
President Clinton waited until his last week in office to tell Rolling
Stone magazine he thought marijuana should be legalized. Al Gore
supported medical marijuana while running against fellow former pot
smoker Bill Bradley for the Democratic nomination in 1999; he recanted
when his opponent was Bush. Talk show host and former Naval
intelligence officer Montel Williams, who uses marijuana for MS,
thinks George W. Bush might be receptive to the message.

Pharmaceutical giant BAYER AG announced in May it will market a
cannabis-based multiple sclerosis and pain drug in the United Kingdom
and Canada, a plant extract sprayed under the tongue from British
company GW Pharmaceuticals. Bayer will pay $41 million in regulatory
fees in the deal and holds an option to market the drug, called
Sativex, to the EU. A 2002 survey of MS patients living in England
found that 45 percent use cannabis. If the US doesn't act, we may get
foreign-grown marijuana (and industrial hemp) as yet another
outsourced industry.

Melamede stresses that what cannabinoids seem to do is put the body
into balance, and though some may not benefit from additional doses,
most of us probably would. Cannabinoids seem to have anti-aging
properties, in part because they modulate free radical production, and
since we're all aging, we might be able to steal a little more youth
from a plant rather than an embryo.

"What if we have a president who believes in science?" Kerry asked.
What if?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake