Pubdate: Thu, 23 Dec 2004
Source: Anderson Independent-Mail (SC)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Publishing Company, a division of E.W. Scripps
Author: Kelly Davis
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


CLEMSON - Work by a Clemson University team led by chemist John
Huffman eventually could help the federal government and states
extricate themselves from the politically charged issue of medical
marijuana, which the U.S. Supreme Court also is examining.

Marijuana can be smoked legitimately for medical benefits, including
relief of pain and nausea from a variety of ailments, in 11 states,
but the federal government three years ago won a Supreme Court
decision that the drug is not exempt from federal anti-narcotic laws.

Mr. Huffman and his team have been working on and off for two decades
on federally funded research into cannabinoids, the chemicals in
marijuana that confer its potency in the brain. Mr. Huffman in
particular is working on synthetic versions of the substances that
provide the same medical benefits of marijuana without side effects
such as an unwanted high or lung damage.

The Supreme Court has taken up the issue again. Sometime before next
summer, it will rule on Raich vs. Ashcroft, a case originating with a
lawsuit filed by Oakland, Calif., resident Angel Raich and Oroville,
Calif., landlord and accountant Diane Monson. The women have a variety
of ailments that result in chronic pain and/or nausea, and have taken
advantage of California's medical marijuana laws to grow and use their
own marijuana.

California's law says people can grow or otherwise obtain and use the
hemp species if a doctor signs off on the medical purpose. Ms. Raich
had tried and rejected other pain medications for scoliosis, a brain
tumor and chronic nausea. Marijuana did work, and she began growing
and using it daily.

Ms. Monson, 47, had used marijuana occasionally since college, but
began using it regularly six years ago for relief from back pain and
spasms, she said. The back pain has been part of her life 25 years,
and she had noticed relief from her recreational use. Her doctor was
involved in the decision to begin medicinal use, she said.

But her six pot plants were seized by federal officials citing laws
prohibiting cultivation and use of marijuana, and she sued. Ms. Raich
joined as a potential victim, although her plants were not taken.

The Bush administration and other opponents of medical marijuana have
argued that legalization will harm the war on drugs and drug
addiction. Other states with medical marijuana laws are Alaska,
Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and

Mr. Huffman said his work with synthetic cannabinoids includes
compounds in several classes, some resembling those found in
marijuana. He and four other Clemson researchers are working with
scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University; in Aberdeen, Scotland;
and the University of Madrid in Spain.

"The goal of our research is to try to define the detailed chemical
structure of compounds as it relates to their biological activity," he

For example, using synthetic molecules to do the research, they would
like to pin down exactly what physical structures in the brain and
cannabinoids give rise to marijuana's typical high.

The purpose is to develop molecules that do not give the high, but
which still interact in the brain to confer cannabinoid-like benefits.
One issue is that the high and the anti-nausea benefit come from
action by the cannabinoid THC on the same cell structures, so
separating the effects is a challenge.

"THC is the most effective anti-nausea drug there is, and other than
the effect that it causes a high, it has relatively few side effects,"
Mr. Huffman said.

A version of THC, called Marinol, already is available for treatment
of nausea or to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients, but it causes a
high, which many users find uncomfortable or consider taboo, he said.

Ms. Monson said she was glad to hear of Mr. Huffman's

"I believe that this drug being a schedule I drug with heroin and
crank has really hindered the research and development we need," she
said. "I'm glad someone is trying something."
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