Pubdate: Mon, 08 Jun 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mike Hager
Page: S1


UBC doctor to have 'all the freedom in the world' to look into 
possible therapeutic benefits of cannabis

A University of British Columbia researcher who recently found that 
daily pot use might help fight HIV/AIDS is getting a $1-million grant 
from a commercial cannabis grower, which could lead to more clinical 
evidence for doctors skeptical of a drug still outlawed in Canada.

National Green BioMed, a Richmond-based company partly owned by 
former Liberal MP Herb Dhaliwal, has already provided $200,000. It 
has committed to paying the full million dollars over five years, 
even if it fails to secure a licence from Health Canada to grow 
marijuana at its Fraser Valley facility.

Mr. Dhaliwal said a team led by M. J. Milloy, an infectious-disease 
epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/ AIDS, will 
have "all the freedom in the world" to conduct research that meets 
the "highest ethical standards" into the possible therapeutic 
benefits of cannabis.

While doctors can prescribe pot, there is a dearth of clinical 
evidence on the efficacy of the plant's touted benefits and many 
simply don't know enough about the drug to recommend it to patients. 
This is complicated by Health Canada refusing to approve marijuana as 
a drug or medicine, but being compelled to regulate it by the courts, 
which have ruled that Canadians must have reasonable access to 
medical cannabis.

Globally, concerns have also been raised about controlled studies 
using placebos in humans, a standard test for pharmaceutical drugs, 
because marijuana's psychoactive properties make such clinical trials 
difficult to administer, said Dr. Milloy, who is also an assistant 
professor at UBC.

HIV/AIDS patients in B.C. have long been prescribed medical marijuana 
to help them deal with their pain and to stimulate an appetite lost 
because of effects of the disease. But Dr. Milloy's study, recently 
published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, was the first to 
draw a link to its potential ability to fight the virus itself. (That 
follows research by colleagues at Louisiana State University that 
showed similar effects when macaque monkeys infected with a related 
disease were administered the THC compound found in cannabis.)

Dr. Milloy's team compared data from two groups of injection drug 
users on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. It found those with the virus 
who consumed cannabis at least once a day had less than half the 
level of HIV in their blood compared with those who rarely or never 
took the drug.

Dr. Milloy said the funding, to be announced Monday morning, could 
allow him and his team to test one hypothesis that pot's 
anti-inflammatory properties lead to its compounds "cooling off" the 
inflammation to help "bring down the replication of the virus" in the 

When she was diagnosed HIV positive at an Edmonton clinic, Claudette 
Cardinal was told she had two years to live. She stopped taking the 
prescribed anti-retroviral drugs to combat the disease because they 
made her violently ill and her ears ring.

"The side effects I was getting from those meds at the time was like 
I was actively injecting [illegal drugs] again," Ms. Cardinal said.

Several years later, after she had moved to Victoria, she began 
taking the anti-retrovirals again, but this time with a cannabis 
prescription to help her keep her appetite.

The alcohol in the concentrated cannabis tinctures made her gag, but 
she found relief from the side effects of her HIV/AIDS drugs through 
smoking or eating strains of marijuana known for their physical 
rather than mental effects.

Twenty years after being diagnosed, the 47-year-old Ms. Cardinal says 
the marijuana has helped her to "maintain a healthy weight because I 
do not want to go back to that skeleton of bones ... it's not a pretty sight.

"I do believe [marijuana] does help suppress the actual part of 
something in there, but I'm not quite sure what it is."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom