Source: High Times 
Pubdate: March, 1998, No. 271 
Author: Paul Armentano, NORML Director of Publications 
Editors note: You may email the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws (NORML) at  - check out their sharp updated
website at:


Last August, amidst fanfare generated by a National Institutes of Health
report endorsing medical-marijuana research, NIH Director Dr. Harold Varmus
announced that the agency "is open to receiving research grant applications
for studies of the medical efficacy of marijuana," adding, rather
disingenuously: "We want to make clear what has always been the case."

Dr. Donald Abrams, a noted AIDS researcher and professor at the School of
Medicine of the University of California at San Francisco, might beg to

In 1992, Dr. Abrams designed a pilot study that would have compared the
effectiveness of inhaled marijuana with that of synthetic THC as a treatment
for the weight loss associated with AIDS "wasting syndrome." He quickly
secured private funding for it, and also gained approval from the Scientific
Advisory Board of the San Francisco Community Consortium, the California
Research Advisory Panel and the federal Food and Drug Administration to move

Half a decade later, Abrams may finally be getting a severely truncated and
re-directed version of his idea off the ground.

"When we first embarked on this, all the medical-marijuana advocates were
weaving this government-conspiracy business, and I just told them, 'God, you
are so paranoid!'" Abrams told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. "But now,
after butting my head on this thing for years, I'm just as paranoid and just
as convinced that there are politics being played."

The "politics" inherent in medical-marijuana research involve the drug's
illegality. As marijuana is a Schedule I substance, research on it may only
take place if approved by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) - the
only legal US supply source - or if an importation license is secured from
the Drug Enforcement Administration. Abrams soon learned that neither agency
was interested in permitting research that sought to determine whether
marijuana was anything other than the "Devil's Weed."

In 1994 the DEA denied Abrams' request to carry out his study using
Dutch-grown marijuana, and advised him to obtain his supply from NIDA, from
whom he then requested 5.7 kilograms of government-grown marijuana. After he
waited nine months for a response, NIDA flatly rejected the request and
attacked his methodology. Abrams later wrote NIDA head Alan Leshner,
"Dealing with your institute has been the worst experience of my career."

Abrams spent the next year revisiting his study's protocol to address many
of NIA's concerns. His 1996 protocol called for an inpatient study at a
local hospital that would have measured such details as caloric intake,
weight change, energy expenditure, immune function, viral load and hormone
levels. An NIH grant-giving committee denied this protocol as well.

"Two of the reviewers questioned why in the world we would ever consider
studying [the medical potential] of such a... substance," Abrams told the
Washington Post after this rejection. One NIH reviewer had actually worried
that AIDS patients using marijuana to boost their food intake might raise
their cholesterol levels, putting them at long-term risk of developing
hardening of the arteries.

This past May, Dr. Abrams revised his protocol yet again. Rather than
estimating the relative medical efficacy of marijuana and synthetic THC, the
latest version will instead seek to determine whether either
cannabis-derived drug may have potential harmful effects on HIV-positive

Specifically, the study will examine whether marijuana interferes with the
effectiveness of the new protease-inhibitor drugs frequently prescribed in
AIDS treatment. Abrams requested nearly $1 million to complete the 18-month
study. The NIH approved his application on September 18.

"Only after Abrams revised the study to limit its scope to determining if
there are risk factors associated with the use of marijuana by HIV-positive
humans did NIH allow the trial to go forward," observes Allen St. Pierre,
executive director of the NORML Foundation. "This approved protocol is a far
cry from what Abrams proposed five years ago, and demonstrates that
Washington's definition of 'open to research' is far different from anyone

At least two additional medical-marijuana research proposals are awaiting
NIDA approval. One study proposes to examine the use of marijuana in acute
migraine treatment, while the other requests government-approved marijuana
for distribution in a Massachusetts state research program.

If Abrams' ordeal serves as any lesson, medical-marijuana proponents and
researchers shouldn't hold their breath

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For more information medical-marijuana research, please contact the NORML
national office at (202) 483-5500 or Rick Doblin of MAPS at (704) 334-1798.

Copyright 1998 by Trans-High Corporation. Redistributed by the Media
Awareness Project, Inc. by permission of High Times and NORML.