HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html State Backs UCSD Look Into Pot As Medicine
Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2001
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Contact:  PO Box 120191, San Diego, CA, 92112-0191
Fax: (619) 293-1440
Author: Bill Ainsworth, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SACRAMENTO -- California is about to fund the nation's first
scientific studies to look at whether marijuana can relieve symptoms
and pain associated with AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Three of the four grants are set to go to researchers at UC San Diego,
which operates the state's cannabis research center, scientists
announced yesterday.

The state-financed center, which has $3 million in research grants to
give out this year, is the only research institute in the nation set
up to examine whether marijuana can serve as a medicine.

"Truly, if we can discover some benefit here, it will make a major
step forward in patient care," said Dr. Igor Grant, director of the
Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.

For decades, federal policies have discouraged and even prohibited
such studies. By contrast, the federal government has generously
funded studies examining the harmful effects of marijuana.

"It is the first money earmarked for looking at cannabis as a
therapeutic rather than looking at its ill effects," said Donald
Abrams, a University of California San Francisco researcher who will
receive one of the grants.

Scientists believe the center, which has a tiny budget by the
standards of national research institutes, can have an effect on
medical research policy.

First, they hope California researchers can demonstrate that studies
involving pot-smoking patients can be conducted in a serious
scientific manner.

Abrams also believes that the center's work might spur larger studies.
Results that show marijuana has promise as a treatment for certain
symptoms, he said, could be used by researchers to seek money for
larger studies from national research centers.

Two of the studies recommended for funding would look at whether
smoking marijuana helps relieve nerve pain that comes with HIV.
Current drugs have proved ineffective at blunting the pain,
researchers said.

Dr. Ronald Ellis of UCSD would conduct one of those studies, while
Abrams would conduct the other.

Another study, to be carried out by Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom at UCSD,
would examine the effects of smoking marijuana on spasticity, a
symptom of multiple sclerosis that causes pain, spasms and loss of

The final study in the first round of grants, to be carried out by
Thomas Marcotte, a UCSD researcher, would look at the effects of pot
smoking on driving ability.

All four of the recommended studies, which would receive $1.9 million
over three years, must gain final approval from the National Institute
on Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug
Enforcement Agency. Approval is expected to be routine, a spokeswoman
from UCSD said.

A recently released study by Abrams suggests that marijuana has the
potential to improve the weight gain of patients suffering from HIV.

His study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, looked at
whether smoking marijuana causes harm by interfering with the protease
inhibitors given to these patients.

He found it doesn't. Abrams, an AIDS specialist, also found that the
frequently underweight HIV patients who either smoked marijuana or
took it in pill form gained more weight than those given a placebo.

Abrams said his study was funded by the federal government because he
was looking at the potential harm of marijuana, rather than its
potential benefits.

California voters, apparently convinced that pot can relieve some
illnesses, approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which legalized medical
marijuana. Since then, seven other states have legalized medical marijuana.

Even with a voter mandate, however, creating the research center was a
political struggle. Former Gov. Pete Wilson, a strong opponent of
medical marijuana, refused to allow state funds to be used for the
center, a stance reversed by Gov. Gray Davis.

Federal officials have shown skepticism and outright hostility toward
medical marijuana.

Health and drug administration officials continue to classify
marijuana with the most serious and harmful illegal drugs.

U.S. Department of Justice officials have shut down several cannabis
buyers clubs in California, arguing that state ballot measures cannot
override federal drug laws. A lawsuit over the issue will be heard by
the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.

The center is charged with looking at whether marijuana can help
relieve weight loss, chronic pain, severe nausea and vomiting
associated with cancer and its treatment and severe muscle spasticity.

Eventually results from the studies might help lawmakers' efforts to
pass guidelines that further define Proposition 215.

The confusing law has been interpreted in varying ways by the state's
counties. Some have prosecuted users with medical claims aggressively.
Others have not.
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