HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Problems With Ottawa's Pot Crop
Pubdate: Mon, 27 May 2002
Source: Report Magazine (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 Report Magazine, United Western Comm Ltd
Note: This is the BC Edition
Author: Marnie Ko
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


Bad News For Medical Users, But Decriminalization Gets Closer All The Time

PRAIRIE Plant Systems Inc., a Saskatoon company, has grown more than 250 
kilograms of unharvested marijuana since it got a $5.7-million contract 
with Health Canada. The pot is for research and for pain relief for those 
with incurable multiple sclerosis, cancer, severe arthritis and epilepsy, 
and anyone in pain with less than a year to live. However, an indefinite 
government delay now means patients who want the drug must supply it 
themselves or name someone else to grow it for them.

Prairie Plant's first harvest of government marijuana had been scheduled 
for delivery in January. But last month it was disclosed that distribution 
of the plants, under cultivation in an abandoned copper mine near Flin 
Flon, 400 miles northwest of Winnipeg, has been delayed.

Federal Health Minister Anne McLellan admitted May 7 that the government's 
pot is substandard. The Flin Flon crop of 2,000 plants contains a rainbow 
of pot varieties, 185 in all, using seeds from police busts. The U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Agency uses a standardized seed, but Ms. McLellan said U.S. 
authorities would not share, so Canada was left with crops of various 
potency and quality. It must now test seeds and create a standardized 
variety for subsequent crops.

A few hundred Canadians are not waiting. Since July 2001, when the 
government passed new legislation, 255 ill Canadians have been licensed to 
possess the plant. As of May 3, 164 people had obtained licences to produce 
the plant, and 11 individuals were authorized to grow the plants for 
others. An additional 658 Canadians were granted permission to use 
marijuana for medicinal purposes and 501 of those users remain active.

Despite appearances, none of this means marijuana has actually been 
approved as a therapeutic substance by the federal government. Following a 
government report released May 1, however, debate on decriminalizing 
cannabis entirely is expected to reach an all-time high. After 14 months of 
study and consideration, Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, chairman of the 
Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, told reporters marijuana is used 
by about 30% of people aged 15 to 24. Still, contrary to common 
assumptions, he concluded that it is not a "gateway drug" leading to 
cocaine, heroine and other hard drug use. Indeed, Mr. Nolin noted it might 
be appropriate to treat marijuana "more like alcohol or tobacco."

Six public hearings will be held between now and August, and Canadians in 
five cities will be asked whether marijuana should be made legal before the 
committee prepares a final report. Meanwhile, although a large amount of 
anecdotal evidence and personal stories extol the virtues of marijuana, 
almost no studies exist on its medicinal properties, if any.

One University of California-San Francisco study, in preliminary stages and 
still ongoing, found that patients who smoked marijuana gained 
significantly more weight than those receiving a placebo, and had slightly 
lower viral levels. This could offer significant benefit to those patients 
using marijuana for chronic (catabolic) wasting, which includes nausea, 
vomiting, lack of appetite and severe weight loss.

An Institute of Medicine study commissioned by the White House also found 
that cannabinoid drugs such as marijuana reduce anxiety, stimulate 
appetite, reduce nausea, and offer pain relief, and suggested pot was 
suitable for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and HIV wasting. 
Animal studies have also found cannabis products a mild to moderate 
analgesic, with more benefits than opiates, which can be inconsistent for 
chronic pain, and result in nausea and sedation.

One small study, with only three human subjects, found that marijuana 
smoking ended migraine headache attacks. Researchers theorized marijuana 
suppresses pain by feeding the periaqueductral gray (PAG) region of the 
brain, part of the neural system with an abundance of existing cannabinoid 
receptors, and the part of the brain where migraines are believed to 
originate. Indeed, marijuana was a popular treatment for headache from 1874 
to 1942. Then it was criminalized, and other drugs took its place.

Still, some North Americans swear by pot. Last year, AIDS activist and 
freelance writer Phillip Alden of San Francisco told reporters he suffers 
constant nausea on anti-HIV medication, and has chronic wasting syndrome. A 
lungful of pot before dinner makes him hungry. He must eat enormous 
quantities of food to maintain his weight. "I start cooking dinner and take 
a couple hits off my pipe. Then I eat dinner, dessert, snacks, and keep 
eating right up until bedtime."