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New pot strains geared toward relieving pain with no high

The buzz is that a lot of medical marijuana soon won’t have much of a buzz. New strains that ease
 pain and inflammation without making users high is one development changing the medical
 cannabis business.


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As more medical pot dispensaries open in California – three in Stockton are awaiting approval out of nine contenders – attention has pivoted toward testing.

Knowing the chemical makeup can tell users whether a particular strain is best for insomnia, pain, nausea, inflammation, multiple sclerosis or another condition.

Having that information allows patients to choose their cannabis based on specific needs.

Patient choices can have ripple effects:

» Prompting growers to breed new strains with names such as Incredible Romulan and Sour Tsunami.

» Encouraging the creation of specialized laboratories.

» Reshaping scientific research.

Some patients want marijuana strains low in THC, the chemical compound responsible for the euphoric experience.

They are looking instead for strains containing high levels of CBD, a less-well-known chemical that causes no mind-altering effects but relieves pain.

"I have seen it do powerful things, especially with my cancer patients," said Stacey Kerr, a Santa Rosa physician, of strains high in the pain reliever.

Kerr said some of her patients resisted using conventional marijuana. "They didn’t want to get high."

Joe Raya, 60, of Stockton, is a Vietnam veteran and forklift driver who uses medical pot to control pain from hand injuries. On a recent Sunday, he depended on advice from the staff at Central Valley Co-Op in unincorporated east Stockton to pick up Blue Dream.

Raya said he "hadn’t heard" about strains that ease pain without a buzz. Testing laboratories, however, report that Blue Dream is known for containing some of the pain-relieving compound CBD.

Raya said the compound is "relaxing," and doesn’t have unpleasant side effects. "When I used medicine from my doctors, my stomach bled," Raya said.

Raya is one of few people willing to event talk about medical marijuana. It’s not an easy topic for a lot of users in San Joaquin County and the adjacent foothills.

While many Northern California doctors and researchers have embraced medical marijuana as a useful tool, many local health professionals are wary.

San Joaquin Medical Society Executive Director Mike Steenburgh was unable to find a member willing to be interviewed.

"Many doctors are concerned about the appearance it would give them by giving medical marijuana recognition, " said Guy Meyer, owner of the Fogotten Knowledge Collective dispensary in Valley Springs.

Patients and dispensary operators say the professionalism of medical pot clinics varies. And it’s left to them to recommend strains that might be helpful.

"For someone like me, what they call indica is good," said Stockton’s Ben Richards, 43, who recently visited Central Valley Co-Op for insomnia.

Richards didn’t say so, but researchers indicate that the indica strain – originally from the mountains of Central Asia – has higher concentrations of calming elements. All Richards knows is that it works better than conventional pills.

"None of them seem to work very well and a lot of them make you sick," Richards said.

The uses of medical cannabis are so varied – fighting nausea, glaucoma and chronic pain; calming anxiety, insomnia and depression – that some doctors say it appears likely that many illicit users are self medicating.

"I think most people who are utilizing it in so-called recreational use are actually treating their anxiety," said Donald Abrams, professor of clinical medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and chief of oncology and hematology at San Francisco General Hospital. "For treating anxiety, cannabis is a hell of a lot safer than many of the prescription drugs out there and less habituating. "

Because marijuana and the compounds in it are illegal, researchers believe it is more difficult to study than most other products and compounds.

"One of the main hurdles for most people is obtaining the (federal Drug Enforcement Administration) license to do studies," said Sean McAllister, a scientist at California Pacific Medical Center, Research Institute in San Francisco.

That federal license is required for CBD, the buzz-free compound that McAllister and his research team are using to shrink cancerous tumors.

While McAllister’s team develops what could be a new generation of less-toxic chemotherapy treatments, the state’s hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients are starting to play a role in research, too.

Project CBD, an online data collection, offers patients a way to report on how different strains of cannabis – with their varying mix of compounds – affect their illnesses.

Kerr is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, which is giving guidance to Project CBD. She says such information can help doctors and patients answer questions about particular blends.

"I like that data," Kerr said. "I like to know what works for people … so they don’t have to get stoned or high."


By Dana M. Nichols
Record Staff Writer

March 20, 2011 12:00 AM

Contact reporter Dana M. Nichols at (209) 607-1361      dnichols@recordnet. com.

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