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  US Marijuana Laws Clamping The 
    Lid On Medical Pot Research

   US marijuana laws clamping the lid on medical pot
   cannabis research, There are few large-scale
    studies on medical marijuana users.


     Nature Medicine – 12, 1335 (2006)
               29 November 2006

              Brian Vastag
            Washington DC

         Return Back To Main Medical Reports Page

A decade after California became the first US state to legalize
medical marijuana, one small survey estimates that doctors have
recommended the drug to about 350,000 patients. But continuous legal
wrangling with the federal government has scared researchers away
from tapping into this vast pool to understand how the drug works.

"No one wants to do a bunch of research if medical marijuana is just
going to disappear," says Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-director of the
Drug Policy Research Center at the nonprofit RAND Corporation. As a
result, she says, the past decade has been "a huge uncontrolled
public health experiment."

The California law took effect in November 1996 without an
accompanying patient registry or any monitoring scheme. The law
grants immunity from state laws to individuals in California who have
a recommendation from a physician. But in 2005, the US Supreme Court
ruled that those individuals are not protected from federal

In October, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency arrested 15 medical
marijuana providers and users at eight California cannabis
dispensaries, which are legal under the state law.

However, according to the new survey, published in November in
O’Shaughnessy’s, self-described as "a medical journal/political
tabloid," some California doctors are convinced that marijuana has
medical value. The 18 physicians and one network of clinics surveyed
had provided recommendations to 140,000 individuals during the past
decade, a figure extrapolated to the state. About 95% of them had
used marijuana medically before seeking a doctor’s approval.

One surveyed specialist, Redding-based Philip Denney who is president
of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, identified the ‘typical
patient’ as a male in his mid-40s with chronic low back pain. Among
Denney’s 18,900 recommendations for medical marijuana, roughly 50%
were for chronic pain, 15% for gastrointestinal disorders, 15% for
psychiatric disorders and 10% for neurological disorders such as
multiple sclerosis. "What makes cannabis so attractive as a medicine
is its safety," Denney says. "There’s no such thing as an overdose."

In the survey, respondents consistently reported that cannabis helped
reduce their reliance on opiates. "A typical story I hear is from the
patient who was taking 260 milligrams of oxycontin a day and now with
cannabis is down to 10 milligrams," Denney says.

California in 2002 also funded the Center for Medicinal Cannabis
Research, housed at the University of California, San Diego. Among
the fourteen clinical trials completed or underway: a
placebo-controlled double-blind study of cannabis for neuropathic
pain in individuals with HIV/AIDS, a study of cannabis versus the
tranquilizer lorazepam for neuropathic pain, and a study of how well
cannabis controls spasticity in multiple sclerosis. Researchers
funded by the center are also studying how cannabis affects the
immune system in those with HIV/AIDS.

"The state of California took a real chance on this," says Igor
Grant, director of the center. "We’re on our way to getting some

Preliminary results in 50 individuals with HIV/AIDS show, for
instance, that cannabis reduces neuropathic pain better than a
placebo. As results from small trials trickle in, some observers
lament the lost opportunity to conduct large-scale studies. Says
Robert MacCoun, a law professor who studies drug policy at the
University of California-Berkeley, "It’s one consequence of this
crazy system we have."


California NORML (415) 563-5858  // canorml@igc.org
2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114

          Return Back To Main Medical Page