Scientific Research


November 5, 2009 – The debate over its risks has split political and scientific opinion. But Picture 6American mother Marie Myung-Ok Lee says cannabis isn’t only safe enough for her autistic son – it’s dramatically improved his condition.

My son, J, has autism. He’s also had two serious operations for a spinal cord tumour and has an inflammatory bowel condition, all of which may be causing him pain, if he could tell us. He can say words, but many of them – “duck in the water, duck in the water”, for instance – don’t convey what he means. For a time, anti-inflammatory medication seemed to control his pain. But in the last year, it stopped working. He began to bite and to smack the glasses off my face. If you were in that much pain, you’d probably want to hit someone, too.

J’s school called my husband and me in for a meeting about J’s tantrums, which were affecting his ability to learn. The teachers were wearing Tae Kwon Do arm pads to protect themselves against his biting. Their solution was to hand us a list of child psychiatrists. As autistic children can’t exactly do talk therapy, this meant using sedating, antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal.

Last year, Risperdal was prescribed for more than 389,000 children in the US – 240,000 of them under the age of 12 – for bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism and other disorders. Yet the drug has never been tested for long-term safety in children and carries a severe warning of side-effects. From 2000 to 2004, Risperdal, or one of five other popular drugs also classified as “atypical antipsychotics”, was the “primary suspect” in 45 paediatric deaths, according to a review of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data by USA Today. When I canvassed parents of autistic children who take Risperdal, I didn’t hear a single story of an improvement that seemed worth the risks. A 2002 study on the use of Risperdal for autism, in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed moderate improvements in “autistic irritation” – but the study followed only 49 children over eight weeks, which limits the inferences that can be drawn from it.

We met with J’s doctor, who’d read the studies and agreed: No Risperdal or its kin. The school called us in again. What were we going to do, they asked. As an occasional health writer and blogger, I was intrigued when a homeopath suggested medical marijuana. Cannabis has long-documented effects as an analgesic and an anxiety modulator. Best of all, it is safe. The homeopath referred me to a publication by the Autism Research Institute describing cases of reduced aggression, with no permanent side- effects. Rats given 40 times the psychoactive level merely fall sleep. Dr Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has been researching cannabis for 40 years, says he has yet to encounter a case of marijuana causing a death, even from lung cancer.

A prescription drug called Marinol, which contains a synthetic cannabinoid, seemed mainstream enough to bring up with J’s doctor. I cannot say that with a few little pills everything turned around. But after about a week of fiddling with the dosage, J began garnering a few glowing school reports: “J was a pleasure have in speech class,” instead of “J had 300 aggressions today.”

But J tends to build tolerance to synthetics, and in a few months we could see the aggressive behaviour coming back. One night, I went to the meeting of a medical marijuana patient advocacy group on the campus of the college where I teach. The patients told me that Marinol couldn’t compare to marijuana, the plant, which has at least 60 cannabinoids to Marinol’s one.

***

Rhode Island, where we live, is one of 13 states where the use of medical marijuana is legal. But I was resistant. My late father was an anaesthesiologist, and compared with the precise drugs he worked with, I know he would think marijuana to be ridiculously imprecise and unscientific. I looked at my son’s tie-dye socks (his avowed favourite). At his school, I was already the weirdo mom who packed lunches with organic kale and kimchi and wouldn’t let him eat any “fun” foods with artificial dyes. Now, I’d be the mom who shunned the standard operating procedure and gave her kid pot instead.

I thought back to when J was 18 months old. We were vacationing on the Cape, and, although he just had the slightest hitch in his gait, I was sure there was something wrong. His paediatrician laughed. I called back repeatedly until a different doctor agreed to see us. J was taken in for emergency surgery, to remove a tumour that was on the verge of inflicting irreparable damage. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut.

And yet, I still hesitated. The Marinol had been disorienting enough – no protocol to follow, just trying varying numbers of pills and hoping for the best. Now we were dealing with an illegal drug, one for which few evidence-based scientific studies existed, precisely because it is an illegal drug. But when I sent J’s doctor the physician’s form that is mandatory for medical marijuana licensing, it came back signed. We underwent a background check with the Rhode Island Bureau of Criminal Identification, and J became the state’s youngest licensee.

Having a licence, however, is different from having access to marijuana. While California has a network of “compassion centres,” basically pharmacy-like storefronts that provide quality product from registered growers, Rhode Island’s Republican governor has consistently vetoed that idea, despite the local stories of frail patients being mugged in downtown Providence as they go in search of pot. We weren’t about to purchase street marijuana, which could be contaminated with other drugs, so we looked into growing the pot ourselves. But by law, medical marijuana must be grown indoors, and it requires a separate room with a complex system of hydroponics, fans and precise lighting schedules. (This made me wonder how much THC, the main psychoactive substance found in cannabis, was actually in the spindly plants the high school goofballs I knew grew in their closets).

The coordinator of our patient group introduced us to a licensed grower. A recent horticulture school graduate, he’d figured out how to cultivate marijuana using a custom organic soil mix. His e-mail signature even quoted Rudolf Steiner. The grower arrived at our house with a knapsack containing jars of herbs. We opened the jars to sniff the different strains of “bud” – Blueberry, which did smell fleetingly of wild blueberries, and Sour Diesel, which had a rich, winey scent. The grower had also cured some leaves for tea, and he brought a glycerine tincture, a marijuana distillate in olive oil (yes, organic), cookies (ditto), and a strange machine that looked, fittingly, like a lava lamp. Basically an almost-bong, this vaporiser heated the cannabis without producing carcinogenic smoke.

For most adults, the vaporiser is the delivery method of choice, as it allows the patient to feel the effects immediately and adjust the dose precisely. J gamely put his mouth on the valve and let us squeeze a little smoke into him. It shot right back out of his nose. He looked like Puff the Magic Dragon. The grower left us with a month’s worth of marijuana tea, glycerine, and olive oil – and a cookie recipe. No buds. We paid $80 (£50).

We made the cookies with the marijuana olive oil, starting J off with half a small cookie, eaten after dinner. J normally goes to bed around 7.30pm; by 6.30 he declared he was tired and conked out. We checked on him hourly. As we anxiously peeked in, half-expecting some red-eyed ogre from Reefer Madness to come leaping out at us, we saw instead that he was sleeping peacefully. Usually, his sleep is shallow and restless. J also woke up happy.

But in a few days, J decided he didn’t like the cookie anymore and smashed it with his fist. We brewed him the tea, which smelled funky and grassy. He slurped it down, but it didn’t seem to do much. Many of the psychoactive compounds in marijuana are fat soluble, so I added a dropperful of the oil that we used in the cookies. That made him sleepy-looking but still aggressive. It became clear that when J ingested pot orally, it took two hours to see the results, and by then there wasn’t much we could do to dial the dose up or down. The grower visited us again to give J another try at the bong, but with little success.

Perhaps J needed a little time to get off the Marinol. After two weeks, we noticed a slight but consistent lessening of aggression. And he wasn’t nervously chewing holes in his shirts.

***

A month or so into the treatment, it was still too early to know if we could find a dose and mode of delivery that would give us consistent results. Even if J could learn to use the vaporiser, it costs $600 and would leave the house reeking of pot. And we didn’t want to get too dependent, because of the inherent limitations. Though we’d love to calm J with pot so that he can visit his grandmother in Minnesota, bringing a controlled substance on the plane isn’t the best idea.

But since we started him on his “special tea,” J’s little face, which is sometimes a mask of pain, has softened. He’s smiled more. For most of the last year, his individual education plan at his special-needs school was full of blanks, recording “no progress” because he spent his whole day an irritated, frustrated mess. But soon after starting on the tea, his reports began to show real progress, including “two community outings with the absence of aggressions”.

My husband and I are both academics and writers (me, novelist and essayist; he, historian), given to close observation and note taking. It was these habits that finally helped us see our son’s allergic sensitivity to certain foods and seek advice from a gastroenterologist for his behaviours – aggression and chronic diarrhoea – instead of the recommended psychiatrist. (Gut pain and digestive problems, coined as “autistic entercolitis”, are now considered a common biological affliction of many autistic children).

At first we weren’t sure if we were seeing results from the cannabis, but after about three months, which included weekly consultations with our grower as we experimented with different strains, we observed a much happier and outgoing child – who did not act or appear “stoned” in any way. Four months in, J came home from school and I noticed something different. Pre-pot, J ate the collars of his shirts, teasing his clothes apart and swallowing the threads. There’s a name for this disorder – pica (pregnant women sometimes chew on chalk). It got so bad he ate his pyjamas and we had to start dressing him in organic cotton shirts. Then one day he came home from school wearing a whole shirt.

J’s school reports improved too. At one parent meeting, his teacher produced the latest “aggression” chart, showing attempts or instances of hitting, kicking biting or pinching other people. For a year he had scored an average of 30 to 50 aggressions a day, with a high of 300. The latest data showed days, sometimes consecutive, with zero aggressions. And on the school bus, J has transformed from a child who has hit the driver in the face and bitten people into a sparkly eyed boy who says hi and quietly takes his seat.

***

There’s a twist to this happy story, though. The aggression has eased but J’s autism has become more distinct. His vocal outbursts – screams, barks, yips of happiness – still happen and while our home is no longer full of thrown food, broken dishes and scratched faces, we still see people in the local area react to a family that remains different – and not always to their liking. There’s a father on the next street who stops playing ball with his son when we approach. A mother won’t make eye contact and ignored a party invitation. Most people responded well to J but sometimes we feel we’re being shunned.

Marijuana isn’t a miracle cure for autism. But in our son’s case it eases his pain and inflammation so dramatically that he can participate in life and learning again. It also protects him from the sometimes dangerous side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs. We have settled on a good strain (White Russian, a favourite pain-reliever for end-stage cancer patients) and a good dose. And now he’s not in pain, J can go to school instead of a children’s psychiatric hospital, where all too many of his peers end up as a result of violent behaviour.

When I think of the embarrassment I may feel if my colleagues see this article, or teachers or parents at J’s school, or his less open-minded doctors, I pause. Although I occasionally smoked pot as a teenager (believe me, in northern Minnesota, there was not much else to do), now that I’m a law-abiding adult, all the scary anti-drug messages are flashing in my brain. But when I researched cannabis the way I did conventional drugs, it seemed clear that marijuana wouldn’t harm J, and might help. It’s strange that the virtues of such a useful and harmless botanical have been so clouded by stigma. Even the limited studies that have been done suggest marijuana’s potential as an adjunctive therapy for cancer. Marijuana, you need some re-branding. Maybe a cool new name.

One of the biggest tests for J through this journey was a visit from Grandma. The last time she came, over Christmas, J hit her during a tantrum. This time, we gave him his tea, mixing it with goji berries to mask any odour, although it occurs to me that my mother, a Korean immigrant, probably doesn’t even know what pot smells like (it actually smells a lot like ssuk, a Korean medicinal herb). She remarked that J seemed calmer. As we were preparing for a trip to the park, J disappeared, and we wondered if he was going to throw one of his tantrums. Instead, he returned with Grandma’s shoes, laying them in front of her, even carefully adjusting them so that they were parallel and easy to step into. He looked into her face, and smiled.

What are the downsides to this experiment?

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

The first reaction of most parents to Marie Myung-Ok Lee’s story is likely to be one of surprise, shock, even horror. What is she doing turning her nine-year-old son into a pot-head? Has she not heard of the dangers of cannabis smoking to the mental health of adolescents, never mind the disorienting effects of an intoxicating substance on one so young?

Possibly this will be their second and third reactions, too. Ms Myung-Ok Lee was giving her son, J, cannabis to relieve pain (from his spinal tumour and inflamed gut), not just to treat his autism. Even so, the stigma that surrounds illegal drugs is so deeply entrenched, just because they are illegal, that many people are simply not prepared to weigh up their benefits and harms.

We have seen in the row this week over the sacking of the UK Government’s chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, how the debate over drugs is driven more by fear, emotion and political calculation than by scientific evidence. The Labour Government, facing possible annihilation at the next election, is anxious to be seen to be tough on drugs – so the outspoken Professor Nutt had to go.

As an academic, Ms Myung-Ok Lee is perhaps better placed than many to resist the voices of unreason and take a cool look at the evidence. Cannabis, as she points out, is already prescribed as a pain killer, as an anti-nausea agent for cancer sufferers and as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. In all these areas it has been shown to be effective, though there is debate about just how effective. In the UK, it is available as Sativex, a spray taken under the tongue, which contains a cannabis extract. More than 1,200 patients in the UK have received it for relief of symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. It is not, however, prescribed to nine-year-olds (or anyone under 18).

Ms Myung-Ok Lee started her son on medicinal cannabis, and then went a step further by giving him the herbal kind, as a tincture or baked in a cookie. This, too, is not without precedent – among adults. There have been frequent reports of patients smoking cannabis and gaining relief from pain or the spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and in the UK when they have been prosecuted for possession of a controlled drug, the courts have shown leniency.

But in trying herbal cannabis on her son, Ms Myung-Ok Lee and her doctor have stepped beyond even the anecdotal evidence, into the unknown. J became Rhode Island’s youngest ever patient licensed to use marijuana for medical reasons.

She acknowledges it is an experiment, but she reasons that as cannabis has low toxicity and is safer than most other drugs, the risks are low. Any parent, confronted with a screaming, suffering child who is so distressed that he smashes things, hits people and tears at his clothing with his teeth, must feel sympathy for her. In that situation, which of us would not try anything to ease our child’s pain? Moreover, the experiment appears to have worked – at least for the first few months.

The difficult questions are: will the effect last? Will there be a downside to using the drug in one so young? Is the effect real? The last question is the trickiest. Children grow and change and those with autism are no different from the rest. The changes his parents have noticed in J might have happened anyway, as part of his natural development. The cannabis could turn out to be a coincidental factor, with zero impact on his condition. It was coincidence that led to the scare over MMR and autism – because the first symptoms of the condition typically occur around 14 months which is the age at which babies receive their first MMR jab.

It would be a disaster if cannabis came to be seen as a panacea for children in the same situation, on the basis of this anecdotal report. As always in science, we need more evidence.

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October 27, 2009 – Last week, the Justice Department ordered its staff to back off prosecution of people who use marijuana for medical purposes in the 14 states in which such use is legal. The directive reopened a med_mary_4question that has been part of the debate on U.S. drug policy for decades.

To understand more about the drug’s medical properties, we turned to Daniele Piomelli, who since 1998 has led a program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to study the impact of marijuana and other psychoactive drugs on the brain. He is a professor of pharmacology and biological chemistry at the University of California at Irvine as well as and director of the center for Drug Discovery and Development at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa.

What medical benefits does marijuana offer? Have these benefits been demonstrated in rigorous scientific studies?

Several controlled clinical trials have been carried out in the last few years, using either smoked marijuana or a mouth spray that contains an extract of the marijuana plant. The results are quite consistent. They show that marijuana improves the well-being of patients with multiple sclerosis and alleviates chronic pain in patients with damage or dysfunction of nerve fibers (so-called neuropathic pain). Other work has shown that marijuana and its active ingredient THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) reduce the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy, stimulate appetite in AIDS wasting syndrome and lessen tics in Tourette’s syndrome. By and large, the use of marijuana in these trials was associated with few and mild side effects (for example, dry mouth and memory lapses).

What are the risks of medical use of marijuana? Could it become addictive or lead to use of other, more dangerous drugs?
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Marijuana can produce dependence, though less aggressively than, say, tobacco or the so-called opiate painkillers. Frequent use is risky, however, particularly during adolescence when the neural circuits in the brain are still maturing. It turns out that the brain employs its own marijuana-like substances, called endocannabinoids, to send signals from one neural cell to another, and that THC mimics these substances. The endocannabinoids seem to be very important in brain development, so messing with them before the nervous system becomes fully mature is not a smart thing to do.

There is little hard evidence that using marijuana leads to the subsequent use of other addictive drugs. On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly clear that stressful life events (particularly in critical periods such as adolescence) can encourage drug use and facilitate the development of addictions.

How would a marijuana user be sure to get the correct dose of the active ingredient?

It is difficult to say, because the various types of marijuana now available contain widely different concentrations of THC. Standardized marijuana preparations that contain a fixed amount of THC are not currently sold to the public, though the National Institute on Drug Abuse does provide them to investigators for use in clinical trials.

Is there an alternative way to get the same ingredient in some other form?

A clinical form of THC was approved by the Food and Drug Administration many years ago. It is marketed under the name of Marinol and is used to treat nausea in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy as well as loss of appetite in AIDS patients. It comes in capsules and is taken orally. Many medical marijuana users say the fixed dose of oral THC creates a problem; they say they prefer smoked marijuana because its dosage can be adjusted simply by changing the length and intensity of the puffs. They may be right, but the burning of a marijuana joint creates tars and other toxic chemicals that can be harmful with prolonged exposure. An alternative is to use so-called smokeless delivery systems such as vaporizers and sprays. Source.

October 19, 2009 – The Justice Department announced today that federal drug agents will no longer arrest or prosecute people who are legally using, selling or supplying medical marijuana in the states that allow it.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement when he released the new guidelines. But, Mr. Holder said, “we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.”

How significant is the change in federal drug policy? What will the new guidelines mean for local and state law enforcement?

A Muddier Federal Role
Picture 29Tom Riley-Tom Riley was associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2001 to 2009.

The new policy announced on medical marijuana can be broken down into two parts. The first of these is not really “new” and the second is not really “policy.”

First, Attorney General Holder announced that it would no longer be a “priority” for the federalPicture 31 government to prosecute patients with serious illnesses. But that has never been a priority of federal law enforcement, which has been focused on people engaged in the cultivation and trafficking of significant quantities of illegal drugs. Let’s not be conned here: The average quantity of marijuana that someone is in federal prison for marijuana possession is over 100 lbs.

That is not “personal use,” nor is it Granny getting locked in the slammer for puffing a few joints for “medical” purposes. Leaving aside the wisdom of determining medical policy by ballot measure rather than by science, keeping the federal law enforcement focus on drug trafficking is nothing new — it is a continuation of the Bush and Clinton administration policies.

Second, the memo itself is internally conflicted to the point of incoherence. While ostensibly encouraging prosecutors to defer to state and local laws on marijuana, it also recognizes that federal “interest” can still allow the feds, at their discretion, to step in and prosecute. In fact, federal law remains completely unchanged.

The memo specifically states that the new policy should not be interpreted to mean that medical marijuana has been legalized, and that it does not provide a legal defense against federal prosecution. Moreover, it states that even if an individual scrupulously complies with state laws, they still may be subject to federal prosecution.

The gap between the headlines and the reality can only lead to further confusion. California municipalities are struggling with an explosion of store-front pot shops and grow operations. The new federal “guidelines” make the federal role muddier, and may send a green light to cultivators and traffickers who have been cynically using the “medical” label.

A Victory for Common Sense
Picture 30Richard N. Van Wickler-Richard N. Van Wickler is the Cheshire County superintendent of New Hampshire Department of Corrections and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The announcement by the Obama administration to not use limited resources to target states that allow the use of medicinal marijuana, and the citizens who use them, is a significant victory for common sense.

One case in point is California, which has built 21 new penitentiaries in a five-year period. Picture 32
The state should get some relief from the no fewer than 200 raids by federal officers on state-approved medicinal marijuana cooperatives — a significant acknowledgment of compassion for the sick and respect for the autonomy of our individual states. The change shines a new light on the horribly failed drug war.

Citing limited federal resources as a principal reason not to pursue state-approved medicinal marijuana cooperatives is only one of many excellent reasons why our country must change course. Considering that 83 percent of property crimes and as much as 40 percent of violent crimes are unsolved in our country, it seems that what resources we do have could be much better utilized. If preventing crime, reducing disease and addiction rates, and reducing violence and needless death are goals of this administration with respect to the drug war, then an exit strategy is urgently needed on this failed war.

But Is It Effective?
Picture 34Henry I. Miller-Henry I. Miller, a medical doctor, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was an official at the Food and Drug Administration from 1979 to 1994.

As an “exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion,” in the words of the Department of Justice, this decision is understandable — and even welcome — but it is not altogether satisfactory. Arguably, if marijuana has therapeutic potential, it should be required to pass scientific and regulatory muster like any other medicine.

We have considerable experience with making drugs from the opium poppy, for example, butPicture 33 we don’t authorize patients to smoke opium for medical purposes; rather, we require that opiate products, including morphine for analgesia and paregoric for diarrhea, be standardized and quality-controlled by composition and dose, fully tested, delivered in an appropriate manner, and shown to be safe and effective. Why should marijuana be any different?

A promising and rational alternative to smoked marijuana is a marijuana-derived drug called Sativex, formulated as a mouth spray, which has been approved in Canada for the treatment of neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis and is in advanced clinical trials for muscle spasticity, intractable pain and other uses. Unlike crude marijuana, its purity and potency can be standardized.

Patients who are genuinely in need deserve safe and effective medicines, and rigorous testing and oversight are the best ways to provide them.

Hypocritical Foolishness
Picture 36Joseph McNamara-Joseph D. McNamara, a retired deputy inspector of the New York Police Department and former police chief of San Jose, Calif., is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

I never smoked a cigarette in my life, let alone a reefer. It’s not that I was a puritan. Like the overwhelming majority of my fellow cops, I thought it manly and cool to consume my share of beer and booze.

But as a veteran of more than 30 years in law enforcement, I always thought it hypocritical Picture 35foolishness to bust 700,000 to 800,000 Americans a year for pot, and especially ridiculous to get excited about sick people smoking marijuana because they believed accurately or mistakenly, that it helped ease their pain.

I’m not inclined to enter the endless debates between crusading zealots against marijuana and those who cite contrary evidence that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug. I am convinced, however, that if you must be a heavy drug user, you’re far better off smoking pot than, say, playing the dangerous, insane drinking games common among our high school and college kids, and excessive alcohol consumption by older heavy boozers.

In my mind, the question should focus on the societal costs of arresting someone for using certain substances we disapprove of, and consequently giving them a criminal record that can damage their lives and turn them into career criminals. If Misters Clinton, Bush, or Obama, and countless other successful people had been busted for their youthful flirtation with drugs most would have been stigmatized and suffered irreparable career harm. The learning moment here is that there is a terrible human cost to arresting someone, which must be balanced against the harm it supposedly prevents.

Additional costs of the violence, corruption, and other crimes associated with prohibition never seem to be included in estimated costs of drug war policies. For example, the use of scarce police, court, and correctional resources, and the disproportional mischief that aggressive arrest tactics impose on minorities tilt the already out of balance price tag for our irrational policy of unnecessarily criminalizing widespread conduct. Why is a free society so terrified of trusting adults to make responsible decisions?

Source.

October 18, 2009 – Research shows some cancers can be treated with marijuana. Even with successful surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatment, gliomas — a highly marijuana_leaf330-1aggressive form of brain cancer that strikes approximately 10,000 Americans annually — tragically claim the lives of 75 percent of its victims within two years and virtually all within five years.

But what if there was an alternative treatment for gliomas that could selectively target the cancer while leaving healthy cells intact? And what if federal bureaucrats were aware of this treatment, but deliberately withheld this information from the public?

Sadly, the questions posed above are not entirely hypothetical. Let me explain.

In 2007, there were over 150 published preclinical and clinical studies assessing the therapeutic potential of marijuana and several of its active compounds, known as cannabinoids. These numerous studies are in a book, now in its third edition, entitled Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Scientific Literature. (NORML Foundation, 2008) One chapter in this book, which summarized the findings of more than 30 separate trials and literature reviews, was dedicated to the use of cannabinoids as potential anti-cancer agents, particularly in the treatment of gliomas.

Not familiar with this scientific research? Your government is.

In fact, the first experiment documenting pot’s potent anti-cancer effects took place in 1974 at the Medical College of Virginia at the behest federal bureaucrats. The results of that study, reported in an Aug. 18, 1974, Washington Post newspaper feature, were that marijuana’s primary psychoactive component, THC, “slowed the growth of lung cancers, breast cancers and a virus-induced leukemia in laboratory mice, and prolonged their lives by as much as 36 percent.”

Despite these favorable preliminary findings (eventually published the following year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute), U.S. government officials refused to authorize any follow-up research until conducting a similar — though secret — preclinical trial in the mid-1990s. That study, conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program to the tune of $2 million, concluded that mice and rats administered high doses of THC over long periods had greater protection against malignant tumors than untreated controls.

However, rather than publicize their findings, the U.S. government shelved the results, which only became public after a draft copy of its findings were leaked to the medical journal AIDS Treatment News, which in turn forwarded the story to the national media.

In the years since the completion of the National Toxicology trial, the U.S. government has yet to authorize a single additional study examining the drug’s potential anti-cancer properties. (Federal permission is necessary in order to conduct clinical research on marijuana because of its illegal status as a schedule I controlled substance.)

Fortunately, in the past 10 years scientists overseas have generously picked up where U.S. researchers so abruptly left off, reporting that cannabinoids can halt the spread of numerous cancer cells — including prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and brain cancer. (An excellent paper summarizing much of this research, “Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise,” appears in the January 2008 edition of the journal Cancer Research.) A 2006 patient trial published in the British Journal of Cancer even reported that the intracranial administration of THC was associated with reduced tumor cell proliferation in humans with advanced glioblastoma.

Writing earlier this year in the scientific journal Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, Italian researchers reiterated, “(C)annabinoids have displayed a great potency in reducing glioma tumor growth. (They) appear to be selective antitumoral agents as they kill glioma cells without affecting the viability of nontransformed counterparts.” Not one mainstream media outlet reported their findings. Perhaps now they’ll pay better attention.

What possible advancements in the treatment of cancer may have been achieved over the past 34 years had U.S. government officials chosen to advance — rather than suppress — clinical research into the anti-cancer effects of cannabis? It’s a shame we have to speculate; it’s even more tragic that thousands must suffer while we do. Source.

October 15, 2009 – In a recent interview, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske talks about his job and his previous statements on marijuana.

Being in such a high profile job isn’t easy. Just three months after taking over, Kerlikowske found himself in a controversy when he said that marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.

Kerlikowske said he wishes he would have been more clear that he was referring to smoked marijuana.

“It’s been very clear from the FDA that smoked marijuana doesn’t have medicinal effect. When it comes to other things, that may have a benefit. We’ll let science answer that question and I think it’s still being resolved.”

Kerlikowske’s office plans to release the nation’s new drug strategy sometime in February.

He said Americans will notice a shift towards more treatment-oriented programs.

“More people are dying from overdoses than from car crashes and gunshot wounds. This is something parents can prevent.”

Watch the video:
Picture 19

October 15, 2009 – Due to being illegal or quasi-legal in many countries, you might not find as much information on the uses of medical marijuana as you might expect. However, many studies have been marijuana_leaf330conducted, and are still being conducted, about the medical uses of cannabis. Despite a somewhat blind governmental view in many countries, including Canada and the United States, these studies have shown repeatedly exactly how medical marijuana can help those suffering from severe illnesses such as cancer.

Traditional Cancer Treatments

Lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer – in fact, most types of cancer all start the same basic way. Something causes cancer cells to divide and grow without pause, spreading badly damaged DNA. Those cells invade other tissues and, in most cases, form tumors.

Cancer studies have taken leaps and bounds as far as finding treatments to slow, and sometimes stop, the spread of cancer. However, two of the most important treatments, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, also cause damage and, often, severe side effects.

For instance, some of the most powerful, toxic chemicals are used in chemotherapeutic agents. Both treatments kill cancer cells, but healthy cells as well. Chemotherapeutic agents such as Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Platinol (cisplatin) can, and have, caused immune suppression and multiple organ damage, but they also cause severe nausea and vomiting.

The vomiting can last over a period of days, to the point that some patients have actually torn their esophagus. Due to the vomiting and lack of appetite, severe dehydration and weigh loss is normal. In fact, many cancer patients begin having a reaction before chemotherapy begins, in “anticipation” of the side effects. Unfortunately, although chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy may be an integral part of their survival, many cancer patients decide not to take the therapies because the side effects are so severe.

Because of this, many are given a mix of anti-nausea drugs. Often, the anti-nausea drugs work. However, the drugs only give partial symptom control, while for others they give no control at all. In addition, those who take traditional medications may also suffer fever, bone pain, fatigue, anxiety, sleep problems and changes in heart activity, among other issues. This leaves cancer patients to suffer from the effects of the cancer itself, the side effects of the treatments, and the side effects of medications used to alleviate the initial side effects of the treatments.

Medical Marijuana for Cancer Patients
It has proven in many studies, performed by prestigious scientific and medical organizations and individuals, that medical marijuana can (and does) relieve pain and nausea. In fact, some of these studies go as far back as the 1970s and older.

For instance, in 1975, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a “double-blind” study on the effects of oral (ingested rather than smoked) tetrahydrocannabinol on nausea and vomiting. According to the study, “No patient vomited while experiencing a subjective “high”. Oral tetrahydrocannabinol has antiemetic properties and is significantly better than a placebo in reducing vomiting caused by chemotherapeutic agents.”

A 1999 report by the Institutes of Medicine concluded, “In patients already experiencing severe nausea or vomiting, pills are generally ineffective, because of the difficulty in swallowing or keeping a pill down, and slow onset of the drug effect. Thus an inhalation (but, preferably not smoking) cannabinoid drug delivery system would be advantageous for treating chemotherapy-induced nausea.”

Although freedom from nausea and vomiting are two of the most noticed benefits of medical marijuana use, many have reported a reduction in the severity of wasting away. As well, they’ve notice a lessening in depression and other “side effects” brought on by the disease, including an increase in appetite. All of these things together have helped many cancer patients live a better, happier, more comfortable life. However, studies have also shown a shocking benefit.

Over twenty major studies in the past nine years have shown that cannabinoids (the chemicals in cannabis) actually fight cancer cells. In fact, it’s been shown that cannabinoids arrest cancer growths of many different forms of cancer, including brain, melanoma and breast cancer. There’s even growing evidence that cannabinoids cause direct anti-tumor activity.

Since the possibility was first realized, many more studies have been conducted, focused on the possibility of cannabinoids have anticarcinogenic effects. A 2007 study by the Institute of Toxicology and Pharmacology in Rostock, Germany focused on human cervical cancer (HeLa) cells. The cells were treated with specific cannabioids and THC. Even at low concentrations, MA and THC “led to a decrease in invasion of 61.5% and 68.1% respectively.”

The benefits of medical marijuana for cancer patients are clear when it comes to increased appetite, reduction of pain, wasting, vomiting and nausea, as well as depression. Although its anticarcinogenic effects aren’t quite as clear, ongoing research further points to the possibility that medical marijuana may actually be what many claim it is – a truly miraculous drug. Source.

October 6, 2009 – Montana – Deni Llovet, a family nurse practitioner, organized River City Family Health’s first medical marijuana clinic after a patient with chronic back pain committed suicide.medmarijuana1

“Two and a half years ago, I had a client who was really suffering,” Llovet said. “We had tried everything and finally I said, ‘You know, I hear that marijuana could help.’” When the patient asked if it was legal, Llovet said no. She did not know about the state’s exemption.

“She bought cannabis from her 27-year-old son and it worked wonders,” Llovet said. “But her family did not approve, so she killed herself because her pain was so great.

“I should have known it was legal. That’s when I realized that I was missing the beat.”

Nearly 700 medical studies of cannabis and its derivatives are published each year that confirm their useful medical properties, said Tom Daubert, who led the campaign to establish the Montana law and later founded the patient support group Patients and Families United.

In 2002, adjunct University of Montana professor and local neurologist Dr. Ethan Russo researched the long-term effects, positive and negative, of smoking marijuana as a medical treatment.

Russo’s team, which included a UM grad student, evaluated four remaining members of the FDA’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. Though the program no longer accepts new patients, the remaining four are provided with four to eight ounces of government-grown, cured marijuana each week as treatment for serious illnesses such as glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

“The Missoula Study,” as it was nicknamed, concluded the medical use of marijuana relieved pain, muscle spasms and intra-eye pressure. The researchers recommended that the program be reopened or that states develop laws to accommodate patients in serious need.

“While some 13 American states allow medicinal use of cannabis for
 certain conditions, it remains illegal under federal law,” Russo said. “One possible
 solution to this situation would be FDA approval of a cannabis-based 
medicine so that it could be prescribed. Because of the side effects of smoking and variability in herbal
 cannabis without standardization, it is extremely unlikely that it could
 attain FDA approval.”

Most recent research delves into the relationship of phytocannabinoids found in marijuana plants, such as THC, and endocannabinoids, their counterparts produced in the human body. When a medical marijuana patient takes a dose, most of the phytocannabinoids engage with cells of the nervous system in conjunction with the endocannabinoids already present to produce a variety of effects, including pain relief.

Russo continued to research and synthesize these cannabinoids as senior medical adviser for GW Pharmaceuticals to help develop a cannabis-based oral spray. The product, called Sativex, is approved in Canada to treat cancer pain and multiple sclerosis.

But until it is approved in the U.S. or the cost of similar cannabis-derivatives decreases, physicians such as Llovet say they will continue to recommend the leafier medical counterpart.

Llovet said she prefers to recommend marijuana over opiate painkillers because it does not have the side effects, physical addictions or overdoses commonly seen among patients prescribed morphine or Oxycontin, for example.

“If you wanted to kill yourself with cannabis, you would have to smother yourself under bales of it,” Llovet said. “Overdose is easy with prescription pain killers.” Using medical marijuana or its pharmaceutical derivatives in conjunction with other painkillers can provide superior relief and reduce the risk of developing a tolerance to opiate prescriptions, Russo said.

Sitting at Food For Thought, Llovet was wrapped up in her excitement. Her coffee grew cold as she talked about the clinics where she works with others to identify the best treatments, sometimes including medical marijuana.

Contrary to what she expected, Llovet said the clinics don’t see recreational users looking for a loophole.

“We see the little old ladies, the old man living out in the woods and once we went out to a car to help a quadriplegic. We are seeing people who haven’t seen a health care practitioner in 30 years,” Llovet said. “We really are providing a public service. Our job is to make sure they really do qualify, and we want to give them suggestions on how to improve their health, whether that includes medical marijuana or not.”

At River City Family Health, visiting the clinic costs $200 for the patient, who must also register for an appointment and submit medical records in advance, though qualifying individuals without records are also allowed to attend.

When a prospective patient arrives at the clinic, a nurse gives him a physical before passing the chart to Llovet, who speaks with each individual for at least 15 minutes about his medical history and suggests all possible treatments. The person and chart then move to the final stage for a consultation with Dr. Michael Geci, who may sign a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana if he believes the patient legally qualifies and the treatment seems appropriate.

After receiving a physician’s recommendation, the person applies for a patient registry card with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services and can designate one person as a caregiver. Each patient is allowed to grow six plants for their medicine and possess one ounce of usable marijuana, and if they name a caregiver, that person can tend six plants and hold one ounce for each patient they assist.

“We are not affiliated with caregivers,” Llovet said. “We do recommend you enter into a relationship with a caregiver you trust.”

Daubert said many people designate a spouse or close friend as a caregiver, but often it is difficult initially because most people do not have experience growing cannabis.

“These are the only patients in the world growing their own medicine,” Daubert said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, growing medical marijuana is not so simple. It takes months to grow a plant.”

In February, Daubert led a group of patients, caregivers, and activists to the state capitol, where they sought to improve the law’s functionality through Senate Bill No. 326, which died in a House committee after passing Senate.

“The House legislature was evenly divided (between parties) and a lot of bills couldn’t make it out of committee,” Daubert said. “It’s some part political fluke and partly because it was brand new information to many of the representatives. We got more support than I’d expected, however.”

The bill, created by Daubert and other PFU associates, sought to expand the law’s list of qualifying illnesses, allowing patients to obtain medicine from any registered caregiver, establish inventory audits under certain conditions, increase the amount of medical marijuana a patient and caregiver can possess and alter the definition of a mature plant to make it easier for patients to maintain a steady flow of medicine.

“We’ve likened our law to being allowed to have six tomato plants, but only one tomato and needing one in the fridge tomorrow to guarantee your medicine,” Daubert said. “Let me see you grow the plants and follow that rule. That’s what we are asking them to do.”

And for people who choose not to grow themselves, or who need larger amounts for relief, they rely on their caregivers to provide consistently as they, too, abide by the tomato rule.

Sometimes, an even flow of medicine cannot be maintained for other reasons.

Daubert said there is one con artist who travels the state persuading people to fund a large grow operation that he promises will yield large profits, then walks off with the money. He’s also heard complaints about caregivers who charge exorbitant prices or don’t deliver the medicine to patients as promised.

Because the law does not include provisions for punishing negligent caregivers or reasonable oversight that would limit the opportunities of con artists, one anonymous Missoula cardholder said many patients like himself are left without a legal source of medicine and no guarantee of justice.

“There are a lot of people taking advantage of new patients,” he said. “There is no database of reliable caregivers.” Source.

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