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IACM-Bulletin of April 27, 2003


USA β€” California city sue the federal government to allow medical cannabis

The city and county of Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco, joined a federal lawsuit filed on 23 April by the Wo/Mens' Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) and seven patients charging that the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated by last September's raid of a medical cannabis farm. "This is an opportunity for us to stand behind the people in our community who are the most needy," said Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly.

The lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) John Brown and John Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) of the White House marks the latest battle between California and the federal government over medical marijuana. Plaintiffs say they hope their lawsuit also sparks a flood of similar litigation.

In 1992, 77 percent of Santa Cruz voters approved a measure ending the prohibition of medical marijuana. Four years later, the voters of Califonia approved Proposition 215, which allows marijuana for medicinal purposes. And in 2000, the City Council approved an ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription.

(Sources: Reuters of 22 April 2003, Associated Press of 23 April 2003)

Science β€” Cannabinoids prevented the development of heart failure in animal study

Heart failure is a serious possible consequence of a heart attack or other diseases that damage the heart. It occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump enough blood through the body. Often it develops slowly over years, as the heart gradually loses its pumping ability.

In rats heart failure develops within 12 weeks after a big cardiac infarction. Scientists of the University of Wurzburg in Germany found out that daily application of the synthetic cannabinoid HU-210 after the infarction prevented the drop of blood pressure (left-ventricular systolic pressure) and dysfunction of the arteries (endothelial dysfunction). However, the cannabinoid also increased the filling pressure in the left chamber of the heart (left-ventricular end-diastolic pressure), which may be negative in the long run.

HU-210 activates CB1 receptors as does THC. CB1 receptors are not only found in the brain where they cause the characteristic psychic effects, but also in the heart and many other organs. Dr. Jens Wagner and colleagues treated another group of rats with a selective blocker of the CB1 receptor which reduced the pumping ability of the heart after cardiac infarction.

Researchers concluded that taken together with other results their studies show that endocannabinoids produced by the body itsself excert a protective effect after a heart attack. A commentary by the British Journal of Pharmacology says that "cannabinoids and endocannabinoid systems may therefore present useful targets for therapy following myocardial infarction."

(Sources: Wagner JA, et a. Br J Pharmacol 2003 Apr;138(7):1251-8; Hiley CR, Ford WR. Br J Pharmacol 2003 Apr;138(7):1183-4; press release of the University of Wurzburg of 11 April 2003)

Science β€” Immunoregulation in multipe sclerosis by cannabinoids

Cannabinoids may be not only helpful in treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis such as spasticity and pain but may also have a positive effect on underlying disease processes. Three new basic studies and one human study add to the available data.

A group of Spanish scientists induced an immune-mediated disease in mice that serves as model for human multiple sclerosis. Treatment with the different synthetic cannabinoids significantly improved the neurological deficits. Furthermore, cannabinoids reduced several signs of inflammation, including the infiltration of certain immune cells (CD4+ T cells) into the spinal cord.

An US-American group investigated the effect of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55,212 on immune parameters in the same animal model of MS. The found a decrease of interferon-gamma production and an inhibition of several proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha, interleukin-1-beta and interleukin-6).

However, a clinical study conducted by Dutch researchers in 16 MS patients who had been given low doses of a cannabis extract for some weeks found a modest increase of TNF-alpha. Thus, it is too early to predict the effect of cannabis or single cannabinoids on the underlying immune processes of MS.

Another unpublished study found, that the natural cannabinoids THC, CBD and CBN may help reduce the activity of an overactive immune-system response that can worsen neurodegenerative conditions. Dr. Cecilia Hillard of the Medical College of Wisconsin (USA) studied rat microglia cells, immune cells in the brain. The cannabinoids inhibited the proliferation of rat microglia cells in the lab. "When they're overactive, they make a whole bunch of nasty things that wind up killing cells like neurons," Hillard said. Cannabinoids would presumably slow down this overactive process.

(Sources: Arevalo-Martin A, et al. J Neurosci 2003 Apr 1;23(7):2511-6; Croxford JL, Miller SD. J Clin Invest 2003 Apr;111(8):1231-40; Killestein J, et al. J Neuroimmunol 2003 Apr;137(1-2):140-3; Reuters of 14 April 2003)

News in brief

Science UK β€” Study on Parkinson's disease

A 12-week trial with 24 patients who suffer from Parkinson's disease is being carried out at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth (UK). Participants receive a capsulated cannabis extract provided by the Institute for Oncological and Immunological Research in Berlin (Germany). The study will look for effects on dyskinesia, a side effect of long-term treatment of Parkinson's disease with L-Dopa. L-Dopa induced dyskinesia is characterised by involuntary spasms of the limbs, against which there is no effectice medication. A 1998 study with the THC derivate nabilone given to seven patients showed a reduction of these spasms. (Sources: BBC News of 17 April 2003, Sieradzan KA, et al. Mov Disord 1998;13(Suppl 2):29)

USA β€” DEA accepts rescheduling petition

On 3 April the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) accepted the filing of a rescheduling petition seeking federal recognition of the accepted medical use of cannabis in the United States. The petition was filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) on 11 October 2002. For more information see: (Press relaese by the CRC of 15 April 2003)

Canada β€” Medical cannabis and tax

An Ontario medical marijuana smoker said that she claimed her cannabis as a medical expense on her income tax returns. "It's not a problem," Alison Myrden said in an interview. The doctors "just write a note saying they prescribe cannabis as medicine. We photocopy that and send it in with our taxes." (Source: Halifax Herald of 20 April 2003)

USA β€” White house provides more arguments for legalisation

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) of the White House unintentionally adds to the arguments for legalisation of cannabis. In a new anti-drug ad the office shows how illegal growth of cannabis damages the environment, e.g. that marijuana farmers burn off native vegetation, destroying natural wildlife habitats - a damage, however, that would not happen if the environment-friendly cannabis could be grown legally. (Source: PRNewswire of 18 April 2003)

World β€” UN provides more arguments for legalisation

On an UN drug summit in Vienna joined by more than 140 nations representatives expressed deep concern for the "threats posed by continuing links between illicit drug trafficking and terrorism and other ... criminal activities " – links that would not exist if these drugs were legal. (Source: Associated Press of 17 April 2003)