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IACM-Bulletin of August 2, 2009


Science — Risk of head and neck cancer reduced in cannabis users in large epidemiological study

A working group of scientists of several universities of the USA (universities of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Minnesota) investigated the effects of cannabis use on the development of a certain head and neck cancer (head and neck squamous cell carcinoma). Information of cannabis use by 434 patients was compared with data of 547 healthy subjects. After adjusting for potential other risk factors (including tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking), cannabis use was associated with a statistically significant decrease of this cancer. The risk was decreased by 48 per cent.

This association was consistent across different measures of cannabis use (current/former use, duration, and frequency of use). For participants, who used the drug for 10 to 20 years the risk was about one-third of that of non-users. The magnitude of the reduced risk was more pronounced for those who started use after 20 years of age compared to younger age. Authors concluded that their "study suggests that moderate marijuana use is associated with reduced risk" of sqamous cell carcinoma of head and neck. They noted that experimental data have shown that cannabinoids inhibit cancer growth.

(Source: Liang C, McClean MD, Marsit C, Christensen B, Peters E, Nelson HH, Kelsey KT. A Population-Based Case-Control Study of Marijuana Use and Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Cancer Prev Res (Phila Pa). 2009 Jul 28. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Germany — Bionorica aims for getting an approval for a dronabinol preparation in Germany in 2010

The head of Bionorica, Professor Michael Popp, hopes that their medicinal preparation with the cannabis compound dronabinol will be approved in the coming year for the therapy of symptoms of AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis. He talked on this issue during the visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel at the manufacturer of medicinal plant based drugs in Neumarkt on her birthday on 17 July. The company is currently conducting clinical studies in Germany.

Bionorica is producing dronabinol (THC) since 2002 and makes the substance available for pharmacies for the manufacturing of medicinal drugs. The dronabinol of the company Bionorica is gained by transformation of cannabidiol, which is extracted from fibre hemp. It is a company with 870 employees and a yearly turnover of 130 million euros (about 180 million US dollars). Since long it is conducting own research and attaches importance to the verification of quality, efficacy and safety of their plant based preparations in clinical and pharmacological studies.

News in brief

Canada — Prairie Plant Systems

An abandoned mine in northern Canada may lose its role as the country's only government-approved cannabis production site. Production at the mine at Flin Flon, Manitoba, had to be moved because the facility was no longer big enough, operator Prairie Plant Systems said on 22 July. In the mine legal cannabis had been produced for nearly a decade since Canada began allowing patients legal access to cannabis for medical reasons. No decision has been made so far on the future production site. (Source: Reuters of 22 July 2009)

USA — Colorado

Colorado's state health board has rejected a move to limit the number of patients, who can be helped by medical cannabis suppliers at a time, to only five ill people. This decision allows cannabis dispensaries to continue to distribute the drug to patients. The board voted 6-3 on 20 July to defeat the proposal by the state health department. Opponents of the five-person limit argued the board didn't have a right to change the law passed by voters in 2000. The law made Colorado one of currently 13 states that allow the medical use of cannabis in the USA. (Source: Associated Press of 20 July 2009)

Science — Genetic stability of cannabis

Researchers of the University of Mississippi, USA, demonstrated that their method to produce many clones of a cannabis plant at a time ensured a stable genetic profile compared to mother plants. Clones and mother plants showed a similar cannabinoid profile and insignificant differences in THC content. (Source: Lata H, et al. Planta Med. 2009 Jul 27. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science — Cancer

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute and University Hospital of Stockholm, Sweden, demonstrated that the ability of cannabinoids to destroy cancer cells was increased by ceramides. They used certain cancer cells (mantle cell lymphoma cells), which were treated with the synthetic cannabinoid methanandamide. The cannabinoid increased ceramide levels. If the metabolism of ceramides was influenced in a way that led to further ceramide accumulation, the destruction of cancer cells by the cannabinoid was enhanced. Ceramides are a family of lipid molecules, which are found in high concentrations within the cell membrane of cells. (Source: Gustafsson K, et al. Mol Cancer Res 2009;7(7):1086-98.)