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IACM-Bulletin of November 8, 2009


USA โ€” Maine becomes the fifth state to allow cannabis dispensaries

Voters approved a referendum making Maine the fifth state to allow cannabis dispensaries, but advocates of the medical use of cannabis say it won't become like California, where hundreds of cannabis shops have opened. California, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island allow for places where patients can legally buy cannabis. Maine voters gave their approval to the measure on 3 November with 59 per cent in favour.

Referendum opponents pointed at Los Angeles as proof that cannabis outlets are a bad idea. There, the district attorney has vowed to close shops that are selling the drug to people who don't qualify. However, Maine law requires that dispensaries be licensed by the state, while California law does not. Maine law also narrowly defines medical conditions for which patients can be prescribed cannabis, while California allows doctors to recommend it for virtually any ailment. 13 states of the USA have legalized the medical use of cannabis: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

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(Source: Associated Press of 4 November 2009)

UK โ€” The government fires a chief drug adviser and causes dismay by the scientific community

After the head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, David Nutt, had criticised the government for upgrading cannabis to a class B narcotic he was asked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson on 30 October to leave his job. Two members of this drug advisory board resigned in protest to this behaviour of the government. This reaction to Nutt's firing is prompting speculation about more resignations from the Misuse of Drugs board, The Times reported on 2 November. Nutt had also said that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol.

Johnson had said Nutt was fired because he campaigned against the government position of drugs policy. Nutt said the government of Gordon Brown was the first government in the history of the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 to have gone against advice of its scientific panel. "Some aspects of science should not be subject to petty party politics," he told the BBC. "There's no point in having drug laws that are meaningless or arbitrary just because politicians find it useful and expedient occasionally to come down so-called hard on drugs." Other scientists agree that politics should be based on objective data. What angers them most is that politicians use data when it suits them and ignore it when it doesn't.

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(Sources: Reuters of 31 October 2009, UPI of 2 November 2009)

Europe โ€” The Netherlands are among the countries with the lowest number of cannabis users in Europe

The Dutch are among the lowest users of cannabis in Europe despite the Netherlands' well-known tolerance of the drug, according to a study published on 5 November. Among adults in the Netherlands, 5.4 percent used cannabis, compared with the European average of 6.8 percent, according to an annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

A higher percentage of adults in Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and France took cannabis last year, the EU agency said, with the highest being Italy at 14.6 percent. Countries with the lowest usage rates, according to the Lisbon-based agency, were Romania, Malta, Greece and Bulgaria. Cannabis use in Europe rose steadily during the 90s and earlier this decade, but has recently stabilised and is beginning to show signs of decline, the agency said. "Data from general population and school surveys point to a stabilising or even decreasing situation," the report said.

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(Sources: Reuters of 5 November 2009, 2009 Annual report of the EMCDDA)

News in brief

Science โ€” Vaporizer

According to research at Leiden University, The Netherlands, the commercially available Volcano vaporizing device generated much less by-products than smoked cannabis. The vaporizer heats the cannabis to 170-230 degrees Celsius avoiding combustion of the material. (Source: Pomahacova B, et al. Inhal Toxicol 2009;21(13):1108-12.)

Science โ€” Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

According to research at the University of Oslo, Norway, with 133 patients with bipolar disorder and 140 patients with schizophrenia the use of cannabis was associated with different effects on neurocognitive function. While the use of cannabis by patients with schizophrenia was associated with reduced cognitive function, it was associated with an improvement in patients with bipolar disorder. (Source: Ringen PA, et al. Psychol Med 2009 Nov 6. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science โ€” Stroke

According to animal research at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, activation of the CB2 receptor protected nerve cells during ischaemia (reduced blood supply) and this effect was due to inhibition of activation of neutrophils, a certain form of white blood cells. (Source: Murikinati S, et al. FASEB J. 2009 Nov 2. [Electronic publication ahead of print])