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IACM-Bulletin of March 4, 2001


Science — Four studies to be conducted by a university research centre in California

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in La Jolla ? a collaboration between the campuses of the University of California in San Diego and San Francisco ? announced on 22 February that it will spend about 841,000 U.S. dollars this year on four studies with cannabis.

In two independent studies, researchers in both San Francisco and San Diego will investigate whether smoking marijuana can alleviate neuropathy, a condition which afflicts AIDS, diabetes and other patients with severe tingling and pain in their hands and feet. One of the two studies will focus on hospitalised patients, the other on outpatients.

In San Diego, another researcher will examine how repeated treatment with cannabis affects driving ability of patients with HIV-related neuropathy or multiple sclerosis. The patients will be tested using a driving simulator. Another San Diego scientist will study how smoking marijuana might ease the uncontrollable muscle spasms and pain in multiple sclerosis.

The research proposals must still get a permission by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The marijuana used in the research will be provided by the University of Mississippi.

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research opened in August 2000 with money from the state of California. The first studies are intended to start in May. $3 million of state money are available for the research.

(Sources: San Jose Mercury News of 23 February 2001, Sacramento Bee of 23 February 2001)

Science — Big pharmaceutical companies get interested in cannabinoid-based medicines

Big companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are starting to get interested in the therapeutic use of cannabinoids and their derivatives, according to a report of the Wall Street Journal.

Today, the only prescribable cannabinoids are THC (dronabinol, Marinol) and the dronabinol derivative nabilone. Marinol was approved in the U.S. as a nausea drug in 1985, and as an appetite-stimulant for AIDS patients in 1992. Sales today reach an estimated $20 million annually.

Individual scientists, academic labs and small drug firms are pushing the research hardest, largely because big drug companies have traditionally been reserved with regard to the cost and the political problems associated with marketing marijuana as medicine. Also, because cannabis is a natural product in the public domain, it can't be patented. However, some patented non-psychotropic derivatives such as CT-3 and dexanabinol are under clinical investigation as well.

Today big companies are starting to get interested in the field. "We see them -- Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis -- all the time at the meetings of the society now," says Dr. Roger Pertwee, professor at the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. and secretary of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS). "They never came in the past."

(Source: Wall Street Journal of 28 February 2001)

News in brief


Vermont and Massachusetts add to the list of states where legislators will discuss bills for a legal access to the medical use of cannabis. The Vermont bill allows people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS or other chronic illnesses to use marijuana legally with a physician's note. It is sponsored by 21 members of the House of Representatives. In Massachusetts about a dozen state legislators support four medicinal marijuana bills. (Sources: Burlington Free Press of 27 February 2001, Boston Herald of 25 February 2001)


A clinical study randomly comparing THC and placebo in patients with Tourette's syndrome at the Medical School of Hanover under the guidance of Dr. Kirsten Mueller-Vahl has recently been completed. 17 patients passed through the whole six week study. In some participants THC caused a considerable decrease of symptoms, thus confirming results of an earlier study. Side effects usually were mild even with a dosage of 10 mg. One patient developed a state of anxiety lasting about 24 hours folowing the administration of 5 mg. (Sources: Personal communication of Kirsten Mueller-Vahl, Die Welt of 1 March 2001)


On 2 May 2001 a congress on the medical use of cannabis will be held at the city-hall of Saarbruecken. Speakers will be Dr. Guenter Amendt (publicist and sociologist), Dr. Martin Schnelle (European Institute for Oncological and Immunological Research, Berlin), Werner Sack (lawyer and pedagogue, Frankfurt), Robin Sircar (lawyer, Saarbruecken), Dr. Frans Gosselinckx, Belgium), Willem Scholten (Health Ministry, Netherlands), Christian Steup (pharmacist, THC Pharm, Frankfurt), and others. More at:


Celltech Pharma, a company specialized in biotechnology, intends to bring nabilone on the market in Spain. Nabilone is a synthetic derivative of THC with a slightly modified molecule structure. The process of national registration is expected to need one or two years. Today nabilone can only be used in hospitals and a package with 20 capsules costs about 30,000 pesetas (about $170). Celltech says that with a national registration the prize may be down to 20% of the actual prize. (Source: Cinco Días of 27 February 2001)


The President of the Medical Association of the state of Berlin, Dr. Guenther Jonitz, speaks out for the legalization of cannabis and a state controlled sale of the drug. In an interview with the Aerztezeitung (Medical Journal) Jonitz said, one should not shut the eyes to reality. Cannabis was less dangerous to health than alcohol. "For many people the use of cannabis is just as usual as the use of wine." The only difference would be the legal status, one drug being legal and the other not. (Source: Aerztezeitung of 20 February 2001)