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IACM-Bulletin of October 25, 2009


USA โ€” The federal government will no longer prosecute patients who use cannabis for medicinal purposes in states where it is legal

People who use cannabis for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said on 19 October in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications. In a memorandum to federal prosecutors in the states that allow the use of medical cannabis, the department said that it was committed to the "efficient and rational use" of its resources and that prosecuting patients and distributors who are in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state laws did not meet that standard.

"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 H. Holder Jr. said in a statement accompanying the memo, "but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal." Graham Boyd, director of the Drug Law Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, called the Justice Departmentโ€™s move "an enormous step in the right direction and, no doubt, a great relief to the thousands of Americans who benefit from the medical use of marijuana." Mr. Boyd predicted that states and cities "will have a strong incentive to create regulated, safe and sensible means of getting marijuana to patients who need it."

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(Sources: New York Times of 19 October 2009, Reuters of 19 October 2009)

USA โ€” A majority of citizens in western states support the legalization and taxation of cannabis.

According to a representative poll the support for legalizing cannabis reaches a new high and a majority in the West favours taxing cannabis sales to boost state revenues. Gallup's October crime poll finds 44 per cent of Americans in favour of making cannabis legal and 54 per cent opposed. U.S. public support for legalizing cannabis was fixed in the 25 per cent range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31 per cent in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade. On the website of Gallup this development is presented with a graph.

Public opinion on legalization of cannabis has been changing this decade, and is now most tolerant. If public support were to continue growing at a rate of 1 to 2 per cent per year, as it has since 2000, the majority of Americans could favour legalization of the drug in as little as four years. Results of the poll are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted in October 2009.

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(Source: Gallup of 19 October 2009)

News in brief

World โ€” Cannabis use

An estimated 166 million people worldwide have either tried cannabis or are active users of the drug despite scientific research showing its adverse effects on health, two researchers in Australia said.

The figure, taken from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), means one in every 25 people between the ages 15 and 64 in 2006 had had some experience with the drug, the researchers wrote in a paper published in The Lancet. (Source: Reuters of 15 October 2009)

USA โ€” California

The ban of the city of Los Angeles on new medical cannabis dispensaries is invalid, a judge said on 19 October in a decision that undermines the city's 4-month-old drive to shut down hundreds of the stores. The judge issued an injunction banning enforcement of the moratorium against Green Oasis, a dispensary in Playa Vista that had challenged the ban. But city officials acknowledged the ruling would effectively block current efforts to enforce the ban against other dispensaries. (Source: Los Angeles Times of 20 October 2009)

Science โ€” Schizophrenia

Researchers at the University of Bristol, UK, calculated the additional risk for cannabis users to get schizophrenia, if there is a causal link between cannabis use and schizophrenia. They found out that for men there would be one additional case of schizophrenia in 2800 heavy cannabis user aged 20-24 years and one additional case of 4700 heavy cannabis user aged 35-39 years. In women the numbers ranged from one additional case of schizophrenia in 5470 heavy cannabis users in those aged 25-29 to 10,870 in 35-39-year-olds. The risks for occasional users were even much lower. (Source: Hickman M, et al. Addiction 2009;104(11):1856-61.)

Science โ€” Epilepsy

According to research at the University of Rome, Italy, levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide were reduced in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients with untreated newly diagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy. (Source: Romigi A, et al. Epilepsia 2009 Oct 8. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science โ€” Huntington's disease

According to Spanish researchers the activation of CB2 receptors of microglia cells, immune cells in the brain, were neuroprotective in an animal model of Huntington's disease. (Source: Palazuelos J, et al. Brain 2009 Oct 5. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science โ€” Ileus

Cannabinoid receptors are involved in septic ileus. Ileus is a disruption of the normal propulsive motor activity of the bowel. Cannabinoids reduced this motor activity, while cannabinoid receptor antagonists prevented the delay of bowel transit of food in animal studies. The Chinese researchers concluded that cannabinoid receptor antagonists "may be powerful tools in the future treatment of septic ileus." (Source: Li YY, et al. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2009 Oct 14. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science โ€” Liver cirrhosis

Researchers of the University of Bologna, Italy, observed that the levels of the endocannabinoids anandamide and to a greater extent of oleoylethanolamine (OEA) and palmitoylethanolamine (PEA) were significantly higher in the blood of patients with liver cirrhosis than in healthy subjects. PEA and OEA were also increased in the cirrhotic liver tissue. Researchers concluded that "the endocannabinoid system is upregulated in human cirrhosis." (Source: Caraceni P, et al. Liver Int 2009 Oct 14. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science โ€” THC concentrations

According to a study of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore, USA, with six cannabis smokers, who received high doses of oral THC for seven days, mean THC concentrations 22,5 hours after last dose were 3,8 ng/ml and THC-COOH concentrations were 197 ng/ml. Participants received oral THC capsules (20 mg) every 4-8 hours in escalating total daily doses (40-120 mg). (Source: Schwilke EW, et al. Clin Chem 2009 Oct 15. [Electronic publication ahead of print])