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IACM-Bulletin of 26 May 2002

Germany: Outing of patients who use cannabis medicinally / New complaint before the Federal Constitutional Court / Proposal for a new paragraph 31b in the narcotics act

On 23 May eleven seriously ill patients confessed their illegal medical use of cannabis with photo and residence in the weekly Stern. They suffer from multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease (a bowl disease), cancer, asthma, migraine, HIV and hepatitis C. They call for the end of criminalisation of medical cannabis users.

One of the persons involved, suffering from multiple sclerosis, recently handed in a new complaint before the Federal Constitutional Court, with support of the German Association for Cannas as Medicine. He is out for getting back his cannabis confiscated by the police some weeks ago. The District Court of Mannheim had declared the confiscation as lawful.

The Association for Cannabis as Medicine also made a proposal to add a new paragraph to the narcotics for discussion that would allow prosecutors and judges to refrain from criminal procedures in case of medical use of cannabis products. This new paragraph 31b would make the possession of a doctor's recommendation a condition for exemption from punishment. This proposal is supported by Dr. Hans-Harald Koerner, head of the Centre for the Combat against Narcotics Criminality at the Chief State Council in Frankfurt (Hessian), and other lawyers.

(Source: Stern of 23 May 2002)

Science: Low cannabis doses ineffective in multiple sclerosis

An new clinical study of the University of Amsterdam found that THC is not effective in multiple sclerosis if given in maximum doses of 5 mg oral twice daily.

Dr. Joep Killestein and colleagues conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 16 patients with MS who presented with severe spasticity to investigate safety, tolerability, and efficacy of oral THC and oral cannabis. Both drugs were safe, but adverse events were more common with plant-extract treatment. Compared with placebo, neither THC nor cannabis reduced spasticity at the doses applied (2.5 or 5 mg administered orally twice daily).

Dr. Thomas Ungerleider and colleagues of the University of California in Los Angeles already noted in their 1987 study that "the 7.5 mg dose is required to achieve significant spasticity reduction" and in 1999 Dr. Roger Pertwee of the University of Aberdeen recommended "a degree of flexibility with respect to dose level" in studies on THC in multiple sclerosis and to start with 2.5 or 5 mg twice daily.

(Sources: Killestein J, et al. Safety, tolerability, and efficacy of orally administered cannabinoids in MS. Neurology 2002;58(9):1404-1407; Pertwee RG. Prescribing cannabinoids for multiple sclerosis. CNS Drugs 1999;11(5):327-334; Ungerleider JT, et al. Delta-9-THC in the treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. Adv Alcohol Subst Abuse 1987;7(1):39-50.)

UK: Parliament committee recommends reconsideration of international drug treaties

In his long-awaited report on drug policy published on 22 May the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommends "that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways - including the possibility of legalisation and regulation - to tackle the global drugs dilemma."

With regard to cannabis the committee supports the intention of the government to reclassify the drug from class B to class C, putting cannabis in the same category as anti-depressants and steroids. The report said: "Whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug, we do not believe there is anything to be gained by exaggerating its harmfulness."

The Liberal Democrats who back the legalisation of cannabis say the report does not go far enough. This opinion is supported by Lord Bingham, the most senior law lord in England's highest court. In an interview he criticised the government's "stupid" approach to cannabis, calling for the drug to be legalised.

The whole report is available at:
www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm

(Sources: Associated Press of 22 May 2002, Reuters of 23 May 2002)

News in brief

Canada: High quality cannabis
The company that is growing Canada's official marijuana supply says the weed has turned out to be too potent. The marijuana is not bad - the problem is it's too good, Prairie Plant Systems said on 15 May in a letter to Health Minister Anne McLellan. Company president Brent Zettl is angry about the company's "damaged reputation" arising from Ms. McLellan's recent revelations that the project to give marijuana to sick Canadians has been delayed because the material is impure. That sparked reports of bad quality. (Sources: Ottawa Citizen of 16 May 2002, Toronto Star of 16 May 2002)

Science: Pregnancy
Cognitive performance in new-borns of 354 mothers were assessed at 6.5, 12, and 13 months. Alcohol use during pregnancy was associated with poorer cognitive performance. The use of cocaine and tobacco was associated with smaller size at birth. No effects were detected in relation to cannabis use. (Source: Jacobson SW, et al. Pediatrics 2002 May;109(5):815-25)

USA: Vermont
The controversial question of whether Vermont should legalize cannabis use for people with serious illnesses appears to be dead for this session. On 24 May a joint committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate reached a tentative agreement to drop the measure and instead appoint a task force to study the issue and report its findings to the next Legislature. (Source: Rutland Herald of 25 May 2002)

USA: Nevada
There are now 154 registered users in Nevada's medical marijuana program along with 18 caregivers, said Cecile Crofoot, who runs the program within the Department of Agriculture. To her knowledge, none of those registered have gotten into legal trouble for drug violations. The program was approved by the Legislature in 2001. Nevada's is modelled after Oregon's program, which has also been ignored by federal prosecutors. (Source: Nevada Appeal of 14 May 2002)

World: Doping
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has drafted a new definition of doping, specifying that a doping substance or method "has the potential to enhance sport performance." Previous definitions did not single out performance-enhancing drugs. Rune Andersen, WADA's director of standards and harmonization, said marijuana and other non-performance enhancers would no longer be included on the list of banned doping substances. Instead, they would be listed in a new "code of conduct" category. It is expected that the new code will be implemented in January 2004, six months before the Olympic Games in Athens. (Source: Associated Press of 24 May 2002)

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