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IACM-Bulletin of 28 March 2004

Canada: Pilot project on cannabis in pharmacies in British Columbia

Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in local pharmacies. Officials are organizing a pilot project in British Columbia, modeled on the program in the Netherlands.

Today a 30-gram bag of dried cannabis buds costs 113 Canadian dollars (1 EURo = 1.60 Canadian dollars), and is sent by courier directly to patients that are allowed to use cannabis or to their doctors. But the health ministry wants to change the regulations to allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for direct sale to approved patients without a doctor's prescription.

A notice of the change is expected to be made public this spring, allowing for drugstore distribution later in the year. "We're just at the preliminary stages right now," said Robin O'Brien, a pharmacist who is organizing the pilot project for the government. The pilot project will take place in British Columbia because the province's association of pharmacists issued a statement last fall supporting the distribution of medical marijuana in pharmacies, while most health care organizations oppose easier access.

(Source: Associated Press of 21 March 2004)

Holland: Smaller sale of cannabis in pharmacies than expected

Half a year after pharmacies started to sell government licensed cannabis in pharmacies the demand is clearly lower than expected. "The demand did not fulfill the expectations so far, " Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik said. Instead of the 8,000 patients only 1,000 patients had entered the pharmacies with a cannabis prescription.

And since the demand remained that low, the two licenced growers sold less, too, which makes it difficult for them to survive. Especially coffee shops and illegal supplier are strong competitors for pharmacy cannabis. Apparently, a major cause is the price. While five grams of official cannabis cost 44 to 50 EURos, it is available in coffee shops for less than half the price. Moreover, most of the health insurancies do not reimburse the cost for cannabis on prescirption.

The health ministry points out that cannabis from coffee shops would not comply with the requirements, that has to be fulfilled by drugs. This would only garanteed by governmental control.

(Source: dpa [German Press Agency] of 21 March 2004)

USA: Medical use of marijuana can be used as a defense in a criminal drug trial

A federal judge ruled on 22 March that evidence of medical marijuana use could be considered by a jury as a defense in a criminal drug trial. The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Nora M. Manella follows a December ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the medical use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation may be legal in states that have approved medical marijuana laws.

The case of Anna Barrett and her husband Gary who were charged with manufacturing and conspiring to manufacture marijuana marks the first time that the ruling of the Court of Appeals, which was made in a civil case, was argued before a judge in a criminal trial. Both had doctors' recommendations according to the Californian medical cannabis law of 1996, but federal agents found hundreds of dormant clones of the plants during a raid in May 2000.

(Source: Associated Press of 22 March 2004)

News in brief

Science: Alzheimer's disease
Researchers of the University of Naples in Italy found that the natural cannabidiol (CBD) protected nerve cells against the toxicity caused by amyloid-beta. Amyloid-beta peptide plays an important role in Alzheimer's disease, since increased brain levels of amyloid-beta are supposed to result in aggregation of this protein to form "plaques" found in the brain of sufferers of Alzheimer's disease. Earlier research already had shown that the endocannabinoids anandamide and noladin ether prevent the toxicity of amyloid-beta. (Source: Iuvone T, et al. J Neurochem. 2004 Apr;89(1):134-41.)

Science: Male fertility
According to a study by researchers of the Institut Marqués of Barcelona the quality of male sperm was not affected by the use of drugs. They analysed 1,005 sperm samples of men living in Barcelona and 279 samples of men from La Coruña. A number of possible influences on sperm quality were investigated. The highest influence on sperm quality was observed with frequency of ejaculations. The more ejaculations the better. Men who used drugs had a higher ejaculation frequency (4.1 per week) than the average male population (3.1 per week). (Source: Las drogas no afectan a la calidad del esperma, www.bahiademalaga.com)

USA: Conneticut
A bill that will allow sick people to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes passed the Legislature's Judiciary Committee by 24 to 15. The bill is nearly identical to a measure that was approved by them same committee last year but failed to pass Conneticut's House of Representatives. This year's bill decreases the number of plants that can be grown from six plants to five and would require the plants be grown in a secure, indoor area. (Source: Associated Press of 15 March 2004)

Science: Heroin
Exposure to rats with THC did not increase their liking of heroin, researchers from Baltimore (USA) showed. Rats that previously received THC subsequently self-administered significantly more heroin than other rats. However, the maximum effort rats would exert to receive an injection was not altered by THC pre-exposure. Researchers noted that the results "offer no support for the hypothesis that pre-exposure to THC alters heroin's efficacy as a reinforcer". (Source: Solinas M, et al Neuropsychopharmacology 2004 [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science: Cancer
Several cannabinoids, among them anandamide and THC were shown to accelerate proliferation of cancer cells. Researchers of the Max-Planck-Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried (Germany) exposed different cancer cells (glioblastoma cells and lung carcinoma cells) with these cannabinoids, resulting in accelerated cell proliferation of the cancer cells. These results contradict research form other groups that found cannabinoids to reduce cancer growth by causing programmed cell death. (Hart S, et al. Cancer Res 2004;64(6):1943-50.)

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