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IACM-Bulletin of 17 October 1999

Science: Pain triggers release of endocannabinoids

Pain triggers the release of endocannabinoids, researchers said on 11 October. Their finding helps explain why marijuana can act to relieve pain and adds to a whole series of studies that show that endocannabinoids have a range of important roles in the brain.

Michael Walker, a psychology professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and colleagues tested pain and anandamide, an endocannabinoid, in rats. They found the brain produced anandamide when they stimulated an area -- the periaqueductal grey -- known for its role in modulating pain. It also released anandamide in response to a painful injection of the chemical formalin.

The secretion of anandamide eased the pain, they reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers anaesthetized their rats, but were able to follow the pain signals and the passage of anandamide in the brain using a new type of mass spectrometry, which is able to detect minute amounts of a substance.

Walker said the knowledge might be used to devise new analgesics. Perhaps a drug that made more anandamide available would be useful, he said. "There are some types of pain that do not respond well to current treatments," he said in a statement. "The fact that you have different modulatory systems that are effective for different types of pain may offer hope."

Anandamides are neurotransmitters -- message-carrying chemicals -- and are known to bind to the same receptor sites as cannabinoids in the HEMP plant (Cannabis sativa L.). Cannabis has been used for centuries to help relieve pain.

(Source: Reuters of 11 October 1999)

Canada: 14 patients getting legal access to marijuana

Canada is granting 14 people with serious illnesses permission to use marijuana for medical reasons, Health Minister Allan Rock said on 5 October. The health department sifted through 100 applications, selecting 14. No applications have been rejected outright, and there may be more exemptions granted, officials said.

The federal government first gave permission for the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes in June to two people who have AIDS. People wishing to apply for permission to use marijuana must have a doctor's approval.

Researchers have been given the green light to go ahead with clinical trials but must first overcome a pungent problem: perfecting a bogus joint. Health Canada will "spend several million dollars" funding clinical trials and longer-term research on the therapeutic value of smoking pot, the health minister announced on 6 October.

The clinical trials, said a government release, are to involve 250 patients in a "double-blind, randomised design." Double-blind tests require giving one test group the real goods and another a placebo, or fake, to determine the drug's effectiveness. Both the Community Research Initiative of Toronto and the Vancouver-based Canadian HIV Trials Network will handle clinical studies comparing smoked cannabis with a pill containing only the plant's most active ingredient, THC. Both organizations work with HIV-positive or AIDS patients.

(Sources: Associated Press of 5 October 1999, Canadian Press of 6 October 1999)

Australia: Medicinal cannabis by mail order

A pro-marijuana lobby group is offering chronic pain sufferers mail order medicinal cannabis cookies. New South Wales Compassion Club co-ordinator Graeme Dunstan said the Nimbin- based non-profit organisation sought to organize cannabis growers, distributors and users committed to supplying good quality, low-cost cannabis to people in medical need.

Mr Dunstan said a condition of supply for member-buyers would be a written recommendation from a registered medical practitioner or natural therapist. "The suffering is now, the need is now and we aren't waiting any longer," Mr Dunstan said.

"We are offering mail order cannabis cookies and making it easier for people suffering to get access to medicinal cannabis without having to deal with the black market." He said the NSW Compassion Club would supply medicinal cannabis at the lowest possible price and is calling for donations from growers throughout Australia.

(Source: AAP of 14 October 1999)

Germany: General Meeting of the Association for Cannabis as Medicine

A new Board of Directors was elected at the General Meeting of the Association for Cannabis as Medicine (ACM) on 9 October in Reutlingen. It is now consisting of:
- Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen, Cologne/Germany (Chairman)
- Dr. Kirsten Mueller-Vahl, Hanover/ Germany
- Dr. Kurt Blaas, Vienna/Austria
- Dr. Martin Schnelle, Berlin/Germany
- Dr. Robert Gorter, Berlin/Germany
- Dr. Ulrike Hagenbach, Basel/Switzerland
- Helmuth Santler, Vienna/Austria
- Ulrike Scheibling, Berlin/Germany

There are three new members on the board. Kirsten Mueller-Vahl is neurologist and working in the Department for Clinical Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical School of Hanover. She is doing clinical research on THC in Tourette syndrome. Robert Gorter is head of the EURopean Institute for Oncological and Immunological Research in Berlin and associate professor at the University of California in San Francisco. Kurt Blaas is working as general practitioner in Vienna.

The proposal of the Board of Directors to expand and change the ACM into an international scientific society was discussed, without making a decision. The discussion will be continued at an extraordinary meeting of the ACM in spring 2000.

(Source: ACM)

News in brief

Science:
The Haworth Press, Inc., announces that it wishes to receive names & addresses of anyone who would like to receive the charter issue of the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics (Editor: Ethan Russo, MD), at no charge. Any such requests should be sent on LETTERHEAD via snail-mail to:
Journal Sample Copy Dept
The Haworth Press, Inc.
10 Alice Street
Binghamton, New York 13904
U.S.A.

USA:
Efforts are being made to revive a long-dormant medical marijuana research program in New Mexico. Health Secretary Alex Valdez said he began looking into restoring the Lynn Pierson therapeutic program. Valdez said on 8 October he was informed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration about what federal requirements he must fulfil to restore the program. Marijuana for medical use is legal in New Mexico under the dormant 1978 Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act. The program ended in 1986 after the Legislature refused to renew its $50,000 annual budget.
(Source: Associated Press of 10 October 1999)

Jamaica:
The Jamaican Senate has unanimously approved a resolution establishing a commission to explore the decriminalisation of marijuana. Trevor Munroe, the Independent senator who sponsored the resolution, has also suggested that the commission look into legalizing medical marijuana. A similar commission concluded 22 years ago that marijuana use should be liberalized and should be legally prescribed by doctors but politicians refused to implement the recommendations at that time.
(Source: NORML of 14 October 1999)

Germany:
The Health Ministry is considering further decriminalisation of marijuana. At the 17th German Judges Meeting on 5 October under-secretary Erwin Jordan said, that in view of the continually increasing criminal procedures against the users of the drug it was questionable, "if the persecution of the possession of small quantities of cannabis was an effective measure of prevention." Approximately two million Germans, about 2.5 per cent of the population, are assumed to be regular users of cannabis.
(Source: dpa of 5 October 1999)

Holland:
In a letter to the government the mayors of 20 Dutch cities have spoken up for the legal cultivation of cannabis in the Netherlands. This action should allow a legal supply of the official points of sale of soft drugs in many Dutch cities, the so-called coffee shops, with marijuana. The letter was published on 9 October. The mayors criticize the current practice as unclear and unsatisfactory. Thus, the sale of five grams of marijuana per customer was permissible in these shops, but the delivery could be punished.
(Source: dpa of 9 October 1999)

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