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IACM-Bulletin of 24 July 2005

Science: Only moderate increase of cannabis potency in EURope in the past ten years

According to an editorial in the journal Addiction the evidence available suggests "that the potencies of resin and herbal cannabis that have been imported into EURope have shown little or no change, at least over the past ten years." The authors also questioned concerns and allegations that the increase of strength of some forms of cannabis (sinsemilla) would result in an increase of health problems.

In EURope, the THC contents of imported cannabis are typically between 2 and 8 per cent. However, the THC contents of cannabis grown indoor has increased due to the sinsemilla technique, where the fertilisation of the female plants is prevented. Only a small percentage of cannabis available in the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and Portugal is sinsemilla cannabis. Only in the Netherlands sinsemilla dominates the market with THC concentrations above 12 per cent. Authors note that "even here, local observers have argued that there is no evidence so far to suggest that this had led to an increase in observed problems."

They point out that "public health consequences of alcohol consumption are not a simple function of the strength of the beverage consumed, be it beer, wine or spirits. Rather, at population level, research suggests that it is the total quantity of alcohol consumed that is important rather than the concentrations in which it is sold." It is unknown how far this parallel holds for cannabis. Authors regard age of onset of use and frequency of use likely to be more influential than changes in potency in determining consumption levels. "In conclusion, we should not be unduly alarmed by the modest changes that have occurred in average cannabis potency; but neither should we be complacent, particularly as the evidence base is relatively weak and the relationship between potency, dose and problems remains poorly understood."

(Source: King LA, Carpentier C, Griffiths P. Cannabis potency in EURope. Addiction 2005;100(7):884-6)

Germany: Federal Constitutional Court does not rule on complaint

On 30 June the Federal Constitutional Court decided not to rule on the complaint of a man who had used cannabis to treat chronic pain originating from a motorbike accident. He had been fined by the lower courts for importing cannabis from the Netherlands. His doctor had recommended the use of cannabis to him in writing.

In a press release of 12 July, the Federal Constitutional Court stated that the man had not exhausted his legal means. He should have tried to obtain an exemption for the legal medical use of cannabis products for therapeutic purposes from the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products. The court also stated that the German general cannabis prohibition includes the fundamental prohibition of self-medication with cannabis.

However, the patient had applied for an exemption at the Federal Institute for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Products three years ago, but his application was declined. The institute did not decide on his appeal against this decision, yet. So far none of the more than 100 applicants for such an exemption had received an approval by the institute, so that the request of the Federal Constitutional Court is an unrealistic and more theoretical possibility. The legal and moral question remains whether it is justified to demand that a severely ill person fight for several years in court for his right to use medicinal cannabis and to be denied an effective medicine during this time by threat of criminal prosecution.

(Source: Press release of the Federal Constitutional Court of 12 July 2005)

News in brief

Canada: PhytoCan Pharmaceuticals
A new company called PhytoCan Pharmaceuticals got approval by Health Canada to develop cannabis-based medicine. A spokesman of the company said that they will do research over the next 12 to 18 months on whether the medicine should be a spray, liquid or solid and how to standardize the ingredients. On their website PhytoCan Pharmaceuticals state that they use "certified organic medical cannabis" grown in Canada: "Our goal is to develop and bring a range of safe effective cannabis based medicines to the pharmaceutical market.(…) We support full patient access to all forms of natural cannabis medicines, including the raw cannabis plant." (Sources: Globe and Mail of 9 July 2005, www.medicalmarihuana.ca/phytocan/)

USA: California/Alaska
State officials revived California's medical cannabis identification card program on 18 July, saying state employees weren't violating federal law by issuing pot ID cards. "The state attorney general has reviewed this concern and said that California can issue ID cards to medical marijuana users without state employees facing prosecution for assisting in the commission of a federal crime," state Health Director Sandra Shewry said in a statement. Shewry's office shuttered the pilot program on 8 July, citing concerns over a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed federal prosecution of cannabis patients for violating federal drug laws. The state attorney general of Alaska also has advised the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on 21 July that the court's June 6 decision does not forbid the agency from registering medical cannabis users. (Sources: Associated Press of 18 July 2005, Anchorage Daily News of 22 July 2005)

Science: Dyskinesia and convulsions
Researchers of the University of California used an animal model of viral encephalopathy with spontaneous hyperkinetic movements and seizure susceptibility to demonstrate that endocannabinoids play a key role in the maintenance of a balanced tone of activity in extrapyramidal and limbic circuits. Their "findings are consistent with an anticonvulsant role for endocannabinoids, counteracting aberrant firing produced by convulsive agents." (Source: Solbrig MV, et al. Exp Neurol 2005;194(2):355-62.)

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