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IACM-Bulletin of 08 June 2008

Europe: Lawyer claims Ireland is in breach of the Schengen Agreement over cannabis use by MS patient

A Dutch lawyer has claimed the Irish Government is in breach of its commitments to the Schengen Agreement by not allowing a multiple sclerosis patient into the country in possession of cannabis he requires for medicinal purposes. Noel McCullagh is involved in a legal battle to allow him to return to Ireland from the Netherlands in possession of his prescribed cannabis. Mr McCullagh said he has been unable to see his parents for two years because he would be arrested if found in possession of the drug by Irish officials.

His lawyer, Jasper Pauw, said that under Schengen, an agreement designed to abolish physical borders between EURopean countries, Mr McCullagh should be allowed to bring the cannabis into Ireland. He said that Ireland signed Article 75 of the Schengen Agreement. "This says when people use a medicine in a certain Schengen country and the medicine is legal in that country, people can travel freely inside the Schengen zone and bring that medicine as long as they have a certificate," he said. A spokeswoman of the Irish Department of Health said, "Any person entering the country with medicinal cannabis could be charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act with unauthorised possession." The case is currently undergoing an evaluation by the Department of Justice.

More at:

(Source: The Irish Times of 31 May 2008)

Science: Long-term heavy use of cannabis may cause two important brain regions to shrink

According to research by an Australian group heavy long-term cannabis use may cause two brain regions (hippocampus and amygdala), which are rich in cannabinoid receptors to shrink. The scientists compared brain scans of 15 cannabis users (mean age: 39.8 years), who had used at least 5 cannabis cigarettes daily for at least 10 years (average: 19.7 years) with 16 non-users (mean age: 36.4 years). In the cannabis group the volume of the hippocampus was on average 12 per cent and the volume of the amygdala on average 7 per cent smaller. The hippocampus plays an important role in memory and emotion, while the amygdala plays a critical role in fear and aggression. The cannabis users were also more likely to exhibit mild signs of psychotic disorders.

The article received much media coverage. Critics pointed out that this research was conducted with only a few participants, and that the vast majority of cannabis users do not have such heavy consumption rates. Earlier research by scientists of Havard University in Boston, USA, published in 2005, did not find any differences in the average volume of the hippocampus in 22 long-term heavy cannabis users compared to 26 non-users. The researchers of the new study acknowledged that their investigation did not prove it was the cannabis and not some other factor that caused the brain differences. But lead researcher Dr. Murat Yucel said the findings certainly suggested cannabis was the cause.

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(Sources: Reuters of 2 June 2008; Yücel M, Solowij N, Respondek C, Whittle S, Fornito A, Pantelis C, Lubman DI. Regional Brain Abnormalities Associated With Long-term Heavy Cannabis Use. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2008;65(6):694-701.)

UK: Regulatory agency reports that the medical use of Rimonabant was linked to 5 deaths in Great Britain

Rimonabant has been linked to five deaths and 2123 adverse drug reactions (in 720 reports to the agency) in Britain since its launch two years ago, according to a report of British regulatory authorities for medicines (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency). Rimonabant is a cannabinoid receptor blocker of the company Sanofi-Aventis, which is available in the UK and other EURopean countries under the brand name Acomplia for the reduction of weight. The drug was once seen as a multibillion-dollar seller for the French company but its future has been unclear since a panel of the U.S. regulatory agency for medicines (FDA) rejected it a year ago, amid fears it may cause suicidal thoughts.

According to the figures there was one case of suicide and two suicide attempts. The other four deaths related to two cases of fatal heart attack, one sudden death and one case of infectious disease. Adverse drug reactions included 48 cases of suicidal thoughts and 149 cases of depression. Sanofi-Aventis pointed out that the deaths were seen in a population group that already had associated cardiovascular risk factors, in addition to obesity.

More at:

(Sources: Reuters of 3 June 2008, Deutsches Aerzteblatt of 4 June 2008)

News in brief

USA: California
According to an article of the New York Times the state of California earns about 100 million US Dollars (about 64 million EURos) in state sale taxes from the 2 billion US Dollars (about 1,3 billion EURos) revenues by the estimated 500 medical cannabis dispensaries. More at: www.nytimes.com/2008/05/31/technology/31online.html (Source: New York Times of 31 May 2008)

Science: Potency of cannabis
Researchers of the Australian National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reviewed the available international literature of patterns of THC content in cannabis. They note that "cannabis samples tested in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Italy have shown increases in potency over the last 10 years. Some countries have not shown significant increases in potency, while other countries have not monitored potency over time." They concluded that "claims made in the public domain about a 20- or 30-fold increase in cannabis potency (...) are not supported currently by the evidence." (Source: McLaren J, et al. Addiction 2008 May 20. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science: Inflammation of the bowel
Animal research in mice shows that substances that increase the concentration of endocannabinoids reduce inflammation of the bowel. (Source: Storr MA, et al. J Mol Med 2008 May 21. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science: THC effects
Dutch researchers administered increasing doses of THC (2, 4, 6 and 8 mg) at intervals of 90 minutes with a vaporizer to healthy subjects. While heart rate showed a sharp increase and rapid decline after each THC administration, different subjective parameters (alertness, psychological effects) did not return to baseline between doses. (Source: Zuurman L, et al. J Psychopharmacol 2008 May 30. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science: Cannabis withdrawal
Australian researchers conducted a pilot study with 20 participants to investigate the effects of lithium carbonate against symptoms of cannabis withdrawal. Two participants withdrew due to adverse effects. 12 participants completed the 7-day treatment program and 5 reported continuous abstinence after a mean follow-up of 107 days. Researchers recommend the conduction of a placebo controlled trial. (Source: Winstock AR, et al. J Psychopharmacol. 2008 May 30. [Electronic publication ahead of print])

Science: Eye pupil size
While moderate THC doses usually do not significantly change the size of the eye pupil, research from Morocco showed that pupil size may be influenced. Pupil diameter variations before and after smoking of cannabis were measured in 34 eyes of 17 volunteers in a dark closed room. Results revealed a significant increase in pupil size by cannabis use. (Source: Merzouki A, et al. J Forensic Leg Med 2008;15(5):335-8.)

Science: Use by adolescents
Research with 549 French adolescents with an average age of 15.5 years showed that the use of cannabis was not significantly influenced by the attitudes of their parents towards the use of cannabis but by the former or current use of the drug by their fathers. Researchers concluded that "the absence of influence of parental attitudes toward use suggests that parental disapproval of use is not effective in preventing use, whereas the example of father's use or non-use influences adolescent use." (Source: Chabrol H, et al. Encephale 2008;34(1):8-16.)

Science: Later development
According to a longitudinal study conducted in New Zealand cannabis use at ages 14-21 was associated with a lower educatinal level and lower income by age 25, higher unemployment and lower levels of life satisfaction. Researchers concluded that "the results of the present study suggest that increasing cannabis use in late adolescence and early adulthood is associated with a range of adverse outcomes in later life." (Source: Fergusson DM & Boden JM. Addiction 2008;103(6):969-76.)

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