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IACM-Bulletin of 24 April 2011

Rwanda: Plans by the government to allow the medical use of cannabis

In June last year, Rwanda took the initial steps in allowing cannabis strictly for medical purposes, the first country in Africa to do so. The proposed law provides that cannabis will only be administered in health institutions to relieve pain and other severe diseases. The Minister of Health, Dr Richard Sezibera, while presenting the draft law to Parliament, said that the objective of the Bill was to contribute to the protection of the population while "ensuring that drugs and psychotropic substances are exclusively available for scientific and medical purposes".

If the Bill passes into law, Rwanda will join the ranks of countries such as The Netherlands, Israel and Canada, where, with a doctor's prescription, patients are allowed to possess a small amount of the drug to alleviate chronic debilitating symptoms such as neuropathic pain and side effects of chemotherapy.

More at:

(Source: East African (Kenya) of 18 April 2011)

USA: The governor of Montana vetoed a bill that would have repealed the medical cannabis law

On 13 April Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed a bill that would have repealed Montana's voter-approved medical cannabis law, saying it would have gone against the will of the people. Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia that have medical cannabis laws, almost all have struggled with how to adequately regulate a drug that the federal government deems dangerous and addictive but said it would not prosecute as long as users follow state law.

But the Montana Legislature took the unusual step of passing a bill to completely overturn the 2004 law that was approved by Montana voters. Republican leaders in the state Senate and House of Representatives say the drug cannot be regulated safely because the drug attracts criminal gangs and addicts the state's youth. Governor Schweitzer said he agreed the medical cannabis law was written broadly with unanticipated results, but that had to be balanced with the medical needs of Montanans. "I believe the proper resolution of this unanticipated outcome is not outright repeal, but amendment to serve the original intent," he said.

More at:
- www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/13/us-marijuana-montana-idUSTRE73C6WQ20110413

(Sources: Associated Press of 13 April 2011, Reuters of 13 April 2011)

Canada: Cannabis law unconstitutional, an Ontario court ruled

An Ontario court has struck down Canada's laws against possessing and growing cannabis as part of a ruling that found the country's medicinal cannabis program is failing to provide access to the drug for those who need it. However, the government will appeal the ruling before a higher court.

The Ontario ruling stemmed from the constitutional challenge of Matthew Mernagh, a man who relies on medical cannabis to ease pain brought on by fibromyalgia and scoliosis. Health Canada's medical cannabis program regulates and approves growing and regulates how much patients can buy and how much they're legally allowed to use for their treatment. More than 9,800 Canadians are legally permitted to possess medicinal cannabis, according to Health Canada. Nearly 5,600 people hold a personal grower's licence and 1,837 people hold a licence to grow for one other person. However, Justice Donald Taliano wrote in his decision on 11 April that Mernagh has been unable to get a doctor to sign off on a medical cannabis licence. Other patients run into the same problem, the judge noted, and that forces some seriously ill people to obtain cannabis illegally.

More at:

(Sources: Reuters of 13 April 2011, Winnipeg Free Press of 14 April 2011)

News in brief

Economy: GW Pharmaceuticals
On 11 April the British company GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it has entered into an exclusive licence agreement for Novartis Pharma to commercialise the cannabis extract Sativex in Australia and New Zealand, Asia (excluding Japan, China and Hong Kong), Middle East (excluding Israel/Palestine) and Africa. Under the terms of the agreement, Novartis will have exclusive commercialisation rights to Sativex and will also be responsible for regulatory filings. (Sources: Press release by GW Pharmaceuticals of 11 April 2011, Reuters of 11 April 2011)

Czech Republic: Sativex
The cannabis extract Sativex has been approved in the Czech Republic as a treatment for spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. This approval is following the approval in the UK and Spain. Other EURopean countries are expected to follow in the coming months. (Source: Press release by GW Pharmaceuticals of 15 April 2011)

Science: Workshop on medical use
On 8 July 2011 during the ICRS Meeting the CCIC (Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids) organizes a symposium on cannabinoids in medical practise. The speakers are Cecilia Hillard, Linda Parker, Donald Abrams, Sachin Patel, Diego Centonze, William Notcutt, and Mark Ware. More information at: www.ccic.net/symposium. (Source: Personal Communication)

Jamaica: Recommendations for legalization
The government will review recommendations to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal and religious use. They will evaluate a 2001 report by the National Commission for Ganja - as cannabis is known locally. The commission appointed by the government argued that the drug was "culturally entrenched" in Jamaica and that moderate use had no negative health effects on most users. (Source: Associated Press of 12 April 2011)

Science: Neuroprotection
According to a group of Israeli researchers N-arachidonoyl-L-serine, a brain component structurally related to the endocannabinoid family, was neuroprotective after brain injury in an animal model. These protective effects are related mostly to indirect signalling via the CB2 receptor and TRPV1 channels but not through CB1 or GPR55 receptors. (Source: Cohen-Yeshurun A, et al. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2011 Apr 20. [in press])

Science: Pain
Scientists at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer investigated the effects of a blocker of FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), responsible for the degradation of anandamide, on inflammation and inflammatory pain in rats. The investigated compound PF-04457845 displayed a long duration of action after oral administration for 24 hours. (Source: Ahn K, et al. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2011 Apr 19. [in press])

Science: Psychosis
At the University Hospital of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry of Bern, Switzerland, age at onset of psychosis and cannabis use were investigated in 625 first-episode psychosis patients (age 14 to 29 years). Only cannabis use starting at the age of 14 or younger was associated with an earlier age of onset at a small effect size. Scientists concluded that cannabis use "may exert an indirect effect on brain maturation resulting in earlier AAO [age at onset] potentially only in cannabis sensitive subjects." (Source: Schimmelmann BG, et al. Schizophr Res. 2011 Apr 16. [in press])

Science: Psychotropic effects of THC
According to the research at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, THC increased brain perfusion in certain regions (anterior cingulate cortex, superior frontal cortex, insula) and reduced perfusion in others (post-central and occipital gyrus). 23 healthy subjects participated in this placebo-controlled study. (Source: van Hell HH, et al. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011 Apr 14:1-12. [in press])

Science: Hepatitis
Scientists at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, USA, investigated the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on acute hepatitis induced by a chemical in mice. CBD reduced inflammation by increasing the number of certain cells (myeloid-derived suppressor cells) through activation of TRPV1 vanilloid receptors. (Source: Hegde VL, et al. PLoS One 2011;6(4):e18281.)

Science: White brain matter
At the Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, the effects of cannabis use on the brain were investigated comparing 15 regular cannabis users with 15 non-users. They found out that early cannabis use was associated with changes in the white matter of the frontal part of the brain. (Source: Gruber SA, et al. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2011 Apr 11. [in press])

Science: Posttraumatic stress disorder
In a large representative survey of 5,672 adults from the United States a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder was associated with an increased lifetime history of cannabis use as well as past year daily cannabis use. (Source: Cougle JR, et al. Psychol Addict Behav. 2011 Apr 11. [in press])

Science: Nausea
According to cell experiments at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Bethesda, USA, both THC and CBD (cannabidiol) inhibited the function of human 5-HT(3A) receptors. Activation of this receptor causes nausea and vomiting, anxiety and neuronal excitation. Among other blockers of this receptor are antiemetics such as ondansetron, antidepressants such as mianserin, and antipsychotics such as clozapine. (Source: Xiong W, et al. Neuroscience. 2011 Apr 5. [in press])

Science: Pregnancy
At the Sophia Children's Hospital in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, the behaviour of 4077 children at the age of 18 months was correlated with substance use in early pregnancy. Cannabis use was associated with a small increase of risk for aggressive behaviour and attention problems in girls, but not boys. (Source: Marroun HE, et al. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011 Apr 4. [in press])

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