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IACM-Bulletin of 26 December 1999

UK: Trials into the efficacy of cannabis in multiple sclerosis

The Medical Research Council (MRC) announced plans on 13 December to fund trials into the medical benefits of cannabis for patients with multiple sclerosis. It awarded a grant of 950,000 pounds (about 1.5 million U.S. dollars) to Dr. John Zajicek, of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, for the three-year trials. GW Pharmaceuticals is running the trials.

The MS study will involve 660 patients from across the country. Each patient will be randomly selected to receive capsules of either an extract of cannabis, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, dronabinol) or a placebo. Participants will be recruited from specialist MS clinics in hospitals around the country.

Peter Cardy, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: "For years we have pressed for proper medical research to assess the clinical effectiveness and safety of these substances. (...) It is clearly an unacceptable state of affairs when many people suffering from a serious medical condition feel driven to break the law." A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "We warmly welcome these trials. It is what we have been calling for and any research into the medical benefits is to be supported."

(Sources: PA News of 13 December 1999, Reuters of 13 December 1999)

Switzerland: Cannabis in subpsychotropic dosage may be used

Responding to questions of a pharmacist about the possibility to use cannabis medicinally the 'Bundesamt für Gesundheit' (BAG, Health Ministry) said, that a medical use was possible, if a psychotropic effect could be excluded.

In a letter the BAG noticed that cannabis was defined in the law on narcotics as a narcotic, but that the use for other purposes, for example for industrial purposes, was possible. This would "be the same in regard to medical use".

"(...) If the content of psychotropic substances in preparations of the hemp plant is that low that such effects can be excluded, one cannot speak of production of narcotics. If a psychotropic effect occurs and thus it is a preparation for the production of narcotics, it has to be noted, that the international conventions on the use of narcotics and psychotropic substances do not exclude the use for medical research but prohibit every other use (...)"

"National and international research with hemp and THC-containing preparations is becoming manifold and more funded. First results indicate, that such preparations can be effective for some indications as for example spasticity, without causing psychotropic effects in the corresponding dose range. In this case such a drug for a certain indication would not be banned, because where there is no psychotropic effect, a production of narcotics cannot be assumed."

The Swiss firm Spagomed AG in Burgdorf (address: Bachweg 3, 3400 Burgdorf) is manufacturing a cannabis tincture "Cannabis sativa TM" with a THC content of 0.06 percent and supplies physicians and pharmacists (no private persons) with this preparation.

Delta-9-THC (dronabinol, Marinol) is not a prescriptive drug in Switzerland. But there it is possible to get a special permission for the use of THC from the BAG. Applications have to be directed to: Paul J. Dietschy, Leiter Facheinheit Heilmittel, Bundesamt für Gesundheit, 3003 Bern, Postfach.

(Sources: Letter of the BAG to Dr. M.F. of 26 August 1999; Certificate of Analysis "Cannabis sativa TM of 1 July 1997; Provisional leaflet for physicians that get permissions according to Art. 8 (5) BetmG for delta-9-THC)

Canada: Five-year plan for medical use of marijuana

Health Canada has worked out a five-year plan for medical use of nearly one million marijuana cigarettes. A licensed Canadian supplier is required to "be a university graduate in an area such as pharmacology and of good character," the report said.

Health Canada will supply the seeds to the official dope dealer, who is expected to produce 100,000 marijuana cigarettes in the first year of the project and an annual 200,000 from the second to the fifth year. The health department "will contribute up to 1.5 million Canadian dollars (about 1 million U.S. dollars) per year for investment in clinical, basic and applied research on marijuana and cannabinoids," the report said.

It will also finalize the 28-page Statement of Work for the Development of a Comprehensive Operation for the Cultivation and Fabrication of Marijuana in Canada. However, a spokeswoman for the organization said that Health Canada "is looking at options to provide a safe supply" of marijuana.

(Source: AP of 14 December 1999)

USA: Vice President supports 'flexibility' on medical use

Vice President Al Gore said on 14 December that the government should give doctors greater flexibility to prescribe marijuana to relieve medical suffering.

Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Gore told a town hall audience in Derry (New Hampshire) of his late sister's struggle with cancer in the mid-1980s and said suffering patients and their doctors "ought to have the option" of using marijuana to alleviate pain.

Meeting with reporters after the televised forum, Gore sought to backtrack from his comments and appeared to come closer to the official administration position. "If the research shows that there are circumstances in which there is no alternative for alleviating the pain that doctors believe can be alleviated through the use of medical marijuana, then under certain limited medical circumstances -- if the research validates that choice -- then it should be allowed," Gore said. Gore made no such qualification when talking before the audience earlier in the evening, and in fact he acknowledged that White House drug policy chief Barry R. McCaffrey held a different opinion from the one he was expressing.

(Source: Washington Post of 14 December 1999)

News in brief

Smoking marijuana can have cancer-causing effects similar to those linked to cigarette smoking, California researchers said on 17 December. Writing in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarker and Prevention, Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang of the Jonsson Cancer Centre at the University of California Los Angeles said he studied 173 patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and compared them to 176 cancer-free control patients. Those who said they habitually smoked marijuana were more likely to be in the group with head and neck cancers. And the more they smoked, the bigger the risk.
(Source: Reuters of 17 December 1999)

New Zealand:
One of New Zealand's new Green MPs has said he would not stop using cannabis now that he has entered parliament. Nandor Tanczos told the Sunday Star Times newspaper he uses cannabis as part of his Rastafarian religious practice: "I don't use cannabis very often and I don't use it in a recreational way." Tanczos and six Greens colleagues became the first of the party's members to enter parliament in the November 27 election. They now hold the balance of power in New Zealand's new centre-left government.
(Source: Reuters of 12 December 1999)

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