UC Study Finds That Marijuana Eases Pain

    UCSD has entered the controversial medicinal marijuana argument, providing funding for a new study that found that smoked marijuana substantially reduced pain in AIDS patients in the face of the federal government’s position that smoked marijuana has no medical value.

    A recent UC San Francisco study focused on patients with a painful nerve condition in their hands and feet. The condition, called peripheral neuropathy, is characterized as a constant burning on the bottoms of the feet and hands. In the double-blind study, half of the patients receiving marijuana cigarettes with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, reported a 30-percent drop in pain, twice that of patients on the placebo, a cigarette with no THC. UCSD reviewed the proposal from Donald Abrams, the study’s lead author, and provided the funding.

    Thirty percent of AIDS patients suffer from peripheral neuropathy, a condition that has no FDA-approved treatment, forcing patients to go on anti-seizure medication to relieve pain.

    Despite the hurdles of conducting a medicinal marijuana study, which include getting permission from eight government agencies, Igor Grant, the executive director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UCSD, said that there has been no resistance in carrying out the study.

    “”The fact that this was set up as a scientific research study under the umbrella of the University of California, as well as a very stringent review process from outside experts [satisfies critics],”” Grant said.

    The marijuana was procured from a federally sanctioned field at the University of Mississippi. The subjects were given three marijuana cigarettes a day with THC levels at 3.56 percent, which is considered a low level.

    However, Abrams stated that the patients did get high. A National Organization of Reformed Marijuana Laws survey found THC levels in nonmedical marijuana across the country to average between 8 to 20 percent.

    The White House Office of National Drug Policy Web site states that “”marijuana as a smoked product has never proven to be medically beneficial and, in fact, is much more likely to harm one’s health”” – a position this study may dispute.

    “”It’s time for the government to wake up and smell the data,”” said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest medicinal marijuana-advocating group in the country. “”We consider this to be very significant evidence underlying, frankly, what other people already knew, that marijuana is capable of relieving certain types of pain that do not respond well to conventional treatments.””

    The ONDP supports research with cannabinoid-based drugs, such as Marinol, but CMCR hopes to study cannabis and products used by the general population, according to Abrams.

    “”Cannabis has many other potentially beneficial components beyond delta-9 THC,”” Abrams stated in an e-mail.

    In 1999, Gov. Gray Davis established the CMCR, headquartered at UCSD with UC San Francisco as a partner. Abrams’ study was the first of its kind completed with taxpayer funds, at a cost of approximately $849,000. A total of $8.7 million has been directed to the program since its launch in 2000.

    Though the trial was small, Grant sees this study as very promising for the medicinal marijuana community.

    “”The continued study could help solve the marijuana debate in the future,”” Grant said. “”We will have some good scientific data, one way or the other.””

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