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Medical Marijuana: Info and updates

California Research * Cal AG Supports Patient Coops * Vermont Bill * Glaucoma * Kaiser Permanente Policy *

Marijuana-like chemical helps relieve coughs-study

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON, Nov 1, 2000. (Reuters) - A team of international scientists have discovered why marijuana causes coughing in some asthma patients but not in others in a finding that could lead to better respiratory treatments with fewer side effects.

In a report in the science journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers from Italy, Hungary and the United States identified a cannabis-like chemical in the body called anandamide and showed how it influences the airways in the lungs.

In animal studies, anandamide, which is similar to active ingredients in marijuana called cannabinoids, inhibits coughing caused by an irritant when the muscles in the lungs are tensed, but if the airways are relaxed it can cause a coughing spasm.

A cannabinoid receptor molecule, a chemical doorway into the cell, found on nerve endings in the lungs seems to control both reactions.

"We think that by targeting cannabinoid receptors in the upper airways we can control coughs in a number of conditions," Daniele Piomelli, a pharmacologist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a telephone interview.

"That's important because most treatments currently available basically act on the brain cough centre, a small region of the brain that is the target for codeine and similar drugs."


New treatments targeting the receptor molecule would be an alternative to codeine and other opiates, which produce serious side effects including addiction.

In an inhaler form, a treatment would act directly on the lungs, thereby eliminating many of the unwanted side effects of codeine and similar drugs. Piomelli and scientists from The Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest, the University of Naples in Italy and the University of Washington in Seattle, who contributed to the research, hope to begin human tests soon.

"Hopefully we will be doing that in the not-too-far future," Piomelli said. If the research goes well and produces the same results as the animal studies, the scientists hope new treatments for coughs caused by asthma and other respiratory illnesses could be available in a few years.

"We're very excited about the possibilities and would like to push it forward," he said.


Scientists have been studying marijuana with the idea of developing new treatments for a variety of conditions ranging from asthma and stroke to cancer and spinal cord injuries and nerve damage.

Medical studies have shown that it is useful for pain relief, to control nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment and to reduce anxiety.

"We tried to understand the cannabis-like system in the body because we think it is a source for many different potential medicines. But in order for us to develop these medicines, we need to understand how the physiology works," said Piomelli.


Vermont's medical mj bill

Vermont's medical mj bill was introduced yesterday. It will be posted on the State homepage on Monday 2/26/01.

Dr Bob Melamede has submitted a CD of scientific data and abstracts of cannabinoids to the Health and Welfare committee. Many are lobbying hard. It's a bad bill but better than nothing; Dr Bob can be reached at the UVM lab. For info:


California backs UCSD look into pot as medicine

(c) 2001, San Diego Union-Tribune Publishing Co. February 23, 2001

By Bill Ainsworth STAFF WRITER,

SACRAMENTO -- California is about to fund the nation's first scientific studies to look at whether marijuana can relieve symptoms and pain associated with AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Three of the four grants are set to go to researchers at UC San Diego, which operates the state's cannabis research center, scientists announced yesterday.

The state-financed center, which has $3 million in research grants to give out this year, is the only research institute in the nation set up to examine whether marijuana can serve as a medicine.

"Truly, if we can discover some benefit here, it will make a major step forward in patient care," said Dr. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research.

For decades, federal policies have discouraged and even prohibited such studies. By contrast, the federal government has generously funded studies examining the harmful effects of marijuana.

"It is the first money earmarked for looking at cannabis as a therapeutic rather than looking at its ill effects," said Donald Abrams, a University of California San Francisco researcher who will receive one of the grants.

Scientists believe the center, which has a tiny budget by the standards of national research institutes, can have an effect on medical research policy.

First, they hope California researchers can demonstrate that studies involving pot-smoking patients can be conducted in a serious scientific manner.

Abrams also believes that the center's work might spur larger studies. Results that show marijuana has promise as a treatment for certain symptoms, he said, could be used by researchers to seek money for larger studies from national research centers.

Two of the studies recommended for funding would look at whether smoking marijuana helps relieve nerve pain that comes with HIV. Current drugs have proved ineffective at blunting the pain, researchers said.

Dr. Ronald Ellis of UCSD would conduct one of those studies, while Abrams would conduct the other.

Another study, to be carried out by Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom at UCSD, would examine the effects of smoking marijuana on spasticity, a symptom of multiple sclerosis that causes pain, spasms and loss of function.

The final study in the first round of grants, to be carried out by Thomas Marcotte, a UCSD researcher, would look at the effects of pot smoking on driving ability.

All four of the recommended studies, which would receive $1.9 million over three years, must gain final approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Approval is expected to be routine, a spokeswoman from UCSD said.

A recently released study by Abrams suggests that marijuana has the potential to improve the weight gain of patients suffering from HIV.

His study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, looked at whether smoking marijuana causes harm by interfering with the protease inhibitors given to these patients.

He found it doesn't. Abrams, an AIDS specialist, also found that the frequently underweight HIV patients who either smoked marijuana or took it in pill form gained more weight than those given a placebo.

Abrams said his study was funded by the federal government because he was looking at the potential harm of marijuana, rather than its potential benefits.

California voters, apparently convinced that pot can relieve some illnesses, approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which legalized medical marijuana. Since then, seven other states have legalized medical marijuana.

Even with a voter mandate, however, creating the research center was a political struggle. Former Gov. Pete Wilson, a strong opponent of medical marijuana, refused to allow state funds to be used for the center, a stance reversed by Gov. Gray Davis.

Federal officials have shown skepticism and outright hostility toward medical marijuana.

Health and drug administration officials continue to classify marijuana with the most serious and harmful illegal drugs.

U.S. Department of Justice officials have shut down several cannabis buyers clubs in California, arguing that state ballot measures cannot override federal drug laws. A lawsuit over the issue will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month.

The center is charged with looking at whether marijuana can help relieve weight loss, chronic pain, severe nausea and vomiting associated with cancer and its treatment and severe muscle spasticity.

Eventually results from the studies might help lawmakers' efforts to pass guidelines that further define Proposition 215.

The confusing law has been interpreted in varying ways by the state's counties. Some have prosecuted users with medical claims aggressively. Others have not.


San Jose Mercury- News - Feb 21, 2001

Lockyer joins legal battle over potclub in Oakland

Medicinal marijuana not feds' business, state tells high court


The state of California and a host of civil liberties and medical rights groups are siding with an Oakland pot distribution club in a standoff with the federal government over the future of medicinal marijuana laws to be considered next month by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a brief filed Tuesday in the Supreme Court, Attorney General Bill Lockyer argued that California has the authority to enforce its voter-approved medicinal marijuana law without interference from the federal government. Proposition 215, overwhelmingly passed in 1996, permitted seriously ill patients to use marijuana, but backers of the law have been entangled in legal battles with the U.S. Justice Department for more than three years.

"The electorate in California have declared their view on this question, and it should be respected by this court as a democratic exercise properly reserved to the states,'' California's brief to the justices declared."The Constitution does not prevent the states from expressing their preference for allowing citizens to use cannabis to treat serious illness.''

Legal arguments are scheduled before the Supreme Court justices on March 28. The court is considering the issue for the first time in a case that could have sweeping implications for Proposition 215 and for the increasing number of states with laws permitting the distribution and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Justice Department officials maintain that laws such as Proposition 215 conflict with federal drug laws, warning the Supreme Court that allowing states such as California to dispense medicinal marijuana would"promote disrespect and disregard for an act of Congress that is central to combating illicit drug trafficking.''

The Clinton administration sued the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club and five other Northern California pot clubs in 1998. Since then, only the Oakland club has survived to keep the legal fight going, setting up mechanisms for identifying patients who would be eligible to receive medicinal marijuana, such as those with AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. The city of Oakland has supported the cannabis club.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last year set the stage for the Supreme Court case when it carved out an unprecedented exception to federal drug laws. In that ruling, the appeals court found that"medical necessity'' could trump the drug laws and allow distribution of pot to patients facing"imminent harm.''

Legal experts differ on whether the Supreme Court will take a narrow approach to the case, or use it to define how far medicinal marijuana laws can go generally.

Despite the potential stakes in the case, no other state chose to join California's legal position. Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Colorado, Maine and Alaska have enacted medicinal marijuana laws similar to California's, and advocates are pushing for legislation in other states.

"We were hoping other states that have initiatives would join on board,'' said Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, who will argue before the justices on behalf of the Oakland club. The Oakland club did gather support from other officials and organizations. In one brief, New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, an advocate of legalization, and state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, were among a number of individual public officials to support the club's position. The American Civil Liberties Union and a number of medical and public health groups also signed on to friend-of-the-court briefs filed Tuesday opposing the federal government's position.

Two anti-drug organizations, the Family Research Council and the Global Drug Policy of Drug Free America, filed briefs last month supporting the Bush administration, which has inherited the case from the Clinton administration.

Contact Howard Mintz at or (408) 286-0236. Posted at 9:52 p.m. PST Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2001


Marijuana helps glaucoma, but will Marinol?

People's Pharmacy, Oregonian, February 25, 2001, Living Section page L-13

By Joe and Teresa Graedon

Q: I have heard that marijuana can greatly reduce intraocular pressure, but I have also heard that it can have side effects. Could you please tell me what to expect? How can one obtain marijuana legally? Can you get a prescription? I am a law-abiding citizen, but I need to control my glaucoma better.

A: There is preliminary research suggesting that ingredients in marijuana can lower intraocular pressure in about two-thirds of patients. There are side effects associated with smoking this herb. It can lower blood pressure, increase heart rate and cause drowsiness or dizziness. Coordination and judgment can be impaired, so driving is dangerous. The euphoria or "high" can be disturbing for some people. (Oregon has a program that allows the use of marijuana by some people with debilitating medical conditions, such as glaucoma. Applying for a permit to grow your own marijuana costs $150 and a doctor must agree that marijuana would be helpful in treating your symptoms. For information or seeking a medical marijuana permit, call Kelly Paige at the Oregon Health Division at 503-731-83310 or go to .)

Your doctor could prescribe an oral formulation called Marinol, which has been approved for use in treating nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and loss of appetite due to AIDS. Whether it would work for glaucoma is not clear.


Denver Rocky Mountain News July 7, 2001


By: Michael Perrault

Attorneys for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado have given its doctors a tentative green light to endorse medical marijuana use for qualified patients.

Doctors sought legal advice from the nonprofit HMO's lawyers in recent weeks after they became concerned about facing prosecution despite an 8-month-old Colorado law that authorizes use of marijuana to alleviate certain debilitating medical conditions.

Under state law, doctors must sign official documents stating that their patients could benefit from using marijuana. The confidential documents are then filed with the state to protect patients in the event they're arrested for marijuana possession.

"Using their own judgment, doctors can sign them or not, depending on what they think medically is the right thing to do," said Steve Krizman, a Kaiser spokesman in Colorado who talked about the HMO's legal advice. Kaiser plans to provide its doctors with further information about potential legal issues when executives at the parent company in Oakland, Calif., make a final decision next week, Kaiser officials said.

The legal advice comes not long after Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar and Gov. Bill Owens issued a letter to the Colorado Medical Society warning that doctors face the risk of federal prosecution if they participate in the state program. Owens and Salazar also sent a letter to acting U.S. Attorney Richard Spriggs, asking him to enforce federal law.

In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, allowing patients to use marijuana for conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and severe nausea.

Since the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment established a Medical Marijuana Registry and began issuing identification cards, 38 people have applied, said Gail Kelsey, administrator for the program.

Of those, 35 applications have been approved, two are pending and one has been denied, Kelsey said Friday.

Patients with identification cards can possess no more than 2 ounces of a usable form of marijuana and not more than six marijuana plants, state officials said.

At Kaiser Permanente, the legal issue came to a head recently when Dr. Miguel Mogyoros sought legal advice before signing a recommendation for a medical marijuana identification card for a patient. Other doctors then joined Mogyoros' request.

Kaiser's partnership with its physicians sets it apart from other health plans in the state, which contract with physicians and physician groups.

Because Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and PacifiCare of Colorado contracts with doctors, for example, it leaves decisions to individual physicians, preferring not to interfere with a physician's judgment about whether patients would benefit from marijuana usage.

Likewise, there are no restrictions on doctors at PacifiCare of Colorado who want to recommend marijuana use for patients, although the health plan's benefit package doesn't cover marijuana and wouldn't pay for it, said Amy Hudson, PacifiCare spokeswoman.

Salazar said Friday he had "no reaction" to the Kaiser attorneys' legal advice.

He reiterated that he upheld the state's medical marijuana law following a May 14 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlaws cannabis buyers clubs for patients in California.

FCDA literature and PDF files



Medical Marijuana

Judge Young on Medical Marijuana

Prosecutor's Advisory Panel

Needle Exchange, Harm Reduction


Death Rates




Other Voices

Effective Policy

International, Peru, Colombia. Mexico



Drug Truce

Shattered Lives

Safety, Vaporizers

Zero Tolerance

Medical Marijuana Updates


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