More MS news articles for March 2001

California research to test marijuana's medical usefulness

Health & Science : Monday, March 12, 2001
By Teri Sforza
The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA, Calif. - The University of California is beginning clinical investigations into marijuana as medicine, hoping to end the roiling controversy over its medical usefulness once and for all.

"It's very exciting, a first in the country," said Drew Mattison, co-director of the new Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego. Last month, the center announced the first of $3 million in research grants. Researchers at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco will examine marijuana's effect on HIV-related pain, spasticity from multiple sclerosis, and the driving abilities of patients with AIDS and MS.

The studies should start enrolling patients in April or May. Patients who want to take part can add their names to a waiting list.

Medical-marijuana activists laud the studies but don't plan to join them. "I'm glad they're going in the right direction," said Marvin Chavez, director of the Orange County Patient, Doctor, Nurse Support Group Cannabis Co-op. "But from my point of view, it's a waste of taxpayers' money. We don't need a study. We're living testimony that it works."

The new research center is the product of a bill introduced by state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who has been trying to make Proposition 215 - California's medical-marijuana law - work for years. Vasconcellos hopes the center's research will prove what other studies have shown: that the active ingredient in marijuana helps spur appetite and deaden pain.

Proposition 215 has been trapped between state and federal drug laws since it passed in 1996. While it gave patients in California the right to grow and use marijuana for a variety of illnesses with a doctor's approval, federal drug law still classifies marijuana alongside heroin and LSD, drugs with no medical use.

Study results will be reported to the Legislature and the governor to help them decide how to implement Proposition 215. The research is not only supposed to help California with this task, it will help the eight other states that have approved medical marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Proposition 215 didn't address how the drug would be distributed or how the state would keep track of who was allowed to use it. In most of the other states, including Washington, patient registries were written into the law. Such registries make it easy for law enforcement to separate real patients from lawbreakers.

Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company