Wednesday, August 30, 2000
Physicians at the San Francisco and San Diego campuses of the University of California announced yesterday that they will set up a scientific research center to study the medical uses and effects of marijuana.
The new Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which is to be established in San Diego, will start off with $3 million in state money for its first year, the doctors said.
The money will support grants for well-controlled studies seeking to determine whether the weed is safe and effective in relieving the distressing side effects of powerful AIDS drugs and cancer chemotherapy agents.
One of the co-directors of the center will be Donald Abrams, a UCSF professor of medicine and a pioneer community AIDS doctor.
The money comes as a result of a bill introduced by Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, and signed in October by Gov. Gray Davis. It calls for a three-year program of research that will ``enhance understanding of the efficacy and adverse effects of marijuana as a pharmacological agent.''
According to Abrams, the first research grants will be made in line with the center's scientific agenda, focusing on the possible use of the weed in allaying chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite that pose major problems for cancer and AIDS patients, and also for relieving spasticity and tremors in patients with multiple sclerosis. Abrams in July reported on the first federally approved safety study of smoked marijuana that he conducted in San Francisco. Twenty AIDS patients who smoked ``government grade'' pot under close medical supervision for three weeks ate better and gained an average of 7.7 pounds compared with 22 patients who smoked only a placebo, he found.
The beginning of a change in the official federal drug policy that has long barred any experiments with marijuana was heralded in March when a detailed scientific report from the National Research Council sought by President Clinton recommended careful scientific studies of the weed's medical potential.
``This is an important opportunity to continue to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabis,'' Abrams said. ``The findings of our initial safety trial suggest that studies of the possible effectiveness of marijuana should be launched now.''
The marijuana supplies for researchers approved by the new center will
come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse -- and then only after each
study has been approved by many bureaucratic layers, including local human
research committees, state health agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
and the federal institute on drug abuse.