Cigarette Smoke Jolts Hundreds of Genes, Researchers Say

Doctors have long noticed a link between smoking and cancers found in organs beside the lungs, including kidney, colon and bladder cancers.

Now, a new study shows lighting up a cigarette changes a person’s gene activity across the body. The findings may be a clue to why smoking affects overall health – from heart disease to combating infections.

A research team from Australia and San Antonio, Texas, analyzed white blood cell samples of 1,240 people, ages 16-94, who were participating in the San Antonio Family Heart Study.

They found that the self-identified smokers in the group – 297 people – were more likely to have unusual patterns of “gene expression” related to tumor development, inflammation, virus elimination, cell death and more. A gene is expressed when it codes for a protein that then instructs, or kick-starts, a process in the body.

The authors of the study found cigarette smoke could increase or decrease the level of expression of 323 genes.

“On some levels, we were surprised by the extent of the influence exposure to cigarette smoke had on gene expression, especially considering we used such a simple measure of smoke exposure: smoker or non-smoker,” said lead author Jac Charlesworth, a research fellow at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania in Australia.

On the other hand, Charlesworth said, doctors have known “for a very long time” that smoking worsens cancer risk overall, depresses immune systems and causes other problems. Heart disease, cataracts and poor wound healing are all more common in people who smoke, according to the National Institutes of Health and the new study.

Why genes take a hit

“One of the most important things this study did was to go some way towards understanding the biological responses the body has to smoking,” Charlesworth told Life’s Little Mysteries. “Now we know that part of the process is the result of changes at the gene level.”

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, some of them known toxins and carcinogens. When someone smokes, the toxins enter the bloodstream through the lungs and are distributed throughout the body, the authors explained in the paper.

Because the activity of a single gene may influence a whole set of other genes’ expression, the study could not explain which chemical in cigarette smoke was responsible for affecting which gene.

“Our results indicate that not only individual genes but entire networks of gene interaction are influenced by cigarette smoking,” the authors wrote in the paper.

Questions remain

Charlesworth and her colleagues admitted the scope of their study was limited. The researchers were able to find subjects by testing samples from people in an existing study of Mexican-American families. It’s likely that smoking would affect other ethnic groups the same way, the researchers wrote, but they could not be sure unless other ethnic groups were involved in the study.

However, the study design let researchers examine a purely “environmental influence,” according to Charlesworth. In other words, the research team could measure what smoking does to gene expression independent of the influence of a person’s genetic predisposition for cancer.

Charlesworth said her team is now gathering information for a second study on the same subjects with samples collected 15 years after the start of the original study in 1992.

“We will then be able to look at the response of these expression profiles to changing cigarette smoking habits and other general influences over time,” Charlesworth said.

“It will also be interesting to determine whether any of these [gene] expression alterations persist in individuals who cease smoking, or if they are entirely reversible,” she said.

The study will be published Thursday in the journal BMC Medical Genomics.

Lauren Cox
LiveScience.comThu Jul 15, 9:55 am ET

GROUP WANTS RIGHT FOR AIDS PATIENT TO — USE MARIJUANA TO FIGHT DISEASE’S

Thomas Place, 55, of Rialto, wants more research conducted on the
ingestion of marijuana to assist AIDS patients and has helped create
an AIDS patient medical marijuana group to further the cause.

“I just want to help other people,” Place said, after showing off his
concoction of marijuana tincture, a concoction that he says has helped
him overcome renal failure. “I’ve seen people in different clinics
struggling.”

Place’s group, the Inland Empire HIV/AIDS Medical Marijuana Patient
Support Group, meets at 7:30 p.m. Mondays in Riverside.

The support group, which is also open to caregivers and family
members, has had open discussions on using marijuana for treating
AIDS-related symptoms for about a month.

Meetings are for dispensing information such as using marijuana,
methods of injection, legal ramifications and sources for obtaining
it.

Members, who maintain they are not drug addicts, said AIDS medicines
often bring with them side effects that marijuana does not have.

Place said he and group facilitator Lanny Swerdlow would not be
allowed to promote using marijuana if the meetings were help in a
public-owned facility, which is why the meetings take place at the
THCF Medical Clinic & Patient Center.

“The information we’re providing them, the AIDS organizations will not
provide them,” said Swerdlow, also a director of the Marijuana
Anti-Prohibition Project, an Inland Empire medical marijuana patient
support group and law reform organization.

Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth, a physician who is an professor at
Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center, is skeptical.

“Speaking as a physician I think there are probably more desirable
ways to find relief from symptoms,” Kurth said Friday. “But many of
the marijuana advocates are very passionate about the symptom relief
they get from marijuana in its raw form. So they’re often unwilling to
try the more medicinally accepted preparations, if you will.”

Kurth said that when talking about alleviating symptoms, it’s an
objective statement.

“If someone says it makes them feel better, it makes them feel
better,” he said. “It’s not something that’s easily
quantifiable.”

Kurth added many but not all physicians are uncomfortable prescribing
marijuana and would rather prescribe other medications more specific
toward an individual symptom.

Members of the medical marijuana group, like San Bernardino resident
Henry Ceslewski, 48, said he enjoyed the “non-traditional ways” of the
meetings.

“It’s affirmation I have helped healed myself,” Ceslewski said, who
has stage 3 AIDS.

He is also an amputee, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and
is bi-polar.

“It’s got me better under control without being reliant on
medications,” he said of using marijuana, which he still smokes every
day besides injesting it.

Cynthia Moya, 52, of Moreno Valley, was diagnosed in 1994 with HIV.
She received a tainted blood transfusion following a seizure in a mall
after hitting her head on a glass display.

Her condition later went to full-blown AIDS, and she is also battling
ovarian and cervical cancer.

Moya maintains that she has felt better since starting to consume
“marijuana treats” with hemp seed oil in the butter besides injesting
the cannabis.

Paul Chabot, co-founder of the Inland Valley Drug Free Coalition, said
he was skeptical of the group and its purpose.

“It’s nothing more than a ploy by a pro-drug group. They’re standing
back and rallying for their cause.”

Chabot said there were many great medications, which have improved
over decades, that could be used for people with AIDS and other ailments.

Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation,
said “essentially marijuana is marijuana. There are different ways to
deliver it. But no matter how it’s delivered, and this is of
particular concern for those with AIDS, there is a good deal of
research to support its suppression of the immune system.”

Place, discounting critics, said his group has an eye toward the
future with hopes it could create community gardens with fruits and
vegetables injected with his “liquid marijuana” as well as other
projects like salad dressings.

 

Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jul 2010
Source: San Bernardino Sun (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Contact:
voice@inlandnewspapers.com
Website:
http://www.sbsun.com/
Author: Wes Woods II

Higher Learning

USA — This is what a medical-marijuana class looks like. Twenty-five or so students–men, women, young, middle-aged–listen attentively as an instructor holds up a leafy green plant and runs down the list of nutrients it needs. Nitrogen: stimulates leaf and stem growth. Magnesium: helps leaf structure. Phosphorous: aids in the germination of seeds. Michigan’s Med Grow Cannabis College is one of several unaccredited schools to have sprung up in the 14 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical use of marijuana. Many of its students suffer from chronic pain. Others are looking to supply those in need of relief.

The Med Grow campus sits across the street from a KFC in Southfield, a relatively prosperous suburb of Detroit. Nearly one-fifth of its 90 or so students are former auto-industry workers. These recent enrollees–and the more than 1,000 people who have completed courses at Med Grow since it opened in September–are betting that studying such topics as bloom cycles and advanced pruning techniques will help them succeed in what may be one of the few growth industries in Michigan, home of the nation’s highest unemployment rate: 14%. With medical marijuana fetching as much as $500 for 1 oz. (28 g), providing it to a mere five patients could generate $10,000 a month in sales.

Six-week courses at Med Grow cost $475, and the school is planning to open campuses in Colorado and New Jersey within roughly the next year. Meanwhile, the nation’s first marijuana school, the three-year-old Oaksterdam University, has expanded from Oakland, Calif., to locations in Los Angeles and one in Flint, Mich., and may open more.

But as Med Grow founder Nick Tennant can attest, it’s not easy being a leader of an emerging industry. Tennant, a very lean, very blond 24-year-old, grew up in the Detroit suburb of Warren and watched the auto-detailing business he started after high school founder along with the region’s economy. Then, in 2008, a surprising majority of Michigan voters approved a measure to allow people with cancer, Crohn’s disease, AIDS and other ailments to apply for state-issued cards to grow or obtain marijuana. He recalls thinking, “You could sit there and watch the industry evolve or step into the game.”

So he wrote up a business plan for a marijuana-growers school and approached his car-detailing clients as potential investors. Many thought it was a joke, but enough took him seriously. He declines to say how much money he raised.

The next step was finding a landlord. One told him flatly, “I don’t want to take on the risk.” To which Tennant replied, “If you want to let your building sit vacant, go for it.” He eventually settled on 5,000 sq. ft. (465 sq m) in an office building in Southfield, a half hour’s drive north of downtown Detroit.

The first thing you notice when you walk into Med Grow is the pungent smell of marijuana. One of the school’s two grow rooms showcases a single massive marijuana plant that, in terms of height and canopy, is about the size of a kitchen table.

Size matters, because Michigan limits the number of plants patients and caregivers may grow. Patients, more than 18,000 of whom have registered with the state since the law took effect in April 2009, may grow up to 12 marijuana plants. Caregivers–some 7,800 have registered so far–are restricted to a dozen plants for each of the five patients they’re allowed to supply. But the law doesn’t address where registrants can obtain plants or seeds. Nor does it address the issue of pharmacy-like dispensaries.

“This law is still brand-new, and it has a lot of gray areas,” says James McCurtis, spokesman for Michigan’s department of community health, which manages the state’s medical-marijuana program.

Southfield’s police chief, Joseph Thomas Jr., is keeping a close eye on Med Grow. His officers have let its students know that if they get caught with marijuana, then, as Thomas puts it, “we’re going to drop you like a bad habit.” Although he thinks the school has a right to exist, he uses this analogy: “You can teach people how to shoot a gun, but they can’t go out and rob a bank with it.”

Med Grow’s curriculum includes classes on law, accounting and business development. But marketing yourself as a caregiver is tricky. Students are warned against telling acquaintances that they grow marijuana. Med Grow staffer Tom Schuster, 52, a former bank employee, provides a cautionary tale: a few weeks ago, someone ripped a hole in the wall of an apartment he managed and took $15,000 worth of marijuana and $5,000 worth of lamps and other growing equipment. “Stole my whole livelihood,” he says of the incident, which he did not report to the police.

Fear of violent crime is one reason recreational use of marijuana is still illegal almost everywhere. And yet, ironically, the reason Detroit may follow Philadelphia’s lead and liberalize restrictions on possession of small amounts of marijuana is to alleviate the strain on the local criminal-justice system.

In November, Californians will vote on a measure that would legalize marijuana for recreational use–and allow the drug to be taxed. Tom Ammiano, a Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, estimates such a tax could generate up to $2 billion in annual revenue for California. “When I speak about this issue, there’s always a line of people with a business angle–an idea for a dispensary or a new grow light,” he says. “We’re a capitalistic society, and realistically, the tax will push people over the edge [to] realize, ‘There’s gold in them thar hills.’” And Nick Tennant will have his pickax at the ready.

Source: Time Magazine (US)

Medical-Marijuana Advocates Seeking Society’s Approval

The liquid inside the test tube is neon green, the color of lime Kool-Aid or the mad-scientist potions found only in comic books.  Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the contents come with a whiff of danger.  They are a mixture of marijuana and solvents, stirred together in a furious swirl by a lab technician wearing protective goggles and latex gloves.

Running the concoction through a $70,000 machine, the technician can learn with scientific precision the plant’s unique chemical makeup, its potency, even its growing method.

The ultimate goal? Find out how good it is.

“We’re not going to be taken seriously unless we have proof,” said Michael Lee, the owner of the lab and its adjacent medical-marijuana dispensary, Cannabis Therapeutics.

This is the new science of pot, part of a fresh wave of study and innovation among scientists and cannabis advocates all seeking to solve a central dilemma: In Colorado and other states, first came the approval of marijuana as medicine.  Next comes the challenge of proving its effectiveness.

The newest research leaves little doubt that marijuana — or at least its chemical components — has promise in alleviating symptoms of some ailments, while also making clear that the drug is not without its drawbacks, some potentially serious.

What is less certain is whether Colorado’s medical-marijuana system of dispensaries and caregivers — where commitment to scientific rigor and compassionate patient care is largely voluntary — can maximize that treatment potential for the benefit of patients.

Some dispensaries keep detailed patient records and embrace scientific testing in the hopes of providing patients with what works best.  But medical-marijuana users report other dispensaries seem interested in just slinging snazzy weed, regardless of a patient’s needs or ailments.  ( One ad on Craigslist: “Licensed caregiver looking to trade for Widespread Panic tickets.” )

The mainstream medical community, meanwhile, questions whether any system that uses a raw plant as medicine can be optimally effective.  Instead, conventional drug researchers see promise mostly in harvesting marijuana’s ingredients for more traditional medicines and avoiding consumption methods like smoking that can hurt patients’ health.

“If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine,” a panel of experts wrote in a landmark 1999 report for the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, “it lies in its isolated components.”

Most marijuana advocates enthusiastically embrace a future in which pot is as much an accepted medicine as penicillin.  But that future might not come without significant changes to the way medical marijuana is handled.  New medicines require new tests and government approvals.  Those lead to new regulations and new oversight.  There is a focus on standardization, sterility, precision, discipline.

If there were ever a world where marijuana was available behind the counter at the corner pharmacy, the do-it-yourself independence of Colorado’s — and many other states’ — medical-marijuana system might not have a place.  The bud could become obsolete, and dispensaries — both medically inclined and not — could go extinct with it.

Indeed, not every marijuana supporter is watching the development of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals enthusiastically.

“When they get through the FDA with their cannabis-based Click on image to enlarge drugs, no legislature in the country will allow doctors and patients access to whole, smoked marijuana,” said Allen St.  Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

Medical Mystery

Medical marijuana hasn’t always been a strictly on-your-own endeavor.

Historians have found references to the use of cannabis by healers in China and India dating back to at least 2000 B.C.  The Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy wrote about the medical uses of cannabis in the mid-1800s.  Cannabis-based treatments were commonly prescribed in the early 1900s in America before marijuana prohibition, which came about in the 1930s because of concerns over the drug’s psychoactive effects and fears they could lead to criminal behavior.

What was missing, though, was an understanding of how marijuana provided its touted medical benefits — or, for that matter, even a basic understanding of how marijuana gets people stoned.

“We knew marijuana has effects,” said Bob Melamede, a biology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a prominent marijuana activist.  “So the question was, ‘How does it have them?’ ”

Answers arrived starting in the late 1980s with the discovery in the body of something called the endocannabinoid system.  The system acts much like a traffic-control network, with receptors spread out across the brain, the organs, the immune system and various other areas to regulate functions as diverse as appetite, mood and pain.  Using chemicals produced in the body called cannabinoids as traffic cops, the body turns on or off those receptors and controls the different functions.

Sending certain cannabinoids to one receptor and flipping it on, for instance, stimulates appetite.  Tripping another dampens the body’s inflammatory response.

Marijuana also contains cannabinoids that can fit into the endocannabinoid system’s receptors — purely “pot luck,” Melamede cracks.  Ingesting marijuana unleashes into the bloodstream swarms of new cannabinoid molecules that quickly begin linking into the system and flipping switches.  This explains both the medical and recreational effects of the drug — which in many cases are one and the same.

By jiggering with the receptors that control appetite, for instance, marijuana creates the much-joked-about munchies.  But it is that same effect that spurs the appetites and calms the stomachs of cancer and AIDS patients.  In the same way marijuana impairs the motor skills of some users, it can also calm the painful muscle spasticity of multiple sclerosis patients.

Highs and Lows

There is no scientific consensus that marijuana cures any disease or ailment.  But research generally suggests smoking marijuana has pain-killing, muscle-calming, nausea-controlling and appetite-boosting effects in many patients.  That means studies have shown marijuana can provide benefits to patients suffering from each of the eight different medical conditions specified in the state’s medical-marijuana constitutional amendment.

Scientists, though, disagree to what extent marijuana is beneficial and whether marijuana is more effective in those areas than existing treatments.  Medical-marijuana supporters, meanwhile, cite other studies hinting at benefits in treating anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other conditions.

The effects also vary from user to user, and using marijuana is not without its risks.  Studies have shown smoking marijuana may be more harmful to the lungs than smoking cigarettes.  Other studies suggest marijuana could lead to increased anxiety or more severe mental-health problems in some people and dependence in others.  Marijuana is the most commonly cited drug for people seeking treatment for illicit drug abuse, according to the U.S.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mostly, though, mainstream medical-marijuana studies and researchreviews conclude that more thorough clinical trials of the drug are needed.  Those follow-up studies are made difficult by federal drug-control laws, which place tight restrictions on marijuana research.

The proliferation of state medical-marijuana programs has been of little use to researchers, said Cecilia Hillard, a neuroscience professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a past president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society.  Participants in those programs are self-selected, she said.  That means those patients are pre-disposed to thinking marijuana will help, further muddying the scientific analysis of raw marijuana’s benefits and drawbacks.

“It’s hard to say how much people are really using it medicinally versus recreationally,” Hillard said.  “Right now we’re sort of to a point where the claims of medical benefit are so numerous and so over-the-top that you tend to get into the realm of, ‘Well, I just don’t believe any of this.’ People are saying it’s good for everything.”

A handful of recent clinical trials — the first clinical trials of smoked marijuana in this country in 20 years — have provided some clarity.  After being tasked by the California state legislature, the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research sponsored about a half-dozen placebo-controlled trials to assess whether marijuana is effective as a painkiller for HIV and multiple sclerosis patients and for people suffering from nerve damage.

Across the board, the trials found some promise in marijuana as a treatment option.

“I was a little bit surprised, to tell the truth,” said Igor Grant, the center’s director.  “I somewhat expected that what we would get is a mixed result .  .  .  which would not be so unusual.  But the fact that all of them came up with a consistent result makes me feel a little more comfortable in saying we could have something here.”

That does not mean, however, that Grant is ready to proclaim marijuana as a miracle treatment.  For starters, patients in the trials generally continued on the drugs they were already taking for their conditions and used marijuana to supplement.  Second, Grant said, smoking marijuana is just too impractical a delivery method for medicine.  Among the questions: How do you control the dosage?

“Would you prescribe smoking cannabis cigarettes in a hospital room where oxygen tanks may be present?” Grant asked.  “The great likelihood is that we need alternative systems.”

And that is exactly where marijuana’s pharmaceutical gold rush is taking place.

Separating Help From High

Sitting at lunch one day recently in a restaurant near his UCCS office, Melamede, the biology professor, reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out two small vials containing inky green liquid.  They are marijuana extracts, he explains, formulas carefully measured for potency and chemical makeup that can be taken under the tongue in a predictable dosage.  He also has ideas for marijuana skin patches, tongue strips and lozenges, all part of a new publicly traded pharmaceutical venture he has embarked on called Cannabis Science.

“The key thing is,” he said, “we’re addressing the government’s concern that smoked marijuana is not medicine.”

Cannabis Science recently hired a company to help it negotiate the Food and Drug Administration approval process, and Melamede said he is hopeful it won’t be long before the company can begin clinical trials targeting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain patients.

But Melamede knows he is already behind in the race.  GW Pharmaceuticals, a British firm, is currently preparing for its final clinical trials in the United States on a drug called Sativex, a marijuana-derived mouth spray the company intends as a treatment for cancer pain.  The drug has already won approval in Canada and Great Britain and is in the last stages of approval in Spain.

What makes Sativex unique among current pharmaceuticals is that it is a blend of natural cannabinoids made directly from marijuana plants – — grown in southern England — rather than synthetic re-creations of marijuana components, like drugs such as Marinol.

GW believes such an approach will yield better medicine, and it is already experimenting with other cannabinoid combinations for new drugs.

“There are more than 60 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, so we believe that leaves plenty of scope for future development,” GW spokesman Mark Rogerson wrote in an e-mail.

Most exciting to those looking to establish marijuana’s potential benefits as medicine in a more socially accepted form is a cannabinoid called cannabidiol, or CBD.  A batch of new studies suggest it may have medical effects like THC — the chemical in marijuana that gets a user stoned.  But it eliminates the psychoactivity produced by THC.  In other words, it’s medical pot that won’t get you high.

Colorado dispensaries have begun to stock marijuana strains high in CBD.  But to tout a strain as being CBD-rich, it helps inspire consumer confidence to prove that it is, which is where laboratory testing comes in.  Using pricey machines called high-performance liquid chromatography systems, medical-marijuana labs can detail the percentages of THC, CBD and a handful of other cannabinoids in the plant.  The lab work is unchecked by the government and is performed only by labs either connected to or hired by dispensaries.

A number of dispensaries across the state now routinely place little cards detailing the test results next to each strain in their display cases.  Patients can use the cards to pick marijuana suited to their need based on the numbers and not the strain names, which aren’t always descriptive of a strain’s effects.

“We hope to take the mystery out of the names and put in more science,” said Frank Quattrone, the owner of Pure Medical Dispensary in Denver.  “.  .  .  The names, hopefully, will become irrelevant.”

Dispensaries have also used the laboratory analysis as a guide in developing more potent product.  Cannabis Therapeutics in Colorado Springs has developed a hash oil — essentially concentrated marijuana — that it touts as 86 percent THC.  ( Even the most knock-out marijuana buds are usually no more than 20 percent THC.  )

Andreas Rivera, Cannabis Therapeutics’ manager, says the oil will only be sold to terminally ill patients as a form of palliative care.

“It’s really about pain management instead of getting people super stoned,” he said.

But the availability — and marketability — of such products raises a question: Are patients actually using the analyses to find the best medicine or the best high?

Inside Cannabis Therapeutics, it is clear most patients currently see only limited value in the new data.  Some ask about the numbers, but their eyes quickly glaze over during the explanation.  Others skip the numbers entirely, instead choosing by past experience or the much cruder ratio of how much “upper” versus “downer” the strain contains.

Most patients rely to some extent on the advice of the woman working behind the counter, Julie Anderson.

“I usually ask Julie what the best she’s got is,” said patient Frederick Ross, who suffers from such severe appetite loss because of various medical conditions that he eats only once a day.  “I don’t play the numbers.”

But some patients have taken an interest in the new data.  One woman with kinky, waist-length, brown hair crouched in front of the counter to study the numbers for several minutes before making her selection.  She said she has been writing down the THC and CBD ratios of the strains she’s tried and has used the data to guide her decisions.

“I’m trying to apply some analysis to it and some logic based on the information I have,” explained the woman, who asked that her name not be used because she didn’t want her co-workers to know she is a medical-marijuana patient.  “Hopefully I can make a more-educated decision.”

Whatever the efforts by dispensaries to put more science behind their products, though, they’re likely to be met with a sniff from the pharmaceutical industry, which believes most people will never accept taking medicine by smoking a raw plant.

“The current system of distribution may actually prevent cannabis from ever being accepted as a mainstream medicine by most patients and physicians,” GW’s Rogerson said.

People in the medical-marijuana business naturally bristle at such talk.  But among some there is a sense that wider acceptability of marijuana by the medical world might actually restrict marijuana access.

State medical-marijuana programs, NORML’s St.  Pierre explained, function as relative oases for cannabis access — bypassing a whole set of federal rules because the federal government simply refuses to participate.  Right now, marijuana is legally a Schedule I controlled substance because the federal government sees no accepted medical use for it and considers it to have a high potential for abuse.  That classification means doctors can’t prescribe it and pharmacists can’t distribute it.

If marijuana were to be placed in a less-restrictive classification – — as a petition currently pending with the Drug Enforcement Administration requests — doctors potentially would be able to prescribe it.  That ability, though, would bring with it Food and Drug Administration oversight, production controls, inventory caps, distribution limits, security rules and more.  Plus, with a federally blessed system to get patients cannabis in the same way they get cholesterol drugs, why would most state governments continue with their jury-rigged medical-marijuana systems?

“We see this as a boxed canyon,” St.  Pierre said.

Limitless Learning

Back at Cannabis Therapeutics’ lab, John Kopta — a Colorado State University biochemistry grad who runs the facility — is more optimistic.  Only a few other labs in the country, mostly connected to the medical-marijuana industry, are doing what his does.  The more study they do, the more proof they have.  The more proof they have, the more they can lead the way forward.

“There’s dozens of different cannabinoids in the plant, and we know of 10 of them and what they do,” he said.  “It’s really limitless.”

Source: Denver Post (CO)

Bill Would Legalize Marijuana As Therapeutic Option

They’re lighting up joints in Bryn Mawr and Squirrel Hill after putting the kids to bed.

At Abay, an ultra-hip eatery in East Liberty, pro-medical marijuana activists are recruiting and organizing new members over martinis.

And in Harrisburg, some legislators are pushing for passage of a bill that would make Pennsylvania the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana — if New York and Maryland don’t beat them to it.

Pot is hot.

Long known as America’s most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is no longer just a habit for aging baby boomers reliving the ’60s.  Fragile multiple sclerosis sufferers and chemo patients swear by it.  In the movies, positive images abound: In “It’s Complicated,” Santa Barbara matron Meryl Streep gets stoned to hilarious effect, while on television’s “Nurse Jackie,” Edie Falco helps a chemo patient fashion a bong for his joint.

While U.S.  marijuana use has shown a consistent decline since the mid-1990s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, that trend has stalled, with prevalence rates the same in 2009 as they were five years ago.

And back in the real world, affluent forty-somethings are lighting up after work, giving new meaning to “Happy Hour.”

Just ask Lisa ( not her real name ).

“Let me shut the door,” she said during a telephone interview from her Downtown office where she works for a financial institution.  A self-described “urban professional and mom” and wife of a successful lawyer, she likes to sit in her sleek, granite-and-maple kitchen in Squirrel Hill on Friday nights and de-stress with a joint.

“I do it once a week,” Lisa said.  “It’s a nice release from the week’s tensions, and I can feel my body calming down — and it’s less calories than wine,” she added with a laugh.

Even as the drug war continues to rage along our nation’s borders and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website declares marijuana to be “dangerous,” even as Congress refuses to repeal its declaration that smoked marijuana is without “current medical benefit,” recreational use of marijuana has continued unabated in this country.

Now, California — the first state to allow medical marijuana use — will vote in November on a ballot initiative legalizing all pot use.

A new RAND Corp.  study released last week found, however, that while legalizing marijuana could increase consumption, it would also cut the drug’s price by as much as 80 percent — making it unlikely that the cash-strapped state will realize projections for $1 billion in revenue.

If legalization regulating and taxing the sale of pot passes — and a recent California poll found support for the measure at more than 50 percent — other states will surely follow.

Just not Pennsylvania.

A recent Franklin & Marshall poll found that 81 percent of Pennsylvanians supported making medical marijuana legal — up from 76 percent in 2006.  But a medical marijuana bill was introduced only a year ago in the state House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor oppose it.

The measure has not come up for a vote in either chamber.  Still, medical marijuana’s passage in Pennsylvania is only a matter of time, said Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, sponsor of the House bill.

“There’s real momentum” for the bill, said Mr.  Cohen, whose father suffers from Crohn’s disease.  The time has come, he believes, to expand medical options to alleviate patient suffering, citing research that has found marijuana can be therapeutic in treating Crohn’s, cancer, glaucoma and other debilitating conditions.

Karen would agree.  A restaurant manager in Westmoreland County who asked that her real name not be used, she has suffered from bulimia for the past 10 years.  In addition to therapy, she’s found that marijuana is more effective than antidepressants at soothing her stomach and increasing her desire to eat.

“I was on Xanax, but it irritated my stomach, and it’s easy to get hooked on, whereas with marijuana, if I miss a day, it’s not the end of the world,” she said.  “I’m not going to go out and rob a bank so I can get some.”

All of this may be true, but what really seems to be driving the bill is the need for new revenue.  The RAND report notwithstanding, a tax on medical marijuana could add millions to state coffers that weren’t there before.  Plus, the fact that so many other states have passed similar laws — most recently New Jersey, on whom Pennsylvania’s law is based, plus pending approval by New York, Maryland, Minnesota and New Hampshire — may improve the bill’s chances, he said.

“Combined with New Jersey, that will mean we’re all but surrounded,” said Mr.  Cohen.

Still, he hastened to add, Pennsylvania will not follow California’s example in administering the law.

In Los Angeles, dubbed “The Wild West of Weed” by Newsweek last fall, medical marijuana dispensaries have popped up on every corner.  There have been robberies and shootings at the cash-only shops, and otherwise healthy young people with “back pain” are wangling permission from unscrupulous doctors to obtain the drug.

Under proposed legislation, Pennsylvania’s program would be far more restrictive, Mr.  Cohen said, with jurisdiction over it assigned to the state’s Departments of Revenue and Health.  It would permit personal cultivation of up to six plants and would establish a distribution system regulated by the health department.

“Pennsylvania has a very active medical board of licensure,” he said, “and I’m sure nothing will happen like California, where you’ve got doctors located a few steps from the beach.”

Still, it would face a likely veto from whoever occupies the governor’s office.  Both Democrat Dan Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett oppose medical marijuana legislation, and many law enforcement officials remain adamantly adverse to it — even if police in the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia don’t pursue cases involving first-time offenses and small amounts of the drug as aggressively as other drug cases.

The tendency is to work them out as summary offenses, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A.  Zappala Jr., adding, however, that “any time a drug case comes in, even at preliminary hearing level, they’ll always check with our narcotics unit to make sure this isn’t someone known to them.”

In Philadelphia’s jammed courts, marijuana arrests are usually the last cases to be heard during the day, and because an arresting officer can’t wait for hours, the judge usually just throws out the case, said Lynn Abraham, that city’s former district attorney and a vocal opponent of efforts to loosen marijuana laws, including medical marijuana.

“Why is it that in California most people using it are 20 to 35 years old? Give me a break.  Is this what we want to become in Pennsylvania?” she asked.  “A pleasure palace? Yikes.  We’re just going to turn into a bunch of spoiled, self-indulgent dope heads.”

Others in the field of drug addiction oppose the bill for different reasons.  Medical marijuana’s efficacy should be determined by scientific research and the FDA approval process, not by politicians, said Dr.  Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center.

“I do believe marijuana has medicinal properties, so let’s evaluate it like other medicines,” he said.

That’s just the problem, pro-pot activists said — federal drug policies don’t allow research into smoked marijuana.

Because marijuana is classified by federal statute as a Schedule I drug — along with heroin — researchers are prohibited from providing it to study participants , although compounds extracted from cannabis can be used in clinical trials.  Marinol, a synthetic version of pot’s active ingredient, THC, is available by prescription for relieving nausea, and Sativex, which contains THC and other cannabinoids, is undergoing FDA scrutiny.  If made available, it may be so effective for MS and cancer sufferers it may make the medical marijuana debate moot.

Scientific research into marijuana’s risks has found that smoking marijuana does damage the lungs, and it can impair brain function for longer periods of time than alcohol while driving.  And while pot is not considered physically addictive for most adults, pot smoking can be risky for young people.

A current study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry has recruited 20 people — half of them heavy pot smokers — to explore whether smoking marijuana under age 14 increases the risk of schizophrenia, as has been indicated in some studies.

The Obama administration has declared it will not use federal money to prosecute low-level medical marijuana cases as long as the defendants are complying with state law.  But federal drug policy remains unchanged and marijuana’s legalization remains so politically fraught that it makes “any rational approach unlikely,” said Peter Cohen, a physician and an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University who has written extensively on the issue.

“It will be interesting to see what the Department of Justice does should recreational marijuana be legalized,” he said.  If California makes all pot use legal, “at that point there will be a direct conflict between state and federal law, and the Obama administration will probably have no choice but to take action against California’s legalization.

Patrick Nightingale, a local attorney and head of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said his group isn’t using medical marijuana as a stalking horse for future legalization of all marijuana use.

At a recent meeting with medical marijuana supporters, he vigorously urged recruits to get involved with efforts to lobby legislators for passage of a medical-use bill.

It was, in fact, the proverbial smoke-filled back room — in this case, the cave-like Abay bar in East Liberty — where incense curled languorously from ashtrays and mostly young, healthy-looking people lounged on banquettes.  Carefully balancing a martini, Mr.  Nightingale walked through the state’s legislation and asked for volunteers.

A lot of people raised their hands, and, in fact, public reaction across the state in favor of the bill has been overwhelming.

“I’ve been here 25 years, and I’ve never seen more public reaction to any bill,” said Leon Czikowsky, an aide to Mr.  Cohen.

No surprise there: Pro-pot activists are a highly vocal, well-organized, well-funded constituency, as the Obama administration found to its chagrin during the transition after the 2008 election when it created an online site for people to submit ideas to the president under a “crowdsourcing” model in which the “best-rated” ideas would rise to the top.

The highest ranking idea? Legalization of marijuana — along with revoking the Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)

State Medical Marijuana Centers Get Green Light

RI — The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last month to allow the creation of up to three state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, becoming the third state in the country to legalize so-called “compassion centers” after both the House and Senate voted to override the veto of Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65.

The use of medical marijuana for gravely ill patients was legalized by the General Assembly in 2006. But without a legal means to obtain marijuana, patients have to grow it themselves or buy it illegally.

“It’s an opportunity for people to live out their lives in a more peaceful way,” said State Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Dist. 10, who sponsored the bill in the House. “The only people who seem to be prevented from getting marijuana are the people who need it for their diseases.”

Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, also praised the bill. “Rhode Island now has the best law throughout the country for medical marijuana,” Hogan said. Unlike in California, he said, “these are state-regulated, non-profit organizations. All you need in California is a license.”

According to Hogan, there should be three dispensaries statewide by 2011.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Carcieri, said the governor continues to oppose the bill.

“First and foremost, it tends to weaken the laws governing and the perceptions of illicit drugs,” Kempe said, adding that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of drug use among teenagers.

She added that California has seen an increase in crime in the areas surrounding compassion centers, as patients leaving the centers are vulnerable to muggers.

Dan Bernath, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said that evidence of increased crime in areas around dispensaries in California is merely “anecdotal.” The bill, he said, is “a reflection of the understanding that these compassion centers have worked very well” in other states.

“I think it is an acknowledgement that the mood is changing,” Bernath said. “Obama and his attorney general have shown that they’re not interested in using federal law enforcement resources against people operating within the laws of the state.”

Source: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)
Author: Anish Gonchigar, Staff Writer

State Medical Marijuana Centers Get Green Light

RI — The Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last month to allow the creation of up to three state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, becoming the third state in the country to legalize so-called “compassion centers” after both the House and Senate voted to override the veto of Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65.

The use of medical marijuana for gravely ill patients was legalized by the General Assembly in 2006. But without a legal means to obtain marijuana, patients have to grow it themselves or buy it illegally.

“It’s an opportunity for people to live out their lives in a more peaceful way,” said State Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Dist. 10, who sponsored the bill in the House. “The only people who seem to be prevented from getting marijuana are the people who need it for their diseases.”

Stephen Hogan, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, also praised the bill. “Rhode Island now has the best law throughout the country for medical marijuana,” Hogan said. Unlike in California, he said, “these are state-regulated, non-profit organizations. All you need in California is a license.”

According to Hogan, there should be three dispensaries statewide by 2011.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for Carcieri, said the governor continues to oppose the bill.

“First and foremost, it tends to weaken the laws governing and the perceptions of illicit drugs,” Kempe said, adding that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of drug use among teenagers.

She added that California has seen an increase in crime in the areas surrounding compassion centers, as patients leaving the centers are vulnerable to muggers.

Dan Bernath, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said that evidence of increased crime in areas around dispensaries in California is merely “anecdotal.” The bill, he said, is “a reflection of the understanding that these compassion centers have worked very well” in other states.

“I think it is an acknowledgement that the mood is changing,” Bernath said. “Obama and his attorney general have shown that they’re not interested in using federal law enforcement resources against people operating within the laws of the state.”

Source: Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)
Author: Anish Gonchigar, Staff Writer

14 Hawaii religious marijuana advocates indicted

HONOLULU — The founder and director of The Hawaii Cannabis Ministry and 13 associates are facing federal marijuana charges.

Federal authorities told a news conference Friday that Roger Christie led a major marijuana growing, processing and distribution ring.

Christie says he uses marijuana as a sacrament. But authorities say neither his ministry nor state medical marijuana laws protect him from federal prosecution.

Federal officials seized 3,000 plants, with a retail value of $4.8 million. Four Big island residences are facing forfeiture.

The defendants were arrested Thursday and flown to Honolulu. Authorities say six were released on bond. Christie and seven others remain in custody pending detention hearings next week.

Future Doctors Support Medical Marijuana

The AMA’s med student branch, the Medical Student Section, unanimously passed a resolution supporting medical marijuana at the AMA national convention this month. With the other large national med student group, the American Medical Student Association, already supporting it, it looks like therapeutic cannabis has a future in US medicine.

 

The Medical Student Section (MSS) of the American Medical Association (AMA) overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution urging the AMA to support the reclassification of marijuana for medical use at the AMA’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this month. The resolution will now go before the AMA House of Delegates for a final vote at its interim meeting in November.

After a lengthy series of whereases detailing scientific support for therapeutic uses of cannabis, the MSS resolved that:

RESOLVED, That our AMA support reclassification of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance into a more appropriate schedule; and be it further

RESOLVED, That this resolution be forwarded to the House of Delegates at I-08.
With some 50,000 members, the MSS is the largest and most influential organization of medical students in the US. The other major medical student group in the county, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), which split from the AMA in the heady days of the 1960s to pursue a more socially activist agenda, endorsed rescheduling marijuana in 1993 and added its own resolution endorsing clinical research on medical marijuana in 1999. (AMSA claims 68,000 members, but also includes pre-med students.)

Those two organizations join a growing list of medical groupings supporting medical marijuana, including the AIDS Action Council, the Alaska Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Nurses Association, the American Preventive Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the California Academy of Family Physicians, the California Medical Association, the California Pharmacists Association, the Connecticut Nurses Association, Cure AIDS Now, the Florida Medical Association, the Los Angeles County AIDS Commission, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the National Association for Public Health Policy, the National Association of People with AIDS, the National Nurses Society on Addictions, the New England Journal of Medicine, the New Mexico Medical Society, Physicians for Social Responsiblity, the San Francisco Medical Society, the Virginia Nurses Society on Addictions, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, and state nurses associations in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to the medical marijuana education and advocacy group Patients Out of Time.

The most recent addition to that list was the American College of Physicians (ACP), which adopted a resolution called for rescheduling of marijuana and an expansion of research into its medical efficacy in February. With 124,000 members, the ACP is the country’s second largest physician group, second only to the AMA.

But the AMA remains recalcitrant. Its most recent recommendation on medical marijuana, adopted in 2001, calls for further study, but urges that marijuana remain at Schedule 1 pending the outcome of those studies. The resolution passed by the MSS is designed to prod the organization forward.

“This is a positive and necessary step in the right direction,” said Dr. David Ostrow, a member of the AMA and Chair of the Medical & Scientific Advisory Board of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. “We are hopeful that the full house of delegates will follow the example set by the American College of Physicians earlier this year and vote to support this resolution, thereby placing the needs and safety of our patients above politics.”

“Having the AMA’s endorsement would bring this issue even more into the mainstream,” said Kris Hermes, communications director for ASA. “Having the ACP endorse earlier this year was a huge step forward, and this is just a way for more of the medical establishment to acknowledge the science and evidence around the efficacy of medical marijuana and that people can benefit from it. And the fact that the MSS passed this is very significant,” Hermes continued. “With 50,000 members, it’s a group that has the clout to push the AMA forward.”

The MSS may have some clout, but it can’t do it alone, said Sunil Aggarwal, a University of Washington medical student and ASA member who guided the resolution to passage in Chicago. “If it’s just us, we lose,” he said. “Between now and November, we’ll be trying to get different organizations within the AMA to stand with us. We’ll be going after the state medical societies in all the medical marijuana states, and we’ll be building alliances with groups that are our allies, like the ACP,” he strategized. “We have to be careful, though. There are some forces that would like to quash us, like the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Even though they’re a relatively new organization, everyone tends to defer to them on matters of addiction and substance abuse. If they say no, the AMA might get cold feet.”

But even if the battle is not won this year, he and his colleagues are the wave of the future, Aggarwal said. “The two organizations that represent medical students nationally have now both called for the reclassification of marijuana,” he said. “We’re the future doctors of America. These are the people who are going to be the leaders in American medicine, and now they are officially supporting medical marijuana,” he said. “This is a big milestone.”