No announcement yet.

Patients Plead for Pot: New Era of Marijuana Research Finds Many Possible Uses

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    Patients Plead for Pot: New Era of Marijuana Research Finds Many Possible Uses

    Patients Plead for Pot

    New Era of Marijuana Research Finds Many Possible Uses
    By Daniel J. DeNoon WebMD Medical News
    Reviewed by Dr. Tonja Wynn Hampton

    Angel McClary needs marijuana.

    The mother of two teenage children is opposed to drug abuse, but she's been inhaling or eating marijuana -- or cannabis, as she prefers to call it -- every 2 hours for the last 4 years. She has to.

    In 1995, the Oakland, Calif., resident came down with a bizarre set of symptoms: paralysis of the right side of her body, seizures, and horrible pain. None of the medicines her doctors gave her did any good, and some of them made things much worse.

    "I went through all kinds of different doctors who told me that my condition was very complicated and that I would never get out of my wheelchair -- but I have two children and couldn't accept that," McClary tells WebMD. "I had no alternative to any other medication. It wasn't until 1997. I was suffering so greatly from pain and seizures that I tried cannabis, and it worked for me. I started getting sensation and some movement in my muscles, and my nerves seemed all of a sudden activated."

    Finally, repeated tests show that McClary has a small, inoperable brain tumor. She and her doctor think the marijuana may be keeping it from growing larger -- but neither wants to stop treatment to see whether this is the case.

    In a way, though, McClary is one of the lucky ones. She's one of only 14 people licensed by the state of California to possess marijuana for medical reasons. Even so, federal law prohibits the sale of the substance. Ever since the government shut down the medical-users buyers club where she used to buy it she's had to obtain it from people who could go to jail for giving it to her.

    McClary literally can't eat food unless she has cannabis in her system. Other patients -- particularly those taking cancer chemotherapy -- say the drug relieves their nausea and helps them regain their appetite. Still other patients take the drug to relieve seizures, to stop pain, or even to treat brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Like McClary, many patients swear by the drug. But nobody knows for sure which patients would benefit, or even how the drug works.

    Chuck Thomas is director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit group that lobbies for reform of marijuana laws. Thomas says that eight states already have legalized marijuana for medical use. Although federal law prohibits the sale and possession of marijuana, nearly all arrests are made at the state level. Thus state legalization of medical marijuana offers patients a high degree of protection.

    "Oregon has a medical marijuana registry -- people send in their doctor's records and the state issues an ID card," Thomas tells WebMD. "There are more than 600 doctors registered with the program serving about 1,800 patients at this point. That shows there is a tremendous medical need for marijuana. Also it shows that these aren't quacks and Dr. Feelgoods writing scripts, because this is only three patients per doctor. This is really a legitimate issue."

    Why are doctors prescribing marijuana? Medical use of the herb goes back centuries. Western medicine was just beginning to explore its uses when the federal government in 1937 made marijuana all but impossible to obtain. It remains classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act --- that is, a drug with a high abuse potential, a drug with no accepted medical use, and one that is unsafe for use even under medical supervision.

    Many disagree with this assessment. In 1988, the administrative law judge for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ordered reclassification of marijuana to permit medical use. This order was overruled by the DEA leadership, which in 1992 issued a final rejection of all pleas for reclassification. The debate continued among medical professionals, culminating in a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine recommending clinical trials to explore medical uses for marijuana and in the recommendation that short-term use be permitted for certain patients under strict medical supervision.

    "Medical marijuana research has been thwarted by federal officials applying restrictions not applied to other medical substances," Thomas says. Even so, the 1990s saw an explosion of research into marijuana and the many chemicals found in the plant.

    Stimulating this research was the finding that the human body makes its own cannabis-like substances -- and that both the human brain and human immune systems are highly sensitive to many of the chemicals found in marijuana. Studies strongly suggest that these chemicals -- called cannabinoids -- play important natural roles in pain, in control of movement, and in memory. The brain and cells of the immune system are chock-full of tiny outlets -- receptors -- that set in motion complex chains of events when cannabinoids plug into them.

    The problem is that nobody knows for sure what will happen when marijuana is used for a long period of time, as it would be by a patient with a chronic illness.

    Sam A. Deadwyler, PhD, is vice chair of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His laboratory is working hard to figure out the specific effects of cannabinoids on the brain and nervous system.

    "We have lots of information about what happens when people take marijuana -- but we don't know what happens when you block those cannabinoid receptors," Deadwyler tells WebMD. "Until we do, you don't have a good picture of what the [natural cannabis-like] substance is doing. I think this is a critical issue because people who would take marijuana for medicinal purposes would be taking it regularly."

    Other researchers verify the crucial role of cannabinoid receptors.

    Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod, PhD, tells WebMD, "If you knock out the cannabinoid receptors in mice, the [mice] only live half as long. The fact that this system has such importance to life, it must be important for medical research. ... But it is very difficult to work with humans and marijuana because of the legal restrictions.

    But Deadwyler worries that taking marijuana has more than just the medicinal effect one desires.

    "The issue is that marijuana taken for medicinal purposes is not a clean drug," he says. "There are nine to 15 different functions of cannabinoid receptors ranging from pain relief to euphoria. There aren't going to be any selective actions, so a person taking the drug for relief of nausea is also going to be euphoric and is going to be impaired in terms of driving and memory and so on."

    And there is more to worry about. Aside from its effects on the brain, marijuana also affects the immune system. Evgueni V. Berdyshev, PhD, is a cannabinoid researcher at the University of Minnesota, in Austin. He worries that while marijuana may relieve cancer patients' nausea, it might reduce the body's ability to fight the disease itself.

    "Now people are agreeing that cannabinoids have a harmful effect on immune responses," Berdyshev tells WebMD. "Possibly this cannabinoid system may play some role in cancer progression. So one principal impact of marijuana use for cancer patients may be to increase the rate of cancer in patients. On the other hand, there are different types of cancers. Some cancer cells are hormone dependent, and their growth may be slowed by cannabinoids."

    McClary now is able to walk and drive a car. The drug's side effect -- its 'high' -- no longer affects her. She speaks clearly, her memory appears excellent, and she clearly has a lot of energy. The only side effect she is worried about is what will happen to her if her cannabis is taken away.

    "People don't understand that this is not about pot -- it is about real people, real lives, real families," she says. "Here in the U.S., patients are under attack like in a civil war. We are innocent in a war that is attacking our own people, the weakest among us. The whole thing is terrible, but here is the government picking on the weak and the innocent, and that is wrong. That is really wrong."

    the political paradox

    It's kind of a catch-22 for the woman in the article, isn't it. She has legal permission to use marijuana, but can only obtain it through illegal means. Let's all hear it for putting the patient first.

    Personally, I'd love to see a pill/inhaler or something that would allow people to get the benefit of marijuana without damaging your lungs. I'm not sure how much of a compromise there with the current efforts to produce a marijuana-based drug, as far as how much medical benefit might be lost by the time its processed. Perhaps they're figuring out how to "do it right." I'm just not sure.

    David Berg


      DEA Commission's recommendation

      Let's all give a round of jeers to the "Partnership for a Drug-Free America" and all the other organizations and programs that have filled our jails with pot smokers. Ever wonder how many of those people were merely seeking relief of pain without resorting to narcotics? Washington must be very proud of the fact that they are keeping pain sufferers from getting the relief Marijuana can provide.

      According to the report commissioned by McCaffrey, the way to get the best effective relief from pot is to smoke it. There are already several drugs available designed to deliver cannibinoids. The problem is none of them are as effective as smoking it. As a pipe smoker, I don't think it would be that big of a jump for me to smoke it. At least, according to all the reports, I would not have to deal with the constant pins-and-needles and pulsing pain I now endure 99 percent of the time. [img]/forum/images/smilies/frown.gif[/img]

      What do you think the feds would do if those states that have passed medical marijuana laws decided to go ahead in spite of what Washington says only they decided to place a tax equal to three times that on a pack of cigarettes on every seven grams? Can you imagine the amount of taxes this would generate? [img]/forum/images/smilies/wink.gif[/img] How soon do you think other states would pass medical marijuana laws? [img]/forum/images/smilies/biggrin.gif[/img]

      "And so it begins."
      "And so it begins."



        I believe Wise Young said it best somewhere on a different board at this site. People have been reporting pain relief for 20 years, what does it take to get serious about clinical trials????

        I smoke it now but I would like a different delivery system. I hope you are right David !