Ruling Jeopardizes Study of ‘Pot’ for Arthritis Pain

A national debate is about to begin over the study and use of marijuana for medical purposes. On the same day that the University of California announced a new statewide, state-funded initiative to rigorously study the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis, the Supreme Court also announced its decision to ban the use of medical marijuana.

Arthritis patients are directly affected by the arguments since the new ruling may jeopardize the establishment of places like the Center for Medicinal Cannabis research (CMCR). As a consequence the study of pot for the future treatment of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and its relief of symptoms like chronic pain, insomnia and depression, could be permanently halted.

Several leading scientists are behind the move to study the medical uses of marijuana. According to Donald Abrams, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, the setting up of research centers like the CMCR represents “an important opportunity to continue to evaluate the therapeutic potential of cannabis.”

Just last month, a new study published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that an extract from cannabis called cannbidiol has immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory actions that combine to produce a ‘potent anti-arthritis’ effect.

The CMCR plans to initially focus on the symptoms and conditions for which cannabis might be a useful treatment option, including chronic pain.

The author of the legislation, Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara,) commented that, “The politics of medical marijuana are behind us as we begin the important work of researching the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.”

The establishment of CMCR is the direct result of legislation passed in October 1999, which calls for a three-year program overseeing objective, high quality medical research that will “…enhance understanding of the efficacy and adverse effects of marijuana as a pharmacological agent.”

Data from research studies will be used to develop guidelines for appropriate pharmaceutical use of medicinal cannabis. California voters approved such use in 1996, but exactly what role the substance should play in patient care, and how it should be administered as a pharmaceutical agent, is ambiguous because of the lack of definitive research.

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR), headquartered at UCSD, will be a collaboration between UCSD and UCSF, two of the UC system’s leading biomedical research campuses. The CMCR will administer $3 million in first-year funding to support and coordinate scientific research at universities and research centers throughout California, assessing the use of cannabis as an alternative for treating specific medical conditions.

Most of the studies to be carried out are anticipated to be patient trials although there is also interest in funding some basic research that has direct relevance to understanding safety, efficacy, and mechanisms of action of cannabis chemicals for the conditions in question.

The cannabis to be used in the studies will be obtained from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in accordance with procedures developed by the Public Health Service. Studies may also utilize alternative, non-smoked preparations of cannabis, as these become available through pharmaceutical research and are approved for clinical trials by the appropriate regulatory bodies.

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