SAN FRANCISCO — Smoking marijuana eased HIV-related pain in some patients in a small study that nevertheless represented one of the few rigorous attempts to find out if the drug has medicinal benefits. The Bush administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy quickly sought to shoot holes in the experiment. The study, conducted at San Francisco General Hospital from 2003 to 2005 and published Monday in the journal Neurology, involved 50 patients suffering from HIV-related foot pain known as peripheral neuropathy. There are no drugs specifically approved to treat that kind of pain.
Three times daily for nearly a week, the patients smoked marijuana cigarettes machine-rolled at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the only legal source for the drug recognized by the federal government. Half the patients received marijuana, while the other 25 received placebo cigarettes that lacked the drug’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Scientists said the study was the first one published that used a comparison group, which is generally considered the gold standard for scientific research.
Thirteen patients who received marijuana told doctors their pain eased by at least a third after smoking pot, while only six of those smoking placebos said likewise. The marijuana smokers reported an average pain reduction of 34 percent, double the drop reported by the placebo smokers as measured with a widely accepted pain scale.
“These results provide evidence that there is measurable medical benefit to smoking cannabis for these patients,” said Dr. Donald Abrams, the University of California, San Francisco professor who led the study.
Many critics of smoked marijuana agree THC has promise as a painkiller, but they argue the smoke itself is harmful. “People who smoke marijuana are subject to bacterial infections in the lungs,” said David Murray, chief scientist at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Is this really what a physician who is treating someone with a compromised immune system wants to prescribe?” Murray also questioned the statistical relevance of study with just 50 participants in the test.
Dr. Mark Ware, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal conducting similar tests, defended Abrams’ study as sound and statistically reliable. The study is one of the few human tests in a research field nearly devoid of federal funding.
“This is a valid medicine and I want safe access to my medication,” said Diana Dodson, a 50-year-old grandmother of five who participated in the test in 2004. California and 10 other states have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the federal government considers it a dangerous drug, like cocaine or heroin. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that state laws do not protect users from the federal ban.
To conduct the test, Abrams needed authorization from eight academic and government agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration. The study cost about $1 million and was paid for by the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which has sponsored several smoked marijuana tests.
— Article from MPP.org
–See Neurology Journal at Neurology.org
Marijuana Policy Project Press Release
By Bruce Mirken, MPP Director of Communications
SAN FRANCISCO — A University of California at San Francisco study appearing in this week’s issue of the journal Neurology puts to rest any doubts about the need to change the laws to allow for legal access to marijuana for the seriously ill, officials of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in Washington, D.C. said today.
The trial involved HIV/AIDS patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy, a painful condition stemming from nerve damage done either by HIV itself or by the drugs used to treat it. There are no FDA-approved treatments for the condition, which eventually afflicts about one-third of those who are infected with HIV. Neuropathic pain — which is also common in other illnesses, including multiple sclerosis — is notoriously resistant to conventional pain drugs, including highly addictive opiates.
UCSF researcher Dr. Donald Abrams and colleagues tested the efficacy of smoked marijuana on both HIV neuropathy and a type of laboratory-induced pain specially designed to provide an objective measurement. In both types of pain, marijuana provided significant relief.
“This study directly contradicts the federal government’s assertion that marijuana is not a safe and effective medicine,” said MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia. “Even though this clinical trial had to be conducted using government-supplied marijuana that’s of notoriously poor quality, marijuana was shown to be safe and effective in treating a condition for which there are literally no FDA-approved treatments. It’s time for our government to wake up, smell the science, and change the law to allow suffering patients legal access to medical marijuana.”
HIV/AIDS patients who have used marijuana to treat neuropathy weren’t surprised by the results of the study. “The pain used to be so bad that I sometimes couldn’t walk or even stand for more than a few minutes, and other drugs they gave me didn’t help much or made me too dizzy,” said Eric Billings of Lewiston, Montana. “Medical marijuana relieves my pain and gives me my mobility back when nothing else really helped.”
— REFERENCE: D.I. Abrams, C.A. Jay, S.B. Shade, H. Vizoso, H. Reda, S. Press, M.E. Kelly, M.C. Rowbotham, and K.L. Petersen. Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Neurology; 68:515.
With more than 21,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit MPP.org.