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Study: Pot Use Safe For Hiv Patients



Newshawk: Ellen Komp
Pubdate: Thu, 13 Jul 2000
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Francisco Examiner
Contact: letters@examiner.com

Author: Ulysses Torassa, Examiner Medical Writer
Note: Eric Brazil of The Examiner staff contributed to this report.


Advocates Hopeful UCSF Researcher's Work Will Pave Way For Medical Use Of Marijuana

DURBAN, South Africa - The first U.S. study using medical marijuana for people with HIV
has found that smoking the plant does not disrupt the effect of antiretroviral drugs that keep
the virus in check.

The results were announced Thursday at the 13th International AIDS Conference and are the
first to be released from research conducted at San Francisco General Hospital into the use of
marijuana by people infected with HIV. Given the scarcity of data about the possible medical
uses of marijuana, the results have been eagerly awaited by advocates in this heavily debated

It took four years for UC San Francisco professor Donald Abrams to jump through hurdles
erected by the federal government to get the research under way, and in the process he was
restricted to focusing on marijuana's safety rather than its effectiveness. The 67 people who
participated in the study were kept in the hospital during the 25-day study period.

"The fact of the matter is that any good clinician with his eyes and ears open has known for a
long time that cannabis is very useful in the treatment of the AIDS reduction syndrome and
does not harm patients," said Dr. Lester Greenspoon, [sic] professor of psychiatry at Harvard
University and author of "Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine."

"When all the dust settles, and when marijuana is admitted to the U.S. pharmacopoeia, it will
be seen as one of the least toxic drugs in the whole compendium. What Don (Abrams) has
done is put the seal of approval on a new drug with his double blind study."

Researchers were especially keen to study people on drug regimes that contain protease
inhibitors, because the key ingredient in marijuana is metabolized by the same system in the
liver as those drugs.

The participants, nearly all men, were divided into three groups, with one set smoking
marijuana, another taking a Food and Drug Administration approved pill containing
marijuana's main ingredient, and a third taking a placebo pill.

In all groups, tests showed that the level of virus in the blood dropped or remained
undetectable by current tests.

But those taking marijuana either by smoking or in a pill form saw their level drop slightly
more than those on the placebo.

Furthermore, researchers found that those using the pill or smoking marijuana gained an
average of 2.2 kilograms, compared to .6 kilograms in the placebo group.

Marijuana was first used widely by people with AIDS to combat the nausea and extreme
weight loss that comes with the disease.

Abrams called the lower viral levels in the marijuana patients intriguing, but said it was not
statistically significant.

"The good news is that there is no statistical difference between the three groups," he said.

"Now that we've demonstrated the safety in a population as vulnerable as people with HIV, I
think it paves the way for doing studies of efficacy," Abrams said.

Indeed, Abrams, an oncologist, said he hopes to soon begin studying the use of smoked
marijuana for cancer patients to see if it can control nausea and pain, including the
nerve-based pain that is often beyond the reach of opiate painkillers like morphine.

Abrams said he expects to release more results from the study soon, including marijuana's
effect on appetite, testosterone levels and body composition.

Eric Brazil of The Examiner staff contributed to this report.
MAP posted-by: Jo-D
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