SACRAMENTO More than four years after California voters legalized medical
marijuana, researchers announced Thursday the first batch of studies
planned under a $3 million state effort to determine the value of marijuana
as medicine.

The four studies approved by the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research are
the first step by the state to set concrete guidelines for use of the drug
by patients who suffer illnesses such as AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer
and glaucoma.

Research teams at the University of California at San Francisco and San
Diego will look at smoked marijuana's effect on HIV-related pain.

Another study will focus on whether marijuana can ease spasticity caused by
multiple sclerosis.

A fourth research team will examine concerns about the drug's effect on the
driving abilities of people with AIDS or MS.

Igor Grant, a psychiatry professor at UC San Diego and the center's
director, said university research unfettered by a political agenda should
answer basic questions about medical marijuana while helping to "reset the
national thermostat on this issue."

For years, the federal government has been largely unwilling to fund
exhaustive clinical studies of marijuana's potential therapeutic value,
preferring instead to support research into the drug's effects as an
illegal narcotic.

But federal officials have increasingly called for scientific proof in the
face of a groundswell movement that resulted in legalization of medical
marijuana in California and a half-dozen other states.

The drug remains an illegal narcotic under federal law, and the U.S.
Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to medical marijuana next month.

Grant and others hope the California research effort, which won state
funding last year, can spur even more ambitious medical marijuana studies
backed by the federal government.

Though the four studies could begin as soon as May 1, a key hurdle remains.

The only source of research-grade marijuana in the United States is a
federal farm at the University of Mississippi.

The California researchers have yet to win approval from a fleet of
agencies--including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug
Administration--that will be needed to obtain the research cannabis.

Grant and the researchers don't expect snags.

Federal regulators are interested, Grant said, as long as marijuana
researchers are "serious people looking at serious medical questions and
not approaching it from some advocacy position."


Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Fri, 23 Feb 2001
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2001 Chicago Tribune Company
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Author: Eric Bailey, Los Angeles Times