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December 2, 1997

Researchers Tout Marijuana's Medical Benefit As Pain Reliever
At Annual Neuroscience Conference

        December 2, 1997, Washington, D.C.:   Several of the nation's top researchers in pain management unveiled new evidence indicating that some of the active chemicals found in marijuana may serve as safe and effective analgesics to patients suffering from chronic or severe pain.  Scientists from the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Texas, Brown University, and elsewhere presented their findings at the 27th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on October 26.
        "Cannabinoids, at least in animal models, can reduce pain," said Dr. Ian Meng, a pharmacology expert at the University of California at San Francisco.  Meng noted that the effectiveness of specific cannabinoids as pain relieving agents appeared comparable to those of opiate-based drugs like morphine.  Researchers added that the use of cannabinoids like THC and other chemical compounds found in marijuana did not appear to carry the risks associated with the use of opiates, such as addiction and tolerance.  For example, a team of Brown University scientists reported that low doses of cannabinoids were not pleasure reinforcing in animals, while high doses were aversive -- causing animals to avoid the place where cannabinoids were given.
        Researchers from the University of Texas reported that the localized injection of anandamide -- a cannabinoid-like chemical present in the brain -- greatly relieved the inflammation associated with arthritis.  An additional team of scientists from the University of Minnesota found that certain cannabinoids can also block the onset of an extreme sensitivity to pain called hyperalgesia, a condition often associated with nerve disease and spinal cord injuries.
        "These results suggest that local administration of ... cannabinoid[s] to the site of injury may be able to both prevent pain from occurring and reduce pain which has already occurred without producing side effects," University of Texas researcher Dr. Kenneth Hargreaves said.
        NORML board member Dr. John Morgan of City University of New York (CUNY) Medical School said that these latest findings may hold larger implications for medical marijuana research. "Not only do the studies provide strong support for the use of cannabinoids -- including THC -- as analgesic medications, but they also demonstrate that cannabinoids are minimally subject to misuse and dependence."
        Many of the neuroscientists attending the annual conference agreed that marijuana's apparent utility as a painkiller would broaden the drug's appeal as a medicine.  "People who have serious illnesses will take the steps they feel they have to take," explained Brown University psychologist J. Michael Walker.  "Certainly the new research [presented at the conference] would lead people in that direction."
        NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said that the findings directly challenge the federal government's position that marijuana is without medical value.  "To continue to deny medical marijuana to seriously ill patients in light of growing medical evidence of the drug's therapeutic value is unjustified and inhumane," Stroup said.
        Presently, federal law forbids the medical use of any cannabinoid other than THC.
        For more information, please contact either NORML board member Dr. John Morgan @ (212) 650-8255 or Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.  Abstracts of cannabinoid studies presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference are available from The NORML Foundation upon request @ (202) 483-8751.

British Doctors Praise Marijuana's Medical Properties, Argue For Change In Law

        December 2, 1997, London, England:   The British Medical Association announced its support for legal changes to allow for the legalization of chemical compounds in marijuana found to have medical value.   The BMA's recommendations appeared in a comprehensive report published by the Board of Science and Education entitled: "The Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis."
        The 80-page review concluded that "present evidence indicates that [cannabinoids -- active chemical compounds in marijuana] are remarkably safe drugs, with a side-effects profile superior to many [conventional] drugs."  Consequently, the Association is urging that marijuana prohibition be lifted to facilitate further cannabinoid research and to allow cannabinoids to be prescribed to seriously ill patients.
        "The Government should consider changing the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow cannabinoids to be prescribed to patients with particular medical conditions whose symptoms are being inadequately controlled under present arrangements," a November 18, 1997, BMA press release stated.
        The BMA further suggested that law enforcement take a lenient view of those currently using marijuana for medicinal reasons.   "While research is under way, the police, the courts, and other prosecuting authorities should be made aware of the medical reasons for the unlawful use of cannabis by those suffering from certain medical conditions," the report stated.
        Recommendations from the BMA traditionally springboard a drug into federal acceptance.  Presently, the BMA represents the interests of over 100,000 physicians worldwide.
        For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.

New Hampshire Legislator Prepares To Introduce Bills Allowing For Medical Marijuana, Domestic Hemp Cultivation In 1998

        December 2, 1997, Keene, NH:   State legislator Timothy Robertson (D - Cheshire) intends to introduce legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for medical and industrial purposes in 1998, the Associated Press reported on Monday.  Robertson previously backed a marijuana decriminalization bill this spring.
        "I just think prohibition doesn't work," Robertson told the AP.  He said that he believed the use of alcohol and tobacco cause greater societal harm than marijuana.
        Presently, New Hampshire is one of a handful of states that allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for serious illnesses.  However, because the law is in direct conflict with federal restrictions prohibiting the use of marijuana as a medicine, state-licensed physicians who prescribe the drug may face federal penalties.  In addition, the federal government does not presently allow pharmacies to issue the drug.  As a result, many legislators are now examining ways to protect patients who may be using marijuana medicinally from state criminal charges.
        Robertson said that he hopes his legislation encourages politicians to examine the medical marijuana issue.  "When they hear the testimony, some of it will stick in their head and what they think one year will change the next year," he said.
        Robertson said that he will also introduce legislation allowing state-licensed farmers to cultivate hemp for industrial purposes.   This year, at least Legislatures discussed measures pertaining to the cultivation of industrial hemp, the largest number since the federal government first outlawed the plant in 1937.  Often described as marijuana's misunderstood cousin, industrial hemp is from the same plant species (Cannabis sativa) that produces marijuana.  Unlike marijuana, however, industrial hemp has only minute amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana much of its euphoric and medicinal properties.   Currently most of Europe and Asia grow hemp for industrial purposes.  Both Australia and Canada engage in hemp cultivation for research purposes.
        Robertson said that he anticipates the House's Environmental and Agriculture Committee to approve the bill shortly after the Legislature begins on January 1, 1998.
        For more information, please contact Paul Armentano of NORML @ (202) 483-5500.