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    Medical Marijuana Slowly Gains Ground

    Clinical Studies Begin to Replace Emotion with Evidence

    Expert Panels, Breakthrough Findings continued...

    "There are cannabinoid receptor systems in the brain areas that regulate motion -- and, in retrospect, we know that people with multiple sclerosis and difficulty with spasticity sometimes use medicinal cannabis. That is one of the Institute of Medicine indications for clinical trials," Mattison tells WebMD.

    "There is a cannabinoid receptor for pain, another site that modulates appetite -- there's going to be a wealth of basic science research that will hopefully have clinical and practical applications to many different medical indications."

    Early Clinical Findings Support More Research

    Although funded through 2003 and only at various University of California locations by the California state legislature, the CMCR has, by default, become the national clearinghouse for marijuana research.

    The CMCR works closely with state and federal regulators - including the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (the only legal source of marijuana in the U.S.). CMCR provides funds for clinical trials of marijuana. It's won national praise for holding its investigators to the highest scientific standards.

    Even before the CMCR was up and running, one stubborn researcher managed to launch a marijuana clinical trial. Donald Abrams, MD, now chief of hematology/oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, is best known for being one of the first doctors to recognize and treat the illness that came to be known as AIDS. AIDS patients have long used marijuana to fight the terrible wasting the disease causes. It's also been said to help an extremely painful condition known as peripheral neuropathy -- a painful nerve disease that has few effective treatments.

    Abrams wanted to get federal approval to see whether marijuana really works for this condition. But years of effort proved futile in the face of opposition by federal agencies. Finally, Abrams had a brainstorm. Marijuana affects the immune system. It was just possible that the drug was making patients worse, not better. He submitted a research proposal to look for a harmful effect of marijuana -- and finally won the approval he sought.

    The results of that trial appear in the August 19 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. And they contradict previous studies done in the test tube and with lab animals.

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