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    Medical Marijuana Slowly Gains Ground

    Clinical Studies Begin to Replace Emotion with Evidence

    Early Clinical Findings Support More Research continued...

    "Much of the published work on marijuana and the immune system is focused on animals and in vitro studies," Abrams tells WebMD. "And, well, if you flood a lot of petri dishes with THC [the active ingredient in marijuana], the immune-cell cultures are going to do poorly.

    "In our clinical trial we really didn't see any detriment to the immune system from smoking cannabis. Basically we saw no perturbation of HIV viral load, no detriment to the immune system, and no significant interaction with anti-HIV drugs."

    With CMCR funds, Abrams is now doing his peripheral neuropathy study. And he's well on the way to launching a study to see whether adding marijuana to other pain drugs can give relief to dying cancer patients. Overall, the CMCR now has five full-fledged clinical trials under way, which will enroll some 450 patients.

    Doctors' Shifting Attitudes on Medical Marijuana

    In the last week of July 2003, Medscape -- WebMD's web site for medical professionals -- asked its members what they thought about medical marijuana. It wasn't a scientific poll, although a member's vote is counted only once. Still, the results were surprising. There was a huge response. Three out of four doctors -- and nine out of 10 nurses -- said they favored decriminalization of marijuana for medical uses.

    Is it a real trend? Abrams thinks so, but warns that long-held attitudes are slow to change.

    "I was pretty much the Lone Ranger of medical marijuana research a few years ago. But not now," he says. "Still, researchers are wary of marijuana research. They feel their reputation may be tainted. And they may be right. For several years I've been invited to do grand rounds at a local hospital in the Bay area. Last year they disinvited me, and I hear it was because of my marijuana research. I've been disinvited from other speaking engagements, too."

    "I think these attitudes will change over time -- but it will be slow-going," Mattison says. "Dr. Abrams' comment is typical. People in the medical profession may chuckle at marijuana research and think it is not a bona fide area for scientific investigation. But that will change as the science becomes more clear and more understandable and there are, at some point, some practical applications."

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