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Bay Area Researcher Breaks New Ground in Pot Study June 6, 2005 - cbs5.com
Until 1942, American doctors could prescribe marijuana to their patients, but researchers could not investigate its medicinal benefits until recently.
Medical historians say medicinal use of cannabis began in China 5000 years ago. Concern over its abuse let the U.S. government to ban the drug in the 20th century. Today, marijuana is classified as a dangerously addictive drug with no accepted medical use. However, not everyone agrees -- especially when it comes to their patients.
"Marijuana causes increased appetite, decreased nausea, decreased pain, increased mood," said Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital. "When you're taking care of patients with a terminal illness, that's not a bad drug to be using."
Abrams is the first doctor authorized by the federal government to conduct research on the medicinal benefits of marijuana. His team of researchers are now analyzing the results of a study involving HIV patients who have painful nerve damage in their hands and feet.
"Our pilot study with 16 patients was very suggestive that there was a benefit to smoked marijuana," Abrams said.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine reviewed all of the scientific evidence to assess the potential risks and benefits of cannabis. The report concluded that marijuana has a potential therapeutic value for pain relief, control of nausea, vomiting, and appetite stimulation, and the "cannabinoid drugs might offer a broad spectrum of relief not found in any other single medication."
"It might have a modest benefit. But for an individual patient, if they have a benefit and they have not been able to achieve pain relief or relief of nausea from anything else, then that is very significant," Abrams said.
Other studies show marijuana may benefit patients with glaucoma, but there are mixed results in whether it's useful in treating the pain of multiple sclerosis.
As for the risks, the Institute of Medicine says one of the biggest is for patients who smoke the drug. Smoked marijuana is an important risk factor for respiratory disease. However, Abrams and his team just finished a study that looks at vaporizing the active ingredients of marijuana so patients won't have to inhale the smoke, and results are expected by the end of the month.