Pubdate: July 21, 1998
Author: Sarah Boseley

LONDON -- The first human trials of the medicinal properties of marijuana will controversially involve inhaling substances made from the entire weed, not derivatives, it became clear Tuesday.

Dr. Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, a company he set up with a license from the British Home Office to explore the medical uses of marijuana, told the House of Lords select committee on science and technology in London that he expected to move to clinical trials, probably with multiple sclerosis sufferers, within the next few years. He hoped the drug would be licensed as a medicine within five.

It became clear during his evidence that he believes it will be difficult to discover exactly what combination of cannabinoids -- molecules derived from the plant -- has the pain-relieving, muscle-relaxing effect that sufferers from MS and other diseases claim they experience when smoking the illegal drug.

Asked about synthesizing the chemicals found in the plant in order to produce a safe medicine, he said, "I don't see the value in taking apart something that seems at the moment to work."

The British Medical Association, which gave respectability to calls for the medicinal properties of the drug to be explored, backed the legalization of cannabinoids -- not cannabis itself -- to treat MS and other conditions.

But there has been a growing lobby in Britain for legalization of marijuana itself. A number of judges and police officers are among those who think criminalization is a mistake.

Next year about two dozen volunteers will be allowed to inhale a small dose of cannabis as part of the first human clinical trials. They will be exempt from prosecution under the terms of a Home Office license.

Guy said he thought the beneficial effect of the drug occurred within the first minute of inhaling smoke from a joint, and that the psychotropic effect came only later once a much larger quantity had reached the brain.

Asked how he proposed to deliver the drug into the patient's system, he said: "I have changed my mind five times in the last six months." His current feeling was that inhaling brought fast pain relief.

"The smoking route is very, very intriguing indeed," he said. But he was not proposing any sort of reefer -- it would more likely be "something between an aerosol and a vaporizer." There were, however, people who claimed the effects of cannabis lasted longer if they ingested it orally.

Guy has spent some $16 million so far in his marijuana project and has invested in a Dutch medicinal marijuana breeding company called HortaPharm BV, which has the biggest "living library" of marijuana plants in the world. GW Pharmaceuticals is about to begin seeding in a secret, high-security greenhouse complex in the south of England.

Besides helping to lessen pain and spasticity, marijuana is also said to alleviate nausea in patients taking anti-cancer drugs. There is also evidence that it may stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients and assist in the treatment of glaucoma.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)


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