British, French Drug Firms Lead on Marijuana Tests British, French Drug Firms Lead on Marijuana Tests

September 28, 2004

Leonard Anderson, Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - British and French pharmaceutical companies are racing ahead of their U.S. counterparts to develop new drugs containing marijuana to relieve pain and treat a wide range of illnesses because marijuana is illegal in the United States, scientific researchers said on Wednesday.

'The plant that nature gave us has significant potential therapeutic effects,' said Dr. Donald Abrams, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and a marijuana researcher.

But Abrams and two other scientists said drug development in the United States is lagging because the federal government has made marijuana -- Cannabis sativa -- an illegal 'controlled substance.'

The U.S. government restricts medical research involving marijuana and fights to shut down groups dispensing it to cancer patients and others suffering from chronic pain or other diseases, the scientists noted.

They reviewed research and development of drugs based on marijuana and its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, at the Biophex 2004 conference in San Francisco.

Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which sponsors clinical studies of marijuana-based drugs, said, 'It is more difficult to research marijuana than psychedelic drugs like Ecstasy.'

Doblin said he has been waiting more than one year to get 10 grams of marijuana from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for a research study at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

'The government controls the legal supply,' he said.

MARIJUANA FOR MIND AND BODY

In France, however, drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis has a synthetic marijuana-based drug in Phase III clinical trials to treat obesity, memory loss and drug dependence, Billy Martin, department chairman of pharmacology and toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center, told the conference.

Human bodies have unique 'receptors' where marijuana can go to work, relieving pain and inflammation, stimulating appetite, boosting the immune system and helping muscle control, Martin said.

Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company in a marketing deal with Germany's Bayer AG, is developing an oral spray drug, based on the marijuana plant, to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis and severe pain. It could be sold in Britain and Canada if approved by regulators.

Abrams, a pioneer in the 1980s in fighting AIDs, found that marijuana increased patients' appetites and he began to widen his research on the plant.

Studies show new marijuana drugs have the potential to shrink tumors, enhance the effects of morphine in cancer patients, and treat depression, among other conditions, Abrams said.

'I'm also looking at other botanicals,' Abrams added.

Medicines based on the marijuana plant and synthetic marijuana drugs may be delivered to patients in drops, sprays and vaporizers, which could ease fears that smoking the plant may cause lung cancer, the researchers said.



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