Pot, Pain and Politics

Pot, Pain and Politics
Posted by CN Staff on July 17, 2005 at 08:08:55 PT
By Wendy Thomas Russell, Staff Writer
Source: Press-Telegram
Long Beach, Calif. -- It has all the markings of a doctor's office.A tastefully decorated waiting room offers patients a place to sit and peruse Hollywood-gossip magazines. A receptionist peeks through an arched window to verify medical information on a computer. And, one by one, patients are called into a back room to pick up their medicine.
But at Compassionate Caregivers Long Beach, there are no doctors. Nor are there exam tables, stethoscopes or bandages.Just marijuana and lots of it.Operating on Fourth Street near Ximeno Avenue in Belmont Heights, Compassionate Caregivers Long Beach, or CCLB, is one of two Long Beach cannabis clubs set up to dispense marijuana under Prop 215, the 1996 initiative legalizing to medical marijuana in California. CCLB has been open for business for more than six months and touts itself as a members-only, nonprofit organization helping patients who have legitimate doctor's notes to take the drug. The other club, Cancer Help Center Herbal Collective, opened some three months ago near Long Beach Boulevard and Wardlow Road.Both clubs are taking significant risks by opening here.Not only has the federal government made clear its position against such clubs and the use of medical marijuana in general but the city, too, has issued a temporary moratorium on retail medical-marijuana sales.The moratorium was put into place in April, when the Long Beach City Council decided to review the possibility of creating a zoning ordinance allowing such businesses to operate within set guidelines. But last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzalez v. Raich, which reaffirmed the federal government's tough stance against the drug, has officials back-pedaling. As a result, the proposed ordinance has been put on hold indefinitely."There's a lot of confusion and angst," Long Beach Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais said. "After the Supreme Court decision, we're trying to take a little of a wait-and-see (position)."What's more, not everyone agrees the clubs are catering only to legitimate patients.Long Beach Police Chief Tony Batts told the City Council in April that two outside police agencies had investigated CCLB on their own, and that one agency had allegedly found evidence that the club was dispensing marijuana to nonpatients.But Batts has opted not to open investigations into the local clubs until the city's ordinance has been established.Only then, he said, can officers ensure that clubs are operating within city guidelines.Self-RegulationLong Beach's cannabis clubs are two of only a handful in Los Angeles County. Most operate in West Hollywood, where the city has actively supported Prop 215, said Bill Britt, a local advocate for marijuana patients who spoke as a community liaison for both clubs but stressed that he was involved merely as an outside adviser. Club directors declined to be interviewed.While Long Beach's cannabis clubs may not be formally regulated yet, Britt said, they're doing the best they can to regulate themselves.Every person who obtains marijuana from a local club must have a medical necessity, Britt said. Doctors' notes must be original documents, not photocopies, and verified through their offices, he said.Because only a handful of Southern California physicians, including one in Long Beach, regularly recommend marijuana, club operators look especially close at notes from unknown doctors, Britt said.Once a note has been verified, the patient's information is entered into a computer and becomes a member of the club.Sometimes doctors specify how much marijuana is needed to treat an ailment in the span of a year, so the club can monitor consumption. Eight ounces is a common standard, Britt said, but some patients consume several pounds a year.After a year, a new doctor's note is required to renew club membership.Patients are then taken into a back room and given a marijuana "menu," Britt said. Varying in both potency and price, different types of pot can be obtained in leaf or concentrated forms, and sometimes are placed in opaque medicine bottles to maintain freshness. Pot is also cooked into brownies and cookies, or infused with peanut butter and olive oil for patients who cannot smoke, or prefer not to, Britt said."One (West Hollywood) club even had a pizza, a marijuana pizza," he said.Sources VariedThe pot comes from a variety of sources, Britt said. Some members grow it, but that's rarely enough, so club directors turn to underground medical-marijuana vendors or growers in Northern California, where clubs are far more plentiful.Most people learn of the clubs through word-of-mouth, and the vast majority of visitors are legitimate patients, Britt said.But every club gets its fair share of people up to a few a day who must be turned away, he said. "People don't realize this isn't a pharmacy," he said. "These people could be arrested at any time. They're risking their lives, and their families' lives, and their livelihoods and their life savings, because they believe in this."The biggest misconception, Britt said, is that co-ops are "just a bunch of hippies walking in and smoking pot."But he said that people who obtain marijuana at CCLB and the Herbal Collective are those suffering from chronic pain and illness, including cancer, arthritis, muscle spasms, nerve pain, nausea, insomnia and glaucoma.Hippies, Britt said, can get their pot on the street."By stopping this," he said, "the only people they are stopping are sick people people who are dying."Despite the fact that Prop 215 has been around nearly a decade, the state still lacks uniform regulations for dispensing medical pot. Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who supports the law, has offered little guidance."The way the law was written, it's up to local governments to work with medicinal users and dispensaries to come up with a system that works at the local level," Lockyer spokeswoman Teresa Schilling said. "I don't believe that there are any plans to say anything new."While jurisdictions in the liberal San Francisco Bay area have exercised leniency in adopting Prop 215 policies, more conservative cities continue to arrest and prosecute medical users for illegal drug possession.For years in Long Beach, police officers arrested marijuana users and let the courts sort out the validity of doctors' notes. But, under pressure from local activists, Police Chief Batts changed that policy last summer. Now, officers are directed to investigate the validity of doctors' notes before seizing drugs or making arrests.Britt said the chief's position has had a profound effect. So far, no more patients have been arrested."The police chief has done a good job of educating his officers and protecting patients' rights," Britt said.Mais said the city's position on issuing an ordinance is sticky, especially with the Raich ruling.Clear PerilThe ruling, handed down in June, did not overturn Proposition 215, but it made clear that patients who use pot run the risk of legal action by federal authorities.Mais said he worried that regulating cannabis clubs in Long Beach could turn federal agents against the city."There is concern that the feds will bring sort of injunctive action or RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) action against the cities that are blatantly violating federal law," he said.Without Lockyer's guidance, Mais said, cities that pass ordinances might invite a proliferation of cannabis clubs, while cities that treat club owners as criminals might drive clubs into other areas. And it might also give clubs, and patients, a false sense of security.Britt said he believes Mais' concerns are misplaced. He said the Supreme Court decision should have no bearing on the proposed local ordinance because nothing has changed."We never had federal protection," he said, adding that local cannabis clubs operate at their own risk, and will continue to do so."Part of the guidelines," Britt said, "will be provisions in there saying, 'If you choose to do this, we cannot offer protection against federal (prosecution)."Still, many city officials sympathize with Mais' position, including Jim Goodin, a business services officer in the Department of Financial Management.His department issues business licenses, and would be in charge of licensing cannabis clubs if the City Council approves the ordinance.They're "having a heck of a time trying to figure out the federal law and the state law and how the city treads the line between these two things," he said.Note: L.B. cannabis clubs operate under a cloud of uncertainty.Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA)Author: Wendy Thomas Russell, Staff WriterPublished: Saturday, July 16, 2005 Copyright: 2005 Los Angeles Newspaper GroupContact: speakout presstelegram.comWebsite: CannabisNews Medical Marijuana Archives
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by FoM on July 17, 2005 at 09:47:28 PT
News Article from
Pharmos Rebounds with Cannabinoid Pain Relief DrugBy Bernard Dichek  July 17, 2005 
Attendees at last month's BIO in Philadelphia - the largest annual biotechnology conference in the world - could have been excused if they did a double take upon seeing the presence of Israeli biotech company Pharmos. After all, the company's highly touted drug dexanabinol - based on cannabis-like molecules - failed to show efficacy in a clinical trial for traumatic brain patients last year. But while the trial results had a negative effect on Pharmos' share price, it failed to diminish CEO Prof. Haim Aviv 's enthusiasm for developing cannabinoid drugs. And today, Pharmos finds itself again at the crossroads of two major trends sweeping the drug development world. One is the greater-than-ever need for pain relief drugs after the withdrawal of several leading pain drugs from drugstore shelves during the past year because of safety concerns; the other is a surge of interest in cannabinoids for a wide variety of therapeutic uses. Pharmos President Gadi Riesenfeld gave a presentation at BIO showing the progress the company has made in developing a new synthetic cannabinoid drug for pain relief called cannabinor. The company expects to begin human trials this summer. "The withdrawal of Merck's Vioxx, a blockbuster pain drug that was found to raise the risk of heart attacks and stroke, is now being accompanied by similar questions concerning Celebrex and Bextra," says Aviv, adding that these concerns come on top of the problems relating to the abuse and potentially life threatening side effects of narcotic painkillers like OxyContin. Ironically, the search for new treatments for the $26 billion global pain market has led scientists back to a natural substance in use since antiquity - the cannabis plant. But rather than extracting ingredients from cannabis plants, drug makers are now designing drugs using synthetic substances that amplify the therapeutic characteristics of cannabis by selectively activating the CB2 component of the system while minimizing the unwanted effects associated with the CB1 component. The new synthetic cannabinoid drugs seem to be particularly promising because what scientists have going for them now is a better understanding of both the molecular mechanisms by which pain is perceived and of the pathways in which cannabinoid substances exert their therapeutic affect both in the brain and in other parts of the body. "There is a very close relationship between the pathways that carry pain sensations in the body and the role played by the cannabinoid receptor system, which is modulated by endogenous cannabinoids during pain conditions, " says Dr. Seth Kindler, Medical Director at Pharmos, (NasdaqSC:PARSD), which carries out its R&D activities in Rehovot, Israel while maintaining its head office in Iselin, New Jersey. Kindler points out that studies have shown that the pain relief experienced by people who smoke marijuana derives from the influence of substances found in cannabis that activate the cannabinoid receptor system. "Selectively activating the cannabinoid receptor system disrupts the flow of chemical communications in the body which lead to a sensation of pain," explains Kindler, adding that the therapeutic use of natural cannabis is limited due to the psychoactive affect of the compound which is associated with activation of the CB1 component of the cannabinoid system. "Cannabinor, our new synthetic drug compound, selectively activates the therapeutic component of the cannabinoid system, called the CB2 receptor, and as such does not produce the non-therapeutic effects of cannabis, " says Kindler, pointing out that cannabinor does not cause any of the psychoactive effects associated with the use of natural cannabis. Pre-clinical studies carried out by Pharmos show that Cannabinor is as potent as morphine and other pain killers in providing pain relief and has a longer duration of action. "But unlike morphine and other drugs on the market today, Cannabinor does not show any of the side effects, including constipation, drowsiness and addiction, associated with these drugs," says Kindler. 
The development of Cannabinor comes at a time when there is extensive interest in cannabinoids in the pharmaceutical world. Dozens of companies are developing cannabinoid drugs for medical uses that include the treatment of cancer nausea, spastic disorders, epilepsy and sleepwalking. These drugs leverage recent scientific findings that show that the body produces molecules known as endocannabinoids that are similar to those found in cannabis. The cannabinoids are designed to either amplify or block the activity of those molecules. One of the most advanced is a cannabinoid drug being developed by Sanofi-Aventis for obesity that works by blocking the natural molecule associated with a sensation of hunger. 
Despite the intense competition in this field, Pharmos has an edge over others as the company was the first to utilize the seminal research carried out into the medicinal uses of cannabis by Prof. Raphael Mechoulam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 
Mechoulam, a world renowned medicinal chemist and a pioneer in the field of cannabinoids who carried out his original cannabis laboratory experiments in the 1960s using contraband supplied by the Jerusalem police force, was the first scientist in the world to isolate THC - the active ingredient in cannabis. He also is credited with identifying the first endogenous cannabinoid. Pharmos has worked closely with Mechoulam, licensing and refining a library of cannabis-like molecules from his Hebrew University lab. The company became one of the first to recognize the commercial potential of cannabinoid drugs when it developed dexanabinol, a cannabinoid drug currently being studied for use in the prevention of brain damage during open heart surgery. Following the failure of Pharmos's clinical trials on dexanabinol last year, CEO Aviv, one of the founders of Israel's biotech industry and a serial entrepreneur who has launched several biotech companies, decided to focus on Cannabinor only after conducting an extensive worldwide search for other drug candidates that could be in-licensed. "No other molecule that we saw showed nearly as much potential, " says Aviv, whose war chest includes more than $50 million in cash reserves, derived in part from the proceeds of three original FDA-approved eye drugs that Pharmos developed and sold to US healthcare giant Bausch & Lomb. One reason for Aviv's confidence in Cannabinor lies in the fact that it has shown across-the-board robust pain relief in numerous animal models including acute, chronic and visceral pain models with minimal side effects. So far the results have been quite compelling and the company expects to begin human trials in the next few months. "In the first study, as is customary in pain drug development, we plan to treat patients experiencing acute pain following the removal of wisdom teeth. Following that we will be ready for trials with patients suffering from chronic pain conditions such as neuropathic pain (sciatica herpetic and diabetes ) and cancer," says Aviv. Bernard Dichek is the publisher of a monthly magazine on the Israeli life sciences. Copyright: 2005
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment