San Mateo County health officials received their first shipment of government grown medical marijuana

San Mateo County health officials received their first shipment of government grown medical marijuana last week. The federally-provided pot will be dispensed imminently to local AIDS patients as part of a groundbreaking local study to better determine the herb’s therapeutic value.

"I see this as a milestone — a first step — toward the day when this drug will be available for doctors to prescribe for people who are suffering in great pain," said Michael Nevin, President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Nevin first began lobbying for the program in 1997 and received federal permission to implement the plan last November.

In April, local health officials requested 300 marijuana cigarettes from the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The shipment — approximately a two-month supply, according to health officials — arrived at San Francisco International Airport last Wednesday. Federal researchers cultivate marijuana for research purposes at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. NIDA is the only legal supplier of marijuana in the United States.

Sixty local AIDS patients will have access to the government-grown pot as part of an 18-month study to evaluate the drug’s ability to mitigate symptoms of the AIDS wasting syndrome. Only patients who have prior experience using marijuana are eligible to participate in the program, which will be led by Dr. Dennis Israelski, chief of infectious diseases and AIDS medicine at San Mateo County Hospital and Clinics.

Although there exists a large body of anecdotal evidence indicating that marijuana provides symptomatic relief for patients with AIDS, almost no scientific research has been conducted on humans. Preliminary results announced last year from an ongoing University of California-San Francisco study found that patients who smoked marijuana gained significantly more weight on average than those receiving a placebo, and had slightly lower viral levels.

Patients interested in participating in the trial may contact Mark Traves, Project Coordinator, at (650) 573-2748.

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