New life breathed into marijuana study
Jean Whitney
San Mateo County Times
June 12, 2003

San Mateo — A groundbreaking medical marijuana experiment by San MateoCounty doctors got a second life Wednesday after the federal government agreedto open up eligibility on who may participate in the testing.

The County hospital's chief of AIDS research, Dr. Dennis Israelski, launched a study two years ago with AIDS patients on the use of marijuana in alleviating painful symptoms of AIDS.

However, narrow standards on who could join the study hamstrung researchers and some subjects dropped out, complaining the federally-supplied pot was too harsh.

So this week, after nearly a year of waiting, the County got the green light to revise the study.

"We're going to step up the research," said County Supervisor Mike Nevin, who along with Israelski, championed the research, despite national controversy over the drug's medical use.

"I'm glad that the federal government has allowed this important medical research to continue," Nevin said.

The County's study will now look at treating a broader range of symptoms associated with AIDS, not only neuropathy or limb pain.

Sixty HIV-positive individuals with symptoms that include nausea, weight loss, neuropathy and others will help determine whether it is feasible to treat patients through inhaling the smoke of doctor-prescribed marijuana cigarettes.

"Liberalizing the eligibility criteria will allow greater enrollment," Israelski said Wednesday after learning about the federal OK to expand the study.

"We are not a pot club," Israelski added.

The research has the full support of the County Board of Supervisors. Nevin in particular, has often described how he was moved by the testimony of friend and late County Health Services deputy director Joni Commons, as to the benefits of the drug in reducing pain from cancer treatment.

A year ago, County researchers sought a different quality of marijuana for subjects, but that request was evidently rejected by federal regulatory agencies that must approve use of the otherwise illegal drug.

Israelski said that instead, storage and handling of the drug would be modified, in order to minimize harshness and maintain its potency.

Study subjects will be encouraged to keep the marijuana frozen until no more than 24 hours before its daily use over six weeks. Patients must also keep a log of their drug use, including the amount used and its effects.

"I hope that with the modifications, the sampling will be better tolerated by subjects, and meet with more acceptance," Israelski said.

A later County study will look at treating cancer patients' symptoms with medical marijuana, through the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research in San Diego.

The medical marijuana study is one of 30 different research projects Israelski oversees at the Clinical Trials and Research unit of San Mateo Medical Center, the County public hospital.

For information about joining the study, call 573-2408.

Back to MAPS' Medical Marijuana Page