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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingIt's a controversial topic, using marijuana for medicinal purposes. The debate has all too often become a shouting match between advocates and opponents. But now scientists are getting a say.
Researchers are starting a clinical trial to see if marijuana can help reduce pain in cancer patients. There's a lot of evidence to suggest it could help. The problem up till now has been getting government approval to find out.
For years supporters of marijuana have been praising it as a medical marvel -- helping ease pain and nausea. Now UCSF researchers are going to put that theory to the test.
They're recruiting 16 cancer patients for a pilot study to see if smoking marijuana eases their pain.
Dr. Don Abrams, UCSF Community Consortium: "There is good evidence in animal models and other pre-clinical data that cannabis or marijuana and the substances in it actually augment or boost the pain relieving effect of opiods such as morphine, oxycontin and fentanyl."
The patients will be asked to smoke three government supplied marijuana cigarettes a day. It will all be done under controlled, scientific conditions.
Dr. Abrams: "We observe them smoking the cigarette and instruct them in the so-called Fulton Puff procedure, which is to inhale for five seconds, hold it for ten, and then exhale and repeat the cycle every 45 seconds, to standardize the exposure to the marijuana smoke."
The patients will be tested to detect how much of the marijuana got into their blood stream. They'll also fill in questionnaires on pain relief, nausea, and loss of appetite.
There's good reason to think it may help. The researchers recently completed a similar study on people with HIV suffering from pain in their hands and feet.
Dr. Abrams: "In that study we have actually completed, the 16 patient pilot study, which showed us there was actually effectiveness in relieving pain in this syndrome for which most other things are not helpful."
Doctor Abrams is now about to begin a much larger study on using marijuana to treat pain in people with HIV. If the cancer study shows equally good results, he'll study it in a much larger group.