California County Set to Begin First Local Government-Sponsored Clinical Trial of Medicinal Marijuana
San Mateo County, Calif., is set to begin the nation's first local government-sponsored clinical trial of medicinal marijuana, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Sixty HIV-positive volunteers with pain and numbness in their hands and feet due to neurological problems caused by the disease will take part in the $500,000 study, which is expected to last a year and will be led by Dr. Dennis Israelski, chief of infectious diseases and AIDS medicine at San Mateo County Hospitals and Clinics. After undergoing three weeks of "intensive physical, psychological and other tests" to ensure that volunteers are not drug users and that the marijuana will not "undermine" their current medical treatment regimens, participants will first abstain from marijuana use for six weeks before being given a "locked kit" containing a "pill bottle-size container" with 10 U.S. government-produced marijuana cigarettes and two other empty containers to hold the cigarettes as they "dwindle down to butt ends." The butts must be returned during the patient's weekly doctor's appointment, and each volunteer is required to keep a daily log of marijuana use, as well as alcohol use and other recreational drug use for the six weeks that they use the marijuana. County health officials will also visit volunteers' homes to "check out the conditions," the Chronicle reports. All of these measures are in place to answer the question of whether marijuana can be "used safely for research in a 'real life setting,' away from the scrutiny of researchers, and not wind up 'in the hands of friends, or children or even pets,'" Israelski said. Ultimately, "we have to put some faith and trust in our patients," he added.
The study comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that people using marijuana for medicinal purposes are still subject to federal anti-drug laws despite California's Proposition 215, which legalized medicinal use of the drug in 1996. The study is "primarily" intended to "explore the feasibility" of conducting larger trials later, Israelski said, adding that he is "no advocate of medical marijuana" and as a scientist "need[s] to study it first" before passing judgement. Others, such as San Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevin, hope the study will "lead to proving once and for all if ... the substance in marijuana relieves pain and suffering for the very sick." Nevin, a former police officer who does not support legalizing drugs but who has advocated for the clinical study for three years, said that if studies indicate that marijuana has medicinal benefits, it should be made a "pharmaceutical available in every pharmacy in the country" (Workman, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/25).