SAN MATEO — The federal Drug Enforcement Administration approved a program Wednesday that will allow San Mateo County to give away government-grown marijuana to 60 AIDS patients as part of a first-of-its-kind study to assess the potential benefits of the drug.
The 12-week study could begin as early as January. One county supervisor hailed approval of the study.
“What we could end up with is scientific proof that this is a medicine that should be prescribed by doctors,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Mike Nevin.
In 1996, Californians passed Proposition 215, which allows possession, cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Implementation of the measure has proven difficult, however, as lawmakers struggle to agree on guidelines for prescribing and distributing the drug.
In addition to DEA approval, San Mateo’s marijuana study had to pass muster with the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Drug Abuse and the Food and Drug
Dr. Dennis Israelski will oversee the study in which marijuana will be given to HIV and AIDS patients who suffer from neurological disorders.
Those in favor of the study hope it will provide new insight to marijuana and determine whether it relieves pain and increases appetites as many users claim.
Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco recently concluded a study of medical marijuana and found that 20 AIDS patients who smoked the drug for three weeks gained 7.7 pounds more than 22 others who smoke a placebo.
Believers in marijuana’s benefits say the drug also settles the stomach, builds weight and steadies spastic muscles. They also speak of relief from PMS, glaucoma, itching, insomnia, arthritis, depression, childbirth and attention deficit disorder.
Participants in San Mateo County’s study will get their stash from the San Mateo County Health Center. If the study is successful, follow up trials for cancer and glaucoma patients would likely follow.
“We hope this is just a beginning,” said Margaret Taylor, the county’s health services director.
Supervisor Nevin opposes decriminalizing marijuana, but said the medicinal value needs further evaluation.
“To disallow the drug to people who need it is a crime,” Nevin said.