SANTA ANA, CALIF. The University of California is beginning clinical investigations into marijuana as medicine, hoping to end the roiling controversy over its medical usefulness once and for all.
"It's very exciting a first in the country," said Drew Mattison, co-director of the newly formed Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, headquartered at UC San Diego.
Last month, the center announced the first of $3 million in research grants. Researchers at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco will examine marijuana's effect on HIV-related pain; on the spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis; and on the driving abilities of patients with AIDS and MS.
The studies should start enrolling patients in April or May, after federal regulatory approval. Patients who want to take part can add their names to a waiting list.
The new research center was formed in August. It's the product of a bill introduced by state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who has been trying to make Proposition 215 work for years. Vasconcellos hopes the center's research will finally prove what other studies have shown: that the active ingredient in marijuana helps spur appetite and deaden pain.
Proposition 215 is California's medical marijuana law, which has been trapped between state and federal drug laws since it passed in 1996. While Prop. 215 gave patients in California the right to grow and use marijuana for a variety of illnesses with a doctor's recommendation, federal drug law still classifies it alongside heroin and LSD, drugs that have no medical use.
Vasconcellos hopes that the center's research will leave the politics of medical marijuana in the past. Study results will be reported to the Legislature and the governor, to help them decide how to implement Prop. 215.
The research is not only supposed to help California with this task it will help the eight other states that have approved medical marijuana in its wake. They are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.