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NEW & ONGOING STUDIES

* National Institutes of Health (NIH)
On February 19-20, 1997, the National Institutes of Health held a workshop on "The Medical Utility of Marijuana," a forum for scientists and policy-makers. Discussions focused on the results of previous studies of medical marijuana, and the ways in which NIH could help design and facilitate new research to answer key questions in this area. On August 8, 1997, NIH released a 45-page report with its expert panel's conclusions. The report urged "more and better studies" of marijuana's medical value, and suggested streamlining the process by which researchers may obtain marijuana from the federal government for such studies. Since then, NIH has evaluated and funded one medical marijuana study - one which had been presented for the first time five years before.

* National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine
On January 7, 1997, drug czar Barry McCaffrey announced that his office would fund a $1-million survey of research on marijuana's medical value. The study was commissioned through the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine (IOM), as a contract with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Critics argued that the new study appeared too much like a research review when new, controlled studies were actually needed. Once a panel was appointed, the group held several public hearings around the country, and IOM panelists met with marijuana-using patients and doctors who were sympathetic to the issue, among others. The IOM report is now expected at the end of 1998 or in early 1999.

* University of California, San Francisco study of marijuana and AIDS
The first government-approved medical marijuana research project in nearly a decade is now under way at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Dr. Donald Abrams, a renowned AIDS expert, had begun trying to obtain approval for this kind of study in 1992. However, Abrams met with repeated rejections by key federal agencies, making his team unable to obtain marijuana for the study. After passage of California's new medical marijuana law, Dr. Abrams obtained the needed approvals, and received federally produced research marijuana in the summer of 1998. Dr. Abrams' team is investigating the safety of marijuana smoking by AIDS patients, and will examine the effects of the drug on weight gain and other factors.