Marijuana as wonder drug

March 3, 2007

From the Boston Globe:

A NEW STUDY in the journal Neurology is being hailed as unassailable proof that marijuana is a valuable medicine. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine — and US drug policy — that we still need “proof” of something that medicine has known for 5,000 years.

The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found smoked marijuana to be effective at relieving the extreme pain of a debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy. It was a study of HIV patients, but a similar type of pain caused by damage to nerves afflicts people with many other illnesses including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Neuropathic pain is notoriously resistant to treatment with conventional pain drugs. Even powerful and addictive narcotics like morphine and OxyContin often provide little relief. This study leaves no doubt that marijuana can safely ease this type of pain.

As all marijuana research in the United States must be, the new study was conducted with government-supplied marijuana of notoriously poor quality. So it probably underestimated the potential benefit.

I have always found the ban on using marijuana for medical purposes ridiculous. I’m studying for a doctorate degree in medicine, and when I get there no so-called “moralist” or conservative politician is going to tell me that I can’t give a patient something I my training and the scientific evidence tell me that is the way to go.

With marijuana it is especially a problem, because anyone can grow it. You don’t have to buy it (well, at least initially from somebody!) and growing the plant is like growing any other plant. I have always believed that there is something else to it:

The pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to isolate cannabinoids and synthesize analogs, and to package them in non-smokable forms. In time, companies will almost certainly come up with products and delivery systems that are more useful and less expensive than herbal marijuana. However, the analogs they have produced so far are more expensive than herbal marijuana, and none has shown any improvement over the plant nature gave us to take orally or to smoke.

We live in an antismoking environment. But as a method of delivering certain medicinal compounds, smoking marijuana has some real advantages: The effect is almost instantaneous, allowing the patient, who after all is the best judge, to fine-tune his or her dose to get the needed relief without intoxication. Smoked marijuana has never been demonstrated to have serious pulmonary consequences, but in any case the technology to inhale these cannabinoids without smoking marijuana already exists as vaporizers that allow for smoke-free inhalation.

Be sure to read the rest of the article here. By the way, the piece was written by Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, certainly not some ignorant hippie:

Hopefully the UCSF study will add to the pressure on the US government to rethink its irrational ban on the medicinal use of marijuana — and its destructive attacks on patients and caregivers in states that have chosen to allow such use. Rather than admit they have been mistaken all these years, federal officials can cite “important new data” and start revamping outdated and destructive policies. The new Congress could go far in establishing its bona fides as both reasonable and compassionate by immediately moving on this issue.

Such legislation would bring much-needed relief to millions of Americans suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and other debilitating illnesses.

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Gardasil studies stopped due to sucess

March 2, 2007

I just found out about this – rest assured I’ll post more about it when details surface:

LONDON, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Clinical trials of Gardasil, the recently launched cervical cancer vaccine marketed by Merck & Co Inc and Sanofi-Aventis SA, are to be halted because of the success of the product.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, a joint venture of the two companies, said on Tuesday the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board for two trials had recommended they be terminated on ethical grounds, so that young women on placebo could receive Gardasil.

Gardasil was approved last year as the first vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. GlaxoSmithKline Plc has a rival product called Cervarix in development.

People without scientific or epidemiological training may be confused about this result. For the uninitiated here are some explanations.

People are somewhat familiar with clinical trials, in which the drug is given randomly to one group and a placebo to the other. It is unethical to not give a patient a treatment that we know that works, so in the case of clinical trials we give one group the experimental drug and the other group the established standard treatment – again, it is unethical to not treat patients.

Specifically, these are parallel track phase III studies, one previously completed in females, the other ongoing in older females and in adolescent males, which had not been completed at the time of original licensure.


Low-Cost Antimalarial Pill Available!

March 2, 2007

A child finds out he got Malaria

God, finally some good news to cheer my day up!

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

Needless to say, this is a very good thing, and a team effort as well:

“This is a good thing,” said Dr. Arata Kochi, chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program, who has publicly demanded that drug companies stop making pills that contain artemisinin alone because they will lead to resistant strains of malaria. “They’re responding to the kind of drug profile we’ve been promoting.”

[…]Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

See, ain’t that the way to do things? Major disagreements, but communication is still open, and compromise. I know a government or two that could apply these principles into practice.


Big Pharma not making enough money…

December 30, 2006

Of our suffering that is:

Whenever critics complain about the high cost of prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry’s standard defense is that companies have to plow so much money into researching innovative new medicines. But a recently released report from the Government Accountability Office casts doubt on that rationale. Yes the industry is spending heavily on R&D, the GAO found, but it turns out big pharma isn’t actually generating such a good return on their investments.

The congressional watchdog agency’s 48-page study came up with disturbing numbers. From 1993-2004, spending by U.S. drug companies on research and development jumped 147%, from $16 billion to nearly $40 billion annually. But the number of applications the pharmaceutical firms submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for potentially groundbreaking new drugs during that 10-year period increased only a meager 7%. And since 1995, the applications for these innovative drugs have been dropping each year. “The productivity of research and development investments has declined,” the GAO concluded.

This is essentially what the American Medical Student Association has been saying all along.