By Alfa · Dec 30, 2004 ·
  1. Alfa

    CLEMSON, S.C. - A Clemson University team of researchers is looking at ways to get the medical benefits found in marijuana without getting bogged down in the politics of the drug.

    Chemist John Huffman is leading the team, working on synthetic versions of the substances that provide the same medical benefits of marijuana without side effects such as an unwanted high or lung damage.

    Marijuana can be smoked legitimately for medical benefits, including relief of pain and nausea from a variety of ailments, in 11 states.

    But, three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the drug is subject to federal anti-narcotic laws.

    Huffman and his team have been working for 20 years on federally funded research into cannabinoids, the chemicals in marijuana that confer its potency in the brain.

    "The goal of our research is to try to define the detailed chemical structure of compounds as it relates to their biological activity," he said.

    The idea is to pinpoint what in cannabinoids causes the high felt by smokers so the synthetic molecules would not contain that trait, but would still have the medicinal effects.

    One piece of the puzzle is the substance THC, which controls nausea but also produces the high.

    "THC is the most effective anti-nausea drug there is, and other than the effect that it causes a high, it has relatively few side effects,"

    Huffman said.

    A version of THC, called Marinol, is available for treatment of nausea or to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients, but it causes a high, which many users find uncomfortable or consider taboo, he said.

    One person glad to hear about the research is California accountant Diane Monson, 47. Monson said she was using marijuana in consultation with her doctor to relieve back pain and spasms.

    California's law says people can grow or otherwise obtain and use the hemp species if a doctor signs off on the medical purpose. But her six pot plants were seized by federal officials citing laws prohibiting cultivation and use of marijuana and she sued.

    Her case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    "I believe that this drug being a Schedule One drug with heroin and crank has really hindered the research and development we need," she said. "I'm glad someone is trying something."

    Other states with laws similar to California's are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

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