Conference Reviews

US studies medical marijuana

        Through its Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is conducting an 18-month study to evaluate the therapeutic value of marijuana and its chemical components, particularly cannabinoids such as THC. The study, entitled Medical Use of Marijuana: Assessment of the Science Base, will include an assessment of both the benefits for and risks of marijuana and the cannabinoids to human health.
        The initial information gathering phase of the study was conducted through three public meetings at different national locations. Each stop was made to organize a symposium where scientific input and public commentary could be contributed on the issues surrounding this topic. The themes and locations of the three symposia were as follows:

        IOM investigators are charged by the US government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy to evaluate the medical value of marijuana and to do this, they will review the scientific literature and unpublished data from people with substantive experience, solicit public input, and consult with experts in the relevant health professions and basic sciences. Investigators will then retire to produce a report, with recommendations, which will undergo internal peer review by the NAS Report Review Committee and the chair of the National Research Council before being released in final form to sponsors and the public by December.
        Specific issues to be addressed by this study include the following.

        The final session was attended by ten lecturing scientists with various perspectives and areas of expertise germane to this topic. This included IHA Secretary David Pate, who acted in his capacity as Senior Technical Officer for HortaPharm B.V, a Dutch corporation researching Cannabis and cannabinoids as therapeutic agents. (Ed. note: see page 36.) This symposium was well attended by the public, who had the previous day provided calm and reasoned, but occasionally heart-rending, testimony concerning their practical medical successes and occasional legal difficulties with Cannabis as a medicine.

Second Annual Commercial and Industrial Hemp Symposium

        On the 18th and 19th of February 1998, Sotos Petrides, President of Wiseman Noble Sales and Marketing organized the Commercial and Industrial Hemp Symposium Two, including its trade and fashion shows. For the second year the Vancouver Trade Convention Center in the luxurious Pan-Pacific Hotel (part of the spectacular Canada Pavilion) provided a sophisticated setting for the event. Major sponsor-ship of the event was provided by the Bank of Montreal and the Canadian government.
        Approximately 50 firms and associations held stands at the trade show. Hill AgraSales was there, with their mobile decorticator on display, the Institute of Natural Fibers came all the way from Poznan, Poland to share their hemp and linen goods; many small manufacturers came to show their products. We particularly enjoyed the "green bag" chairs from Danger Boy Industries that were filled with post consumer Styrofoam and sponge foam, and covered in hemp or recycled pop-bottle fleece.
        There was the obligatory fashion show and on Wednesday Woody Harrelson was in attendance. Cajoled up on stage, he congratulated the organizers of the event and the sensibilities of the Canadian government, in comparison to the States where "the DEA is trying to justify it's existence" with the war on drugs.
        As Canada is joining the rest of the Western world (save the USA) and permitting the cultivation of industrial hemp in the 1998 growing season, there was plenty of talk about cultivation and permitting. Discussions both inside and outside the seminar room often focused on yields per acre, maturation dates of different varieties, processing equipment and countless other technical details of the mechanics of farming a new crop.
        One of the more interesting and accessible talks was that of IHA member Jace Callaway Ph.D., Univ. of Kuopio, Finland, breeder of FIN-314, the first early-flowering, high-latitude hemp strain bred for its seed oil content. This variety is characterized by its short stature, record seed yields, low THC content and high GLA/SDA content.
        Vancouver's friendly atmosphere, beautiful scenery, excellent eating and relaxing options made for plenty of informal networking out-side the walls of the Convention Center. The Hemp Industries Association maintained a hospitality suite in the hotel above the convention center and many important ideas were exchanged while admiring the view. Doubtless all the participants look forward to next year's edition.

Annie Riecken

Italian Conferences

        ASSOCANAPA, a new association that intends to coordinate and to promote the development of hemp culture in Italy, organized a two day meeting in Carmagnola, near Turin on February, 27-28. The title of the congress was "The re-introduction of hemp cultivation in Italy" and the invited speakers described the main problems and opportunities of this crop. Dr. Felice Giraudo, president of ASSOCANAPA, presented the new association, founded only on January 6th of this year, outlining the reasons for its establishment. The presence of numerous politicians gave evidence of the increasing interest in hemp culture in Italy. Dr. M. Di Candilo (Experimental Institute for Industrial Crops - Bologna) described the main research lines for a four year hemp project, funded by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture: production of morphological mutants; development of fast immunological assays able to detect THC and production of molecular markers aimed at the improvement of crop breeding.
        On the first day of the symposium, Professor G. Venturi (Department of Agronomy - University of Bologna) outlined the reasons for the new interest in hemp in the EU and reported at least eleven "bottle-necks" which must be resolved (unavailability of dioecious Italian hemp seed stocks, absence of industrial processing facilities, necessity of new agronomic techniques, etc.) in order to assure a reliable future for this crop in Italy.
        Professor Reinery (Department of Crop Cultivation - University of Turin) showed the results of his research on hemp maceration utilizing traditional approaches and field maceration. Dr. A. Ustik talked about THC, illustrating the chemical and toxicological characteristics, and the biological activity, of this cannabinoid, but he also described the procedure that a farmer needs to follow in order to cultivate hemp. Michael Karus (nova-Institut, Germany) was the first speaker of the afternoon and after the presentation of his Institute, gave an interesting overview of the situation of hemp cultivation in Europe and reported the latest political decision concerning hemp at the EU level. Then Dr. Sonnino (ENEA - National Institute for Energy and Environment) focused the attention of the listeners on the problem of germplasm maintenance. The day was concluded with the talk of Dr. Mignoni (an agronomist and expert on fibre crops) who discussed the EU regulations and the difficulties that can arise from the application of these rules.
        The second day of the conference began with an analysis by Prof. Zucconi (Department of Energetics -University of Ancona) of the agro-ecological benefits (in terms of diversification and biomass quality) of introducing hemp and its role in the production of biomass for energy.
        Dr. P. G. Bianchi (Ente Nazionale Sementi Elette) illustrated the necessary steps to be undertaken to certify an Italian hemp cultivar. The conference was concluded with the presentation of ASSOCANAPA activities. Tommaso Madia reported about the situation in the Campania region, outlining the widespread interest among farmers and industry operators that is insufficiently supported by local authorities. ASSOCANAPA Campania is promoting a number of projects involving research centers, private enterprises, farmers, development agencies and the Municipality of Frattamaggiore where a Hemp Center will be set up in the next months. Bruno Crivello of ASSOCANAPA Piemonte presented an economic analysis of hemp cultivation, specifying costs and revenues of cultivation in the short term perspective. Cesare Tofani and Angela Grimaldi from ASSOCANAPA Tuscany are promoting an experiment of large scale production for supplying industries with rope, textile and animal straw-bedding and they publish ASSOCANAPA magazine. Finally, Daniele Re of ASSOCANAPA Marche treated the positive perspectives for paper production in region Marche which is characterized by an ancient tradition in this field, and presented the program of the next ASSOCANAPA meeting that was held in Ascoli Piceno on 4th April 1998.
        For additional information about ASSOCANAPA contact:
ASSOCANAPA, via Donizetti 7/9 10022 Carmagnola (Torino) Italy
Tel.: +39 (0)11 9713688 - 9723126
Fax.: +39 (0)11 9721257
e-mail: assocanapa@cometaipsnet.it

Dr. Andrea Carboni,
e-mail: istsci10@iperbole.bo.it or a_carboni@hotmail.com

Santa Cruz Expo

        The Santa Cruz Industrial Hemp Expo took place at the Santa Cruz (CA) Civic Auditorium, March 21-22, 1998. Their nicely designed web site (http://www.dancing-designs.com/cruzexpo/) provides details on such matters as booth dimensions and fees, speakers and panels, as well as preparatory information for the anticipated 1999 Expo. This event was organized by Paul Gaylon, Al Haindl, Bob Lamonica and Jeffrey Stonehill and they should be well-satisfied with the outcome, as it appeared to be a major success.
        The Santa Cruz Convention Center provided a two-edged sword for their efforts. While being somewhat quaint for its historic idiosyncrasies, the largely unused space was consumed by its stationary seating and forced the available Expo space -- essentially a basketball court -- into compaction. At one point, the local fire marshal indicated there were issues with the congestion and copious fabric. However, the issue was resolved when Chris Boucher reportedly showed him that hemp is naturally fire-retardant. Other than that, the local authorities appeared unconcerned about the burning of hemp or related substances.
        An uncommonly fine Spring day saw the ticket line wrapped around the corner continuously all day, for both days and the aisles of the exhibition were often impassably jammed. Ben and Jerry's brought hemp ice cream, and there was hemp beer and hemp wine, hemp chocolate from Richard Rose and hemp pizza by Sativa's Kitchen. The plethora of hemp-based products extended from Nepalese hemp carpets, Hempstead surf boards, hemp shampoos, nutriceuticals and geotextiles to HTI's new knitwear, an entire hemp house and a hemp/bamboo bicycle by Craig Calfree (carbonbike@aol.com).
        John Stahl was on hand to explain the status of his Cannabis license application and the current laws that prevent him from growing fields of hemp. However, California's Prop 215 allows him to rent growing space to medical marijuana patients within his DEA-qualified fenced area, so he intends that these remaining stalks will become his hand-made paper.
        Speakers and panel discussions were relegated to an inadequate room at the confluence of hallways where the cacophony was unceasing. Such were the limitations inherent in the building, all of which was forgiven by the ebullient attendees. One of the hot topics discussed was the hurdles faced by hemp foods and the need for proper labeling.
        Some speakers and musical performers were able to reach the Expo floor throng from the stage. Notable among these was former Colorado State Senator Lloyd Casey, who called for a review of the DEA along the lines recently applied to the IRS. Senator Casey recalled having a bale of hemp confiscated from his legislative office by the local DEA agent while he was advancing Colorado's hemp bill.
        Jack Herer, patriarch to the Cannabis renaissance, was on hand to share the final panel which included John Dvorak (moderator) and Robert Nelson.
        The crushing masses lined-up to buy tickets, letting their light shine for hemp, provided enough evidence to understand why certain entrenched institutions feel their anti-hemp policies are being threatened.

David West

NVF Symposium-Marihuana as a Medicine

        On April the 24th 1998, the Dutch Association for Phytotherapy (Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fyto-therapie, NVF) organized a symposium attended by 90 persons in Amsterdam focusing on "Marihuana as a medicine".
        Although the Dutch authorities have a reputation for being fairly tolerant and pragmatic with regard to Cannabis drugs for recreational pur-poses, their attitude towards Cannabis preparations for therapeutic applications is rather conservative. Many patients suffering from a spectrum of diseases use these products for self-medication and often report positive results. In 1996, the Health Council of the Netherlands, however, concluded in its advice to the Minister of Health that there is insufficient scientific proof to justify the therapeutic use of herbal Cannabis as well as pure cannabinoids (1). With regard to herbal Cannabis, the Council added that the chemical composition is too variable to take the responsibility for its medical application. Official policy since then, has neither allowed physicians to prescribe, nor pharmacists to supply herbal Cannabis to patients. By the end of 1997, however, the import and application of synthetic THC capsules (Dronabinol, Marinol®) was suddenly approved by the Ministry, but patients so far have a strong preference for the herbal product, as it is much cheaper and seems to be milder and more effective.
        "Ample reasons for a profound discussion with all involved parties", the NVF must have thought. Unfortunately, some imbalance in opinions occurred, as the scheduled speaker from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Rutgers, had suddenly more important things to do. Her written summary, however, makes it clear that the Ministry is aware of the fact that many patients use Cannabis for self-medication, that the Ministry does not deny the therapeutic value of Cannabis preparations and that the Ministry, referring to the advice of the Health Council (1), forbids physicians to subscribe, and pharmacists to supply Cannabis. She also emphasizes that the Ministry has a positive attitude towards clinical research aimed at the verification of the therapeutic value of Cannabis. However, for such research one needs some legally produced Cannabis material which the Ministry must import from the US! In this context, it is quite bizarre that two companies in the Netherlands have been refused a permit to produce such medicinal Cannabis legally, while at the same time, the Netherlands is world-famous for tolerating a widespread trade in recreational Cannabis.
        The remaining speakers had at least a neutral, and in many cases positive attitude towards the medical application of herbal Cannabis. Prof. A. Jansen, previously an economist at the University of Amsterdam and author of several publications on the economic aspects of the Dutch Cannabis business, discussed the history of coffee to illustrate his opinion that drug policies are based on religious, economic, political and moralistic considerations in a certain period and culture rather than on the rational evaluation of the health effects of drugs.
        Dr. A. van den Berg from the Department of Pharmacy of the University of Utrecht presented a survey of the history, chemistry and pharmacology of Cannabis. He stated that, although it is generally agreed that THC is the most active compound, this does not imply that the therapeutic actions of herbal Cannabis can be attributed to the presence of THC only. In his opinion there is no objection to the medical application of herbal Cannabis, provided that the composition of the preparations is sufficiently known and standardized. He also stated that the separate therapeutic actions and the interactions of the various compounds require additional research. Van den Berg considered the discovery of cannabinoid receptors in the human brain and periphery, and their corresponding endogenous ligands (anandamides) as an important step forward in the development of new pharmaceuticals.
        Dr. R. Gorter, director of the European Institute of Oncological and Immunological Research in Berlin reported on a multinational clinical trial that is intended to start September 1998. In this trial, all the formal requirements (double blind, large populations of patients, etc.) are met that the Health Council of the Netherlands found lacking in most, if not all, of the reviewed clinical Cannabis trials so far conducted. AIDS and cancer patients will be treated with synthetic THC, herbal Cannabis extract and placebo, respectively. The effect on nausea, appetite and mood will be monitored. Dr. Gorter will attempt to order the necessary plant material for this trial from the US.
        Dr. B. Zaadstra, epidemiologist from TNO Pharma, Leiden recently investigated in a quantitative way the use of Cannabis for self-medication among Dutch Multiple Sclerosis patients (2). She found that 5% of a group of 7000 patients regularly use Cannabis and that 50% of the non-users would like to use it. The majority started using Cannabis after the MS diagnosis and most of the Cannabis is obtained from the semi-legal 'coffee-shops'. The use of Cannabis among male Dutch MS patients was about equal to use among the population of healthy males in Amsterdam. This comparison with inhabitants of Amsterdam, being a city with an unrepresentative high drug consumption, was made as there are no reliable data on Cannabis use for the Netherlands in its entirety. The use among female MS patients exceeded by far the consumption among healthy Amsterdam females. Dr. Zaadstra also received a lot of qualitative responses from the MS patients which she wants to utilize for the experimental design of a future clinical trial.
        Mr. de Zwaan from the Society of Patients for Medical Marihuana (SPMM) had a contribution on the practical experiences of patients using Cannabis. Unlike the representatives of the official medical profession, de Zwaan explicitly did not consider the psychoactivity of marihuana undesirable for patients. He claimed that the improved appetite, the better mood and the tendency to better appreciate the 'here and now', instead of worrying about the past and future are beneficial features of the typical Cannabis 'high'.
        Finally, David Watson from HortaPharm, Amsterdam gave a brief presentation on his company's activities which are aimed at the development of various Cannabis strains with distinct chemical profiles to be used as raw material for cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals. Maripharm from Rotterdam, which in spite of government guidelines, persists in supplying standardized and sterilized marihuana to more than 300 Dutch pharmacists, was also represented.

Etienne de Meijer