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Canadian Study to Look at Safety of Medical Marijuana

Researchers will track adverse events in patients with hard-to-treat pain

TUESDAY, Dec. 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A study to examine the safety of medicinal marijuana has been launched in Canada.

COMPASS (Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study) is currently enrolling participants. It will track 1,400 people with chronic pain for one year.

"Patients in COMPASS will typically have pain resulting from spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or other kinds of hard-to-treat injuries or muscle pain. We are not recruiting cancer patients for this study," principal investigator Dr. Mark Ware, a pain physician at McGill University Health Centre Pain Centre, said in a prepared statement.

"COMPASS participants will be given access to research-grade herbal cannabis and followed for one year. We'll be looking at a range of safety issues, including adverse events, kidney, liver, heart and lung function, and hormone levels," Dr. Jean-Paul Collet, another principal investigator and a professor of epidemiology at McGill, said in a prepared statement.

"Patients will also do tests at the start and end of the study, to help determine whether medical use of cannabis affects cognitive function," Collet added.

The use of medical marijuana is legal in Canada as long as a patient has a doctor's recommendation and approval from Health Canada.

This is the first Canadian study to examine the safety of medical marijuana.

"Other studies are looking at whether cannabis relieves pain and other symptoms. These studies are important, but we also need to know how safe cannabis used for medical purposes actually is. The experience of recreational users gives us some information, but we must understand safety issues in patients who are taking multiple medications and who may have diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes, which complicate the picture," Ware said.

The marijuana that will be used in COMPASS contains about 12 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The marijuana is being grown by a company under contract to Health Canada. It will be shipped to pharmacies at each study site and then dispensed to study participants.

More information

Health Canada has more about medicinal marijuana.

SOURCE: McGill University, news release, December 2004
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