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March 31, 2006

"Weed Bar" in Madison? No, just a spoof by the Daily Cardinal, but why not?

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 31, 2006

UW-Madison’s Daily Cardinal click here spoofs Madison’s tobacco smoking ban with “'Weed bar' attempts to circumvent smoking ban” in their April Fool’s Day issue published March 31.

Seriously though, Madison truly needs places like the article’s mythical Joint Sessions. People have become so numb to the daily torrent of alcohol-related mayhem that even the most heinous events are routinely overlooked.

29 years after Madison voters passed Municipal Ordinance 23.20 legalizing medical use and private possession of cannabis and 34 years after a Presidential Commission recommended marijuana legalization at the state and national levels click here, this nation is still arresting over 750,000 Americans for pot each and every year.

Let us hope some real leaders will emerge with the courage to lead us out of the war on ourselves.

‘Weed bar’ attempts to circumvent smoking ban
Written by The Daily Cardinal
Friday, 31 March 2006

Image Joint Sessions, set to open next week, will feature a hookah room in the back. There is a $15 cover charge on weekends, but it also features an ‘All You Can Weed’ buffet.

The Madison Tavern League of Wisconsin is preparing to welcome another member while supporters and opponents of the city’s smoking ban prepare for a fresh topic of debate as a controversial new marijuana establishment prepares to open its doors at 20 W. Mifflin St.

Joint Sessions, located near Capitol Square is set to open to the public this Thursday at 4:20 p.m. It will be Madison’s first bar to not only cater to marijuana smokers by allowing them to smoke the drug inside, but also the first to derive a significant portion of its income from sales of marijuana and paraphernalia.

“While the City Council debates the future of Madison’s ban on smoking tobacco in bars, I couldn’t be happier to welcome this exciting new tobacco-free establishment to our neighborhood,” said Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, whose district contains the bar. He lives within walking distance of it. “Joint Sessions truly makes me glad to be a Madisonian ... who works just blocks away.”

“Before the City Council passed the cigar bar exemption, the smoking ban nearly put me out of business,” said Brian Haltimer, owner of Maduro Cigar Bar, 117 E. Main St. “Fortunately for Joint Sessions, the ban doesn’t even apply in the first place. It’s really a brilliant business decision.”

As Joint Sessions’ owner, Ryan “Piper” McGrew, looked over the premises, he recalled his inspiration for Wisconsin’s first marijuana bar.

“I lit up at some halfway crispy place on State Street and they threw my ass out and I thought, ‘This sucks. I wish there was somewhere people could smoke inside.’ Then, it hit me,” he said.

“Of course with the smoking ban in place I’m going to have to be constantly on the lookout for tobacco,” McGrew continued, “and it’s going to be a pain making sure that those are cigarette-shaped one-ies and not cigarettes.”

Nearby businesses are anticipating Joint Sessions’ opening.

Just down the street, the Orpheum Theatre has announced special weekend showings of both the 1968 musical “Hair” and “Laser-Floyd” throughout the entire month of April.

“It’s great to see that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Madison,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. “I think it’s safe to say that Joint Sessions has a bright future in our city. Unless, of course, we’re overlooking something.”

Posted by Gary at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2006

Letter: Don't Harm Medical Marijuana Users

Posted by Gary Storck
Thursday, March 30, 2006

On March 9, Joel McNally’s column in Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express, “Willie Horton Multiplied” click here, talked about Wisconsin Republican Attorney General candidate Paul Bucher’s fear-mongering on the war on drugs.

My letter below, a followup to the article and another letter to the editor click here, notes Bucher’s prosecutions extend even to medical marijuana patients and their families. For background, read "Pair Seen As Martyrs In Effort To Legalize Pot" click here,

Newshawk: Is My Medicine Legal YET? www.immly.org
Source: Shepherd Express
Pubdate: March 30, 2006
Author: Gary Storck

DON'T HARM MEDICAL MARIJUANA USERS

Regarding Joel McNally's article (March 9), and Randy Vizyak's letter (March 23) about attorney general candidate Paul Bucher's claims that fellow candidate Kathleen Falk has supported legalizing marijuana: So what? Taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol and tobacco instead of the current counterproductive prohibition would not only benefit society by offering a safer alternative to alcohol, but also bring in revenues to a cash-starved state.

On the other hand, Bucher's overzealous prosecution of even medical users of marijuana as Waukesha County D.A. may have led to the 2002 suicides of Dennis and Denise Schilling. The Big Bend couple took their lives after Bucher's office decided to begin forfeiture proceedings to take the family home while prosecuting them for medical marijuana used to treat Denise's medical problems. After their suicide, Bucher's office followed through with the forfeiture, leaving little remaining for the couple's five children. So much for family values.

Focusing on real problems rather than attempting to fear-monger about cannabis would be a better approach. But, since Bucher clearly has little positive to offer, his longtime fixation with marijuana prohibition comes as no surprise. Voters should take note.

Gary Storck
Madison

Posted by Gary at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2006

Lyn Nofziger, 81, Irreverent Adviser to Reagan, Is Dead

Posted by Gary Storck
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On July 24, 2002, I was part of a press conference in the US Capitol supporting Barney Frank's States' Rights medical marijuana bill, along with Barney Frank, Lyn Nofziger, Jim & Cheryl Miller, Dana Rohrabacher, Ron Paul, Jan Schakowsky, Keith Stroup, Kevin Zeese and others. Nofziger had become a supporter of medical marijuana after his daughter was stricken with cancer. She used cannabis and he saw how much it helped her as she succumbed to the disease, and this experience made him a strong proponent of changing federal law.

It was an exciting day, speaking at a medical marijuana press conference inside the U.S. Capitol. I was honored to meet Lyn, who was very moved by Cheryl. I had brought my signed copy of the late Robert Randall's book, Marijuana Rx, The Patient's Fight for Medicinal Pot, and asked him to sign it, which he graciously did, writing "hang in there", along with his signature.

Rest in Peace, Lyn.

Here are some photos from that day from NORML: click here

Transcript of Press Conference: click here

Some of Lyn Nofziger's comments in support of medical marijuana may be found here: click here

Pubdate: Tue, 28 Mar 2006
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: http://www.nytimes.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/298
Author: John M. Broder
Note: some of Lyn Nofziger's comments in support of medical marijuana
may be found here http://www.lynnofziger.com/musings.htm
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/people/Lyn+Nofziger (Lyn Nofziger)

LYN NOFZIGER, 81, IRREVERENT ADVISER TO REAGAN, IS DEAD

Lyn Nofziger, the cigar-chomping former newspaperman who served as spokesman and strategist for Ronald Reagan in Sacramento and Washington, died of cancer on Monday at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 81.

His death was announced by a family member, Carol Dahmen.

Nancy Reagan, the former first lady, said: "Lyn was with us from the gubernatorial campaign in 1965 through the early White House days, and Ronnie valued his advice -- and good humor -- as much as anyone's. I spoke with him just days ago and even though he knew the end was near, Lyn was hopeful and still in good spirits."

Mr. Nofziger was at the hospital with Reagan after he was shot in March 1981 and relayed to the press the president's memorable, if perhaps apocryphal, line to Mrs. Reagan at the hospital: "Honey, I forgot to duck."

Mr. Nofziger was a reporter in the Washington bureau of the Copley newspaper chain when he was recruited to serve as the spokesman for Reagan's first campaign for governor of California in 1966.

Stuart Spencer, who managed that campaign and Reagan's later campaigns for the White House, recalled Mr. Nofziger as profane, disheveled and always quick with a quip. Mr. Spencer said he still had the Mickey Mouse tie Mr. Nofziger gave him years ago. The difference between them, Mr. Spencer said, was that Mr. Nofziger regularly wore his.

Mr. Nofziger frequently expressed his disdain for Washington and for politics, but he kept returning. He put up a cynical facade that endeared him to the reporters he dealt with, but he remained devoted to Reagan, even though he was never part of the president's innermost circle.

Ms. Dahmen, a great-niece of Mr. Nofziger, told The Associated Press on Monday: "He transcended parties; he was loved on both sides of the aisle. You could love him or hate him, but everybody respected him."

Despite his service in the Reagan and Nixon White Houses, Mr. Nofziger was not a doctrinaire conservative. He could, however, take the gloves off when he felt it necessary to serve the boss, either as a communications aide to Richard M. Nixon or as a political director for Reagan.

He worked under Reagan to replace Democrats in the federal bureaucracy with loyal Republicans. John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, wrote that Mr. Nofziger had helped compile the Nixon White House's "enemies list."

Kenneth L. Khachigian, who worked with Mr. Nofziger in the Nixon White House and remained close to him afterward, said Mr. Nofziger had enlivened meetings, sometimes to the president's displeasure. "He could be infuriating because he never seemed to take things seriously," Mr. Khachigian said. "But on the other hand, he was utterly loyal and devoted to Reagan."

Like several former Reaganites, Mr. Nofziger opened a lobbying practice in Washington after leaving the White House. In 1988, he was convicted of illegally lobbying for two defense contractors and a labor union. Mr. Nofziger dismissed the charges as trivial and told the judge he felt no remorse because he did not believe he was guilty.

A year later a federal appeals court threw out the conviction, saying prosecutors had failed to show he had knowingly committed a crime.

Franklyn Nofziger was a native Californian, born in Bakersfield on June 8, 1924, and a self-described conservative by the time he entered college. He served in the Army and attended San Jose State College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism. He worked in journalism for 16 years as a reporter and editor, and took his manual typewriter with him to the White House even after electric typewriters and then computers rendered it obsolete.

In a 2003 interview with the University of Virginia, as part of its presidential oral history project, Mr. Nofziger conceded that he never would have imagined going into politics. But in 1966, he took a position as press secretary for Reagan's campaign for governor. He served as the governor's director of communications for nearly two years.

Mr. Nofziger's friends said he could be candid to a fault, which sometimes strained his relations with Mr. and Mrs. Reagan. In 1991, when the president dismissed three former close aides, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, from the board of the Reagan Presidential Library, Mr. Nofziger wrote a scathing op-ed article for The Washington Post. He said Mr. Reagan had broken his heart by turning his back on friends.

"Yes, I know you were a long way from being a perfect president," Mr. Nofziger wrote. "I thought that sometimes you listened to and took bad advice. I thought that toward the end you were paying too much attention to what history might think of you -- a mistake most presidents make."

He went on, "But still, while on a scale of 1 to 10 you were more nearly a 7 than a 10, you remained my hero because it's hard to visualize anybody else scoring more than a 5 -- at least on my scale. But today, Mr. President, and I weep because of it, you are no longer my hero."

He said Mr. Reagan had forgotten old loyalties and walked away from old friends. "You have let Nancy and the rich and beautiful people with whom she has surrounded herself and you force off the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library three of the most dedicated and selfless Reaganites there are."

Mr. Nofziger wrote four western novels and a political autobiography, "Nofziger."

But those who know him remember not his serious writings but his puns and quips and bits of doggerel. Among them is a limerick that he penned after the doomed nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court last year, which appears on his Web site, www.lynnofziger.com:

Conservatives are fearful that Harriet

Will be George Bush's Iscariot.

They have little doubt

That she'd sell them out

For a ride in a liberal's chariot.

Mr. Nofziger is survived by his wife, Bonnie, their daughter Glenda and two grandchildren. Another daughter died in 1989.

Posted by Gary at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

Minnesota mmj bill rises from ashes

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 17, 2006

Good news from Minnesota as a medical marijuana bill was given new life when a state senate committee revoted and passed the bill on a second try. Meanwhile, in Illinois, another bill faces an uncertain future in the state senate, with a vote still possible in the coming weeks. In Wisconsin, AB-740 remains dead for the session click here.

StarTribune.com

March 17, 2006

Legislative briefs

Senate committee OKs bill to allow medical marijuana use

A bill to legalize marijuana for medical use in Minnesota cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, advancing it another step in a long and uncertain journey toward possible enactment.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, a candidate for governor, began pushing the measure last year, getting it through one Senate committee then. Thursday's vote sent it to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee. A companion bill hasn't been heard in the House.

"Patients battling cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS or other painful and deadly illnesses should not have to risk arrest and jail if their doctor believes marijuana may ease their suffering," Kelley said. "This legislation protects the sick while establishing sensible controls."

Eleven states have enacted laws to protect medical marijuana patients from criminal proceedings, and 11 others are considering such legislation, according to an advocacy group called Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.

Posted by Gary at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2006

Medical Marijuana Opponent & Former WI Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen convicted on felony corruption charges

Posted by Gary Storck
Saturday, March 11, 2006

While the sting of the death of AB-740 has not yet abated, Wisconsin medical cannabis supporters can take some consolation in today’s jury verdict finding former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen guilty on all counts, of political corruption.

It was Jensen, as speaker, who blocked medical marijuana bills in the 1997-98 and 2001-2002 sessions from making it out of committee, inflicting needless pain and suffering on sick and dying Wisconsinites who might have benefited had they had legal access to cannabis therapy.

A Dec. 12, 2001 Associated Press article noted, "This topic has been a perennial loser here in the Assembly that has done a lot to define Madison liberals but not much to impact the debate," said Steve Baas, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Town of Waukesha).

The article appeared statewide.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal website:

Jensen convicted on all counts
MADISON -- A jury convicted state Rep. Scott Jensen on Saturday of felony misconduct for using state employees as secret campaign operatives, rejecting his claims he thought they were off the state clock and Assembly Republicans had used state workers to campaign for years.

The jury deliberated for 17 hours over three days before finding Jensen guilty of three felony counts of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor count of using his public position to benefit the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.

An extremely ambitious lawmaker who rose to the Assembly's top position in five years and harbored hopes of one day becoming governor, the Waukesha Republican now faces up to 16 years behind bars and $35,000 in fines. He also must give up his political office.

[snip]
Jensen, 45, used his position as Assembly speaker to direct his Capitol office staff and other state employees to work on his campaign and those of vulnerable GOP Assembly candidates from 1998 through 2001, prosecutors said. The goal was to expand Republicans' majority in the Assembly and gain a cheap edge over Republicans' opponents, they contended.

[snip]

Posted by Gary at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

Letter to the Editor: Medical pot bill dies, and with it chance to ease people's pain

Posted by Gary Storck
Saturday, March 11, 2006

My recent blog posting about the demise of the Wisconsin medical cannabis bill click here was published today in the Capital Times as a letter to the editor.

Source: Capital Times

MEDICAL POT BILL DIES, AND WITH IT CHANCE TO EASE PEOPLE'S PAIN

Dear Editor: Wisconsin Assembly Bill 740 regarding the medical use of marijuana - born Oct. 11, 2005; died March 9, 2006.

On Thursday, AB 740, relating to the medical use of marijuana, died in committee from legislative neglect after a short life of only 150 days. AB 740 was preceded in death by the 2003-04 session's AB 892, the 2001-02 session's AB 715 and the 1997-98 session's AB 560.

In those 150 days, an estimated 10,825 Wisconsinites were diagnosed with cancer, and 4,496 families lost a loved one to the disease. Others faced multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, chronic pain and other serious illness. But rather than addressing this urgent need of allowing the use of medical marijuana for these patients, which most people support, our dysfunctional Legislature instead focused on issues that divide us.

And while AB 740 was a bipartisan bill sponsored by a Republican, Rep. Gregg Underheim, its death was also a bipartisan effort.

At a November public hearing, some Republicans scorned the bill and were hostile to supporters. Other members, like Rep. Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, helped kill it by omission, by refusing to take a position and scuttling an expected vote by the committee. It seemed as if only the committees' two physicians, Democratic Reps. Chuck Benedict and Sheldon Wassermann, truly got it, but their colleagues apparently never asked their opinion.

While a vote in committee was never assured, patients who traveled long distances in pain to publicly share private, highly personal information certainly expected one. However, that decision was left up to an out-of-state lobby group. According to a statement from Rep. Underheim's office, the group felt a loss in committee here might negatively affect pending legislation they supported in Minnesota and Illinois. The Minnesota bill lost in committee last Thursday. The fate of the Illinois bill is still pending as I write.

Underheim was certainly free to make whatever decision he felt was proper. However, in the end, patients were not protected, incumbents unwilling to go on record in an election year were protected, and politics again trumped both compassion and science. To Wisconsin patients, it feels like one step forward and three steps back.

Gary Storck
Madison

Posted by Gary at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2006

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 740 regarding the medical use of marijuana -- Born: October 11, 2005 - Died: March 9, 2006

Posted by Gary Storck
Thursday, March 9, 2006

March 9, 2006: Today, Wisconsin Assembly Bill 740, relating to the medical use of marijuana, died in committee from legislative neglect after a short life of only 150 days. AB-740 was preceded in death by the 2003-2004 session's AB-892, the 2001-2002 session's AB-715, and the 1997-1998 session's AB 560.

In those 150 days, an estimated 10, 825 Wisconsinites were diagnosed with cancer and 4496 families lost a loved one to the disease. Others faced multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, chronic pain and other serious illness. But rather than addressing this urgent need that most people support, our dysfunctional legislature instead focused on issues that divide us.

And while AB-740 was a bipartisan bill sponsored by a Republican, Rep. Gregg Underheim, it's death was also a bipartisan effort.

At a November public hearing, some Republicans scorned the bill and were hostile to supporters. Other members helped kill it by omission, by refusing to take a position and scuttling an expected vote by the committee, like Rep. Tom Nelson (D-Kaukana). It seemed as if only the committees' two physicians, Democratic Reps. Chuck Benedict and Sheldon Wassermann, truly got it, but their colleagues apparently never asked their opinion.

While a vote in committee was never assured, patients who traveled long distances in pain to publicly share private, highly personal information certainly expected one. However, that decision was left up to an out of state lobby group. According to a statement from Rep. Underheim's office, the group felt a loss in committee here might negatively affect pending legislation they supported in Minnesota and Illinois. The Minnesota bill lost in committee last Thursday. The fate of the Illinois bill is still pending as I write.

Underheim was certainly free to make whatever decision he felt was proper. However, in the end, patients were not protected, incumbents unwilling to go on record in an election year were protected, and politics again trumped both compassion and science. To Wisconsin patients, it feels like one step forward and three steps back.

Posted by Gary at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

Minnesota medical marijuana bill fails in committee

Posted by Gary Storck
Friday, March 3, 2006

On Wednesday afternoon, I was read a terse statement by an Underheim staffer that the Wisconsin medical marijuana bill, AB-740, would not get a committee vote in deference to the efforts of the Marijuana Policy Project in Illinois and Minnesota.

Today, we learn that the Minnesota bill lost a committee vote on Thursday and is perhaps dead for the session. In Illinois, the Senate was also scheduled to vote on a bill on Thursday, No word yet on the outcome. Here in Wisconsin, there is still a week left for a vote if Rep. Underheim were to reconsider his position.

Posted: 3/3/06

Coon Rapids MN Herald click here

Medical marijuana bill carried by gubernatorial candidate Steve Kelley fails in committee

by T.W. Budig ECM capitol reporter

A medical marijuana bill carried by a DFL gubernatorial candidate failed in a Senate committee on Thursday (March 2) and perhaps failed for the session.

Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, has had success earlier with his bill but negative votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee left the senator contemplating Senate rules for other options.

Kelley’s bill attempts to establish a framework under which people suffering from medical ailments and conditions could obtain marijuana. Marijuana use is illegal in Minnesota.

Darrell Paulsen, of St. Paul, testified that he has used marijuana for 15 years to lessen the rigidity and other symptoms of his cerebral palsy. “I live my life from a power wheelchair,” said Paulsen.

Neil Haugerud, a former Fillmore County Sheriff and lawmaker, testified in favor of the bill, saying he personally has suffered from chronic pain for years though has not tried marijuana because it’s illegal.

Having the Minnesota Legislature approve a medical marijuana bill would not wholly safeguard users from arrest.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kathleen Pontius, Senate legal counsel opined, allows federal authorities to arrest medical marijuana users even though they’re abiding by state law. “Theoretically they could,” said Kelley of the feds nabbing people. But he didn’t think it likely.

Kelley said the witnesses who admitted to using marijuana for medical reasons showed courage in testifying before the committee.

The bill took an interesting turn when Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, amended it with a provision that would have allowed state law enforcement agencies to give or sell confiscated marijuana to registered marijuana users. They have “the largest stash in the state,” said Skoglund of law enforcement.

The provision was later amended out of the bill.

Two attempts at getting the bill out of the Judiciary Committee failed on tied votes.

Senators Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, and Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, voted for the bill.

Posted by Gary at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

Wisconsin State Journal: Guest Column: Where is medical marijuana?

Posted by Gary Storck
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Wisconsin State Journal was kind enough to publish this guest column. Between dysfunctional state politics and the agenda of a national marijuana policy group, promises of a committee vote and a possible Assembly floor vote are apparently being broken, and Wisconsin patients are angry and extremely disappointed. This is the 4th time in the last 5 sessions a medical marijuana bill is headed for death in committee. Underheim's office is running out of time to do the right thing. If you care about this issue, call Rep. Underheim and ask for a committee vote: (608) 266-2254 will connect you to his office.

Source: Wisconsin State Journal

Pubdate: March 1, 2006

Guest Column

Where is medical marijuana?

By Gary Storck

It's been over 3 months since Rep. Gregg Underheim, R-Oshkosh, held a hearing on his medical marijuana bill, AB-740. His Assembly Health Committee has not voted.

Underheim's staff says this is because they aren't sure they have the votes. Despite compelling testimony from health care professionals, patients and caregivers - as well as stacks of studies demonstrating the medicinal efficacy of cannabis -- most committee members have been silent or voiced hostility.

But the public deserves to know where the committee stands. Very ill people traveled long distances to testify before the committee on how medical cannabis helps them. It is the committee's duty to fairly weigh the evidence and vote the bill up or down.

Because he is not seeking re-election, this is Underheim's last chance to move medical marijuana legislation in Wisconsin. For patients, there is no stepping down - their only out is death.

Underheim gave hope to sick people and their families by championing this issue. But it should not end here.

Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support giving patients legal access to medical marijuana. As taxpayers and voters, they deserve to know if the committee agrees.
------------------------
Storck is spokesman for the Wisconsin Coalition for Safe Access in Madison.

Posted by Gary at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

Study: Marijuana Compound May Help Stop Diabetic Retinopathy

Posted by Gary Storck
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Each day seems to bring new develiopments in what is known about the medicinal properties of cannabis and cannabinoid compounds. Now, a new study click here from the Medical College of Georgia finds cannabis is beneficial in treating diabetic retinopathy. Cannabis has previously been found very useful in treating diabetic neuropathy, nerve pain that can affect the entire body. With diabetes an increasing problem in America, cannabis is a low-cost, non-toxic therapy to keep diabetics health from worsening.

Medical College of Georgia Released: Mon 27-Feb-2006, 19:25 ET

Marijuana Compound May Help Stop Diabetic Retinopathy

Newswise ­ A compound found in marijuana won't make you high but it may help keep your eyes healthy if you're a diabetic, researchers say.

Early studies indicate cannabidiol works as a consummate multi-tasker to protect the eye from growing a plethora of leaky blood vessels, the hallmark of diabetic retinopathy, says Dr. Gregory I. Liou, molecular biologist at the Medical College of Georgia.

"We are studying the role of cannabinoid receptors in our body and trying to modulate them so we can defend against diabetic retinopathy," Dr. Liou says. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults and affects nearly 16 million Americans.

High glucose levels resulting from unmanaged diabetes set in motion a cascade ultimately causing the oxygen-deprived retina to grow more blood vessels. Ironically, the leaky surplus of vessels can ultimately destroy vision.

Dr. Liou, who recently received a $300,000 grant from the American Diabetes Association, wants to intervene earlier in the process, as healthy relationships inside the retina first start to go bad.

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and endogenous cannabinoids are produced to act on them. "Their function is very different from organ to organ but in the central nervous system, cannabinoid receptors are responsible for the neutralization process that should occur after a nerve impulse is finished," says Dr. Liou.

Nerves come together at a point of communication called a synapse. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that excites these nerves to action at their point of communication. "There are also inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GABA," Dr. Liou says. Endogenous cannabinoids help balance the excitation and inhibition, at least until oxygen gets scarce.

In the face of inadequate oxygen, or ischemia - another hallmark of diabetes - nerve endings start producing even more glutamate, setting in motion an unhealthy chain of events. Pumps that keep the right substances inside or outside of cells start to malfunction. Excess nitric oxide and superoxides are produced, which are toxic to the cells. Another irony is the heightened activity increases the retina's need for oxygen. "We are talking about nerve cell death," Dr. Liou says. "In the retina, if a lot of our nerve cells die, our vision is directly affected."

And that's not all that goes wrong in the nerve-packed retina. Glial cells, which support nerve cells by supplying nutrients and oxygen, are closely attuned to their charges. When they sense something is amiss, microglia, one type of glial cells, start eating the dying nerve cells.

"Microglial cells become voracious. They eat dying nerve cells, making the whole thing irreversibly bad," says Dr. Liou. Interestingly, the body start producing more endogenous cannabinoids to stop the role reversal, then produces an enzyme to destroy the cannabinoids because of concern there are too many of them. The same thing happens in the brain after a stroke. "Long before all these blood vessels start growing, the partnership between glial cells and nerve cells starts breaking down," says Dr. Liou.

That's why cannabidiol, an antioxidant, may help save the retina. Test-tube studies by others, as well as Dr. Liou's pilot studies in diabetic animal models show cannabidiol works to interrupt essentially all these destructive points of action.

"What we believe cannabidiol does is go in here as an antioxidant to neutralize the toxic superoxides. Number two, it inhibits the self-destructive system and allows the self-produced endogenous cannabinoids to stay there longer by inhibiting the enzyme that destroys them." Cannabidiol also helps keep microglial cells from turning on nerve cells by inhibiting cannabinoid receptors on microglial cells that are at least partially responsible for their ability to destroy rather than support the cells.

"Cannabinoids are trying to ease the situation on both sides. They help save the neuron and, at the same time, make sure the microglial cells stay in microglial form. How good do you want a drug to be?" Dr. Liou says.

His earliest studies in animal models, published in the January issue of the American Journal of Pathology, indicate it may be very good.

Co-authors on the study include Dr. Azza B. El-Remessy, MCG Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Drs. Mohamed Al-Shabrawey, Nai-Tse Tsai and Ruth B. Caldwell, MCG Vascular Biology Center; and Dr. Yousuf Khalifa, MCG Department of Ophthalmology.

"We are very pleased," he says of studies in which cannabidiol is injected into the stomachs of diabetic rats and mice.

He hopes the compound in marijuana may one day be given along with insulin to stop the early changes that set the stage for damaged or destroyed vision.

Posted by Gary at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)