S.C. researcher's marijuana studies explore its health impact

The State (Columbia, S.C.)December 2, 2010 

Chemical compounds in marijuana can suppress the body’s immune functions — potentially speeding the growth of some cancers but possibly helping in the fight against arthritis, multiple sclerosis or allergies.

The good-news, bad-news findings were published in this month’s European Journal of Immunology, based on a study led by USC researcher Prakash Nagarkatti. An immunologist who has been exploring the potential of cannabis for eight years, Nagarkatti refers to the findings as “a double-edged sword.”

Nagarkatti’s earlier studies dealt mostly with marijuana’s potential to treat leukemia. The latest report, at first glance, seems to contradict his earlier findings. But Nagarkatti says the seeming contradiction just emphasizes the complexities of both marijuana and cancer.

“Cancer is not one illness. It is a very wide range of illnesses,” said Nagarkatti, the Carolina Distinguished Professor in the department of pathology, microbiology and immunology at the USC School of Medicine. “And marijuana has over 400 different chemicals. It’s such a complex plant that we don’t know the impact of all of those chemicals.”

The latest study on lab mice opens avenues for more research on the subject. Nagarkatti hopes it’ll lead to human clinical trials.

He also knows it will stir up the medicinal marijuana debate.

“I’m getting a lot of e-mails from both sides already,” he said.

Many comments tacked onto early online reporting about the study blast Nagarkatti as anti-medicinal marijuana. Those commenting don’t realize his earlier studies showed the promise of marijuana components, or that this study indicated as much positive and negative.

To read the complete article, visit www.thestate.com.

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