The light scent of marijuana wafted among exhibits at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto on Monday, as activists took advantage of Canada’s comparatively pot-friendly policies to make a pitch for the drug as a pain-killer.
“This is the first time that an exhibit of this kind has been at the AIDS conference,” said Hilary Black, spokeswoman for the Medical Marijuana Information Resource Center, which along with the Canadian AIDS Society sponsored the display.
“It’s possible that it may be the only time, until we see a global shift around the policies governing this plant.”
Researchers say marijuana can ease some types of severe and chronic pain as well as symptoms like nausea better and with fewer side effects than many prescription remedies.
While marijuana use is not generally legal in Canada, the federal government runs a medical marijuana program, although only about a quarter of medical marijuana users infected with HIV get their cannabis through legal sources, Black said.
In the United States, the use of medical marijuana has long been contested on the state and federal level. Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have allowed the medical use of the herb. But efforts are under way in several other states to legalize marijuana use.
The Canadian resource center is backed by Cannasat Therapeutics Inc., a Toronto-based research company trying to develop cannabis-based medicine that would eventually be available by prescription.
The group has been passing out information on legal access and tips on the use of cannabis as a medicine and dealing with reaction from participants who have come from around the world for the week-long conference.
“We had some people here from Uganda. One doctor said its like crack cocaine, it’s bad, it trouble,” said Sara Lee Irwin, a spokeswoman for the center and medical marijuana user, as she cut open a foil 250 gram (8.8 ounce) bag of government-issued cannabis.
“The next guy said, ‘It’s not like crack, it’s everywhere, why aren’t we using it?’,” she said.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD