A study published today in the journal Neurology confirms anecdotal reports that smoked cannabis is effective in alleviating HIV-related neuropathic pain, which is often difficult to treat with FDA-approved medications. In a group of 50 patients, those who smoked marijuana experienced a median reduction in pain of 72 percent from the first joint, compared to 15 percent for those who smoked a placebo (a joint from which the cannabinoids had been removed). Over the course of the study, the patients who smoked the real stuff experienced twice as much daily pain relief (a median reduction of 34 percent, compared to 17 percent for the control group). As for safety, "no serious adverse events were reported."

This government-approved study, carried out with government-supplied marijuana (which, given the reputed quality of Uncle Sam's pot, makes the results especially impressive), is an important step in rigorously demonstrating the medical utility of cannabis. California NORML's Dale Gieringer reports that DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner today endorsed another important step, urging the agency to give permission for private production of research marijuana to compete with the government's monopoly. But don't get too excited: This decison comes nearly two decades after another DEA administrative law judge, Francis Young, recommended rescheduling marijuana so doctors could legally prescribe it.