Low or No THC, High CBD Medical Marijuana Bills
Low or No THC, High CBD Medical Marijuana Bills: Leaving Most Patients Behind
In August 2013, CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta filed a report on medical marijuana explaining that he had a change of heart and announcing his support for using marijuana for medical purposes. While Dr. Gupta mentioned multiple patients suffering from a variety of ailments (neuropathic pain, PTSD, and nausea as a result of chemotherapy), one particular patient caught the nation’s attention: Charlotte Figi.
Charlotte suffers from a rare and devastating pediatric seizure disorder. After trying numerous treatment options that did not work, her family found medical marijuana providers who developed a strain of marijuana that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in THC. This strain, “Charlotte’s Web,” has been remarkably effective at calming Charlotte’s seizures. She went from having 300 seizures a week to suffering from two or three per month. Dozens of families from across the country have uprooted themselves and moved to Colorado to give their children the same chance.
Charlotte’s story and the concern for other young patients have led some lawmakers to consider passing legislation that only allows patients to access marijuana oils that are high in CBD and that have little or no THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). While it is heartening to see lawmakers’ concern for the plight of patients with catastrophic seizure disorders, these proposals unfortunately exclude the vast majority of those who can benefit from medical marijuana, some of whom also face life-threatening ailments.
While CBD appears to be particularly effective at treating seizures, the number of individuals treating seizure disorders through medical marijuana programs is relatively low. For example, only 2% of the registered patients in both Rhode Island and Colorado report seizures as their qualifying conditions. While it is imperative that these individuals be allowed to legally access medical marijuana – and the strain they need – it is just as important to remember that there are tens of thousands of other men and women and a small number of children who suffer from a variety of debilitating conditions whose symptoms are alleviated by medical marijuana. The vast majority of those patients have symptoms that benefit from strains of marijuana that include more than trace amounts of THC.
THC: Why It Matters
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is just one of the roughly 85 cannabinoids found naturally in marijuana. Clinical trials and the experiences of hundreds of thousands of patients have shown that THC, and strains of marijuana that include THC, provide important medical benefits for individuals suffering from pain, multiple sclerosis, nausea, and wasting disease. THC is also the cannabinoid most responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. While THC does cause marijuana’s “high,” patients use marijuana for relief, not for euphoria. Patients who inhale marijuana can titrate their dosage precisely to use only as much as they need, reducing or eliminating the euphoria. Some use marijuana only before bed.
The federal government has officially recognized THC’s medical properties since 1985, when the FDA approved a prescription drug that is made of synthetic THC — Marinol — for nausea. Yet, Marinol is not adequate for many patients who can benefit from marijuana. For nauseated patients, a pill can be impossible to keep down. Meanwhile, many patients benefit from the synergistic effect of THC and the other cannabinoids, such as CBD. Natural marijuana is less intoxicating than Marinol because patients can titrate their dosage and other cannabinoids moderate THC’s psychoactive properties.
Studies have shown that marijuana that includes THC can alleviate a host of debilitating conditions, including:
- Nausea and appetite loss: Researchers have found THC and marijuana with THC are effective anti-emetics and appetite stimulants for individuals suffering from the side effects of cancer chemotherapy or AIDS treatments.
- Multiple sclerosis: Research has found that marijuana with THC can alleviate spasticity. In addition, Canada, the U.K., and several other countries approved an oral marijuana extract made of equal proportions of CBD and THC.
- Pain: Several studies have found that marijuana strains that include THC can alleviate neuropathic pain — a notoriously difficult-to-treat nerve pain commonly found in amputees, AIDS patients, and patients with multiple sclerosis.
Since the 1970’s, the federal government has been providing a handful of individuals who suffer from various ailments with marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi as part of the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program. The four surviving patients still receiving federal marijuana receive a strain with almost no CBD that has been essential to managing their conditions — a rare bone spur disorder, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and a painful condition called nail patella syndrome, respectively. The marijuana these individuals have benefitted from would not be allowed under CBD-only proposals.
Medical marijuana legislation should not be so restrictive as to leave behind around 98% of the individuals who can benefit from it. THC has proven medical benefits and individuals who can benefit from strains that include it should not be forgotten when legislators debate medical marijuana bills.