Medical Cannabis: Back to the Future After a Brief Push to the Past

May 14, 2018
Abstract / Synopsis: 

The recent policy reversals concerning medical cannabis protections underscore the need for education and a greater understanding about the evolution of cannabis from a dirty little secret to a shining new hope for safe and effective pain relief.

One of the most promising new medicinal treatment options in modern history was quietly freed just months after it was roughly handcuffed and hauled off to jail by a Justice Department memo. Discreetly tucked into the omnibus spending bill recently passed by Congress, and largely overshadowed by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and the threat of a government shutdown, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment restored federal protections for medical cannabis that had been placed in doubt following the Attorney General’s recision of the Cole Memorandum. The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer ammendment specifically states that federal funds cannot be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

It’s critically important that both Congress and the White House have recognized the need to protect Americans’ access to medical cannabis, especially in light of the deadly opioid epidemic and the urgent need for alternatives to powerful, addictive painkillers. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1) found that doctors in states where cannabis is legal prescribe more than 2 million fewer daily doses of opioids each year and have a 25% lower opioid death rate

Cannabis has shown promise in treating symptoms for an ever-growing list of ailments including chronic pain, childhood epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, cancer, and fibromyalgia. Ongoing research promises to find more uses for its many forms. Experience and education are slowly lifting the curtain of cannabis’ former smoky stigma. 

The Justice Department’s brief attempt to allow federal prosecution of legal users was a chilling throwback to the past when most dismissed cannabis as a bad habit for slackers hiding in smoky back alleys. In those days, few understood the potential healing power and benefits of cannabis. Today, the future of medical cannabis looks increasingly bright. More and more people are realizing that medical cannabis is rarely smoked: it’s administered in oils, patches, energy bars, candies, tinctures, and even bath salts. In addition, more doctors and patients are embracing its value as a nonaddictive painkiller that has proven to help reduce dependency on many prescription medications. A recent study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2) found medical cannabis users take fewer other medicines including opiates, anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, and over the counter pain relievers. One patient told the Chicago Tribune (3) that medical cannabis helped her win her battle against substance abuse because it was effective without being addictive.

Cannabis’ clean little secret is out: it contains more active ingredients than just tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which creates the feeling of being high. A lesser known, but no less potent component called CBD, short for cannabinoid, functions as an anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and antipsychotic agent that could hold potential in the treatment of neuroinflammation, epilepsy, nausea, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

The more we learn, the more the medical community and the general public are embracing this once forbidden substance. Its hidden healing powers are finally being examined, revealed, and legitimized.

Currently there’s a significant divergence between federal law, which includes cannabis on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act rendering it federally illegal, and the laws of 31 states or territories that have legalized either its medical or recreational use. Recent polling suggests that 93% of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, while more than 60% of Americans now live in places where medical cannabis is legal, and about 30% live where adult recreational use is legal (4). But there’s a new groundswell of support for a number of reform laws to open the floodgates and untie the hands of more patients, doctors, cultivators and researchers:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of giving final approval to a cannabis-based treatment for epilepsy. If approved, this would be the first time the FDA has confirmed that cannabis has a medical use, which would necessitate a descheduling of cannabis from Schedule 1.
  • Colorado Senator Corey Gardiner just struck a deal with President Trump, who agreed to support efforts to end the federal prohibition and let states decide which kinds of cannabis use they wish to sanction.
  • Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is working on a bill to deschedule cannabis from Schedule I to give states the freedom to decide and make it easier for scientists to study its potential benefits.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has fast-tracked a bill to remove hemp and hemp-related products including CBD with low THC content from Schedule I.
  • Two bills would authorize the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department to advance medical cannabis research and allow VA physicians to recommend medical marijuana for veterans.
  • The Safe Banking Act would authorize banks and other financial institutions to offer services to legitimate and licensed medical cannabis operators or service providers and prevent federal banking regulators from denying or limiting service to them.
  • The Medical Cannabis Research Act would simplify the medical marijuana research process.
  • The recently passed Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment restoring federal protection to medical cannabis in states where it’s legal brings medical cannabis back into the 21st century where it’s quickly gaining recognition as a game-changing painkiller.

As a leading player in the industry, Liberty Health Sciences is once again free to continue its mission to research, produce, and process the highest quality, pharmaceutical-grade cannabis and educate an ever-expanding community about its many benefits. Welcome back to the future, cannabis.

George Scorsis is the CEO and director of Liberty Health Sciences in Alachua, Florida.

References: 
  1. H. Wen and J.M. Hockenberry, JAMA Intern Med.  178(5), 673–679 (2018). doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.1007. Available at: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2677000?redirect=true.
  2. D. Bruce, J.P. Brady, E. Foster, and M. Shattell, J. Altern. Complement Med. 24(2), 146–153 (2018). doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0184. Epub 2017 Sep 25. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28945457
  3. R. McCoppin, Chicago Tribune, “Medical marijuana patients report reduction in use of prescription drugs,” October 9, 2017. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-medical-marijuana-illinois-study-painkillers-met-20171008-story.html.
  4. https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2432.
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