Marijuana Medicine's Near-Miraculous Healing Powers Require the Whole Plant—Not Just One Oil Extract
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“We need many kinds of cannabis, not just the CBD-dominant strains,” says Arizona Dr. Suzanne Sisley, who recently testified before state lawmakers in Kentucky and Minnesota about medical marijuana’s potential for helping veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nearly four years earlier, Sisley had gotten FDA approval to investigate whether medical marijuana, including a CBD-rich strain, could be an effective treatment for PTSD. But her research was blocked by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), which would not allow access to cannabis for therapeutic studies. Last week, NIDA finally relented and approved Sisley’s PTSD study, but approval from the DEA is still required.
Apparently no physicians in Minnesota or Kentucky were willing to speak on the record in favor of medicinal cannabis, so Dr. Sisley flew in from Arizona at the behest of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has lobbied for legalizing medical marijuana in several states.
Two competing bills are being considered by Minnesota lawmakers — a broader, more inclusive initiative supported by the MPP and a CBD-only measure that would restrict patient access to non-smokable cannabis oil extracts with negligible amounts of THC. Both bills made it past the first House committee, but no less than nine other committees have to sign off on medical marijuana legislation before it reaches the Minnesota House floor for a full vote.
Polls show huge support for medical marijuana in Minnesota (where selling cannabis to a teenager was once punishable by up to 40 years in prison). Many Minnesota residents are using marijuana, albeit illegally, to assuage chronic pain, stimulate appetite, quell seizures, and offset the awful side effects of chemotherapy. But elected officials in the North Star state seem more attuned to law enforcement opinion, which opposes medical marijuana in its natural, leafy form, than public opinion, which is overwhelmingly pro-choice with respect to cannabis therapeutics.
Sisley could tell which way the wind was blowing as hitherto anti-marijuana politicians lined up to jump on board the CBD-only bandwagon.
“I’m running into this blockade everywhere I go,” said Sisley. “CBD-oil bills are popping up in nearly every state that is examining medical marijuana legislation. And it’s making it much more difficult to pass comprehensive legislation that can address a wide range of conditions. I tried to explain to the legislators that a CBD-only law would benefit a narrow segment of the patient population. The vast majority of patients need access to a broader spectrum of whole plant marijuana remedies. Even pediatric patients need more options.”
The case of Jayden David, a child stricken with Dravet’s Syndrome, is instructive. In 2011, five-year-old Jayden, who had been on 22 pills per day, was given a CBD-infused tincture, which his father obtained from the Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland. The CBD remedy worked wonders. For the next several months the boy with intractable epilepsy was largely seizure-free. Featured on national television, the story of Jayden’s transformation was the first broadcast that drew attention to the remarkable medicinal properties of cannabidiol.
But the story doesn’t end there. In due course, it became evident to Jason David, Jayden’s devoted father, that sometimes his son responded better when more THC was added to the cannabis solution. If Jayden lived in a state with a CBD-only law rather than cutting edge California, he’d be out of luck, unable to legally access the medicine that keeps him alive. Many pediatric epilepsy patients would not be well served by CBD-only legislation. Nor would cancer patients, chronic pain suffers, and people with Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders.
Scientific research has established that CBD and THC interact synergistically and potentiate each other’s therapeutic effects. And marijuana contains several hundred other compounds, including flavonoids, terpenes, and dozens of minor cannabinoids in addition to CBD and THC. Each of these compounds has particular healing attributes, but when combined they create what scientists refer to as an “entourage effect,” so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant exceeds the sum of its parts. Therein lies the basic fallacy of the CBD-only position.