Cop-Out by Design: The Truth About CBD-Only Laws

Beginning in 2014, after Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s first CNN special called Weed, America saw a new restrictive type of medical cannabis law passed in Utah — one that only legalized cannabidiol (CBD) and only in the form of cannabis oil. Soon, Alabama, Kentucky, and Wisconsin all passed their own versions of the bill; now we have a total of fourteen states that have legalized CBD-rich oil but no other forms of cannabis use. New York passed a restrictive cannabis law that allows more than just CBD, but smoking is still illegal; they also have an agreement with GW Pharmaceuticals to do clinical trials on GW’s CBD product, Epidiolex. New York is one of the 23 states, plus DC, to have legalized whole-plant medical cannabis, while the NY law is very restrictive and has a pro-CBD bias, at least it allows access to more than just CBD medicine.


Dr. Gupta’s first special, which set off the chain reaction of CBD-only laws, focused on the use of CBD, and almost exclusively for pediatric epilepsy, and if that weren’t limiting enough he only mentioned one CBD-rich strain, Charlotte’s Web. That is why a majority of states that have passed CBD-only laws call them “Charlotte’s Web” laws. Unfortunately for anyone watching Dr. Gupta’s special, he was not telling even telling half the story. Patients, including pediatric epilepsy patients, need more than just CBD; they need whole-plant medicine that includes THC.

Jason David and his son Jayden were profiled on the TV show Weed Wars, for Jason’s use of CBD-rich medical cannabis to control Jayden’s seizures. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason last year for another article, and he was very clear about Jayden’s need for THC while he was weaning off pharmaceuticals. “THC was crucial during the weaning process, without it Jayden would have died. There is no way to wean with just CBD, I tried it and it just made the withdrawal symptoms worse.” It isn’t just about THC and CBD though, Jayden uses a combination of cannabinoids that includes both CBG and THCa, both of which are highly beneficial and non-psychoactive cannabinoids that CBD-only laws ignore (but whole-plant laws embrace).

With 23 states and DC passing whole-plant medical cannabis programs and another 14 having CBD-only laws, nearly three-quarters of America has medical cannabis laws on the books in some form. Thanks to this massive surge in state medical cannabis programs, Congress and 2016 presidential candidates are finally beginning to view cannabis legalization as a voting issue. Senator Rand Paul was the first Republican presidential candidate to openly court the cannabis industry for donations, and has won many friends in the industry for his political stance on cannabis use andhis personal use of cannabis while in college.

In the second GOP presidential debate, Senator Paul raised the issue of cannabis legalization. Paul called out some of his fellow GOP candidates for being hypocritical because they used cannabis from a place of privilege as youths, but sent poor kids to jail with the political policies they supported while in office. Jeb Bush was quick to respond, “Me. He was talking about me.” Bush and Paul had a quick exchange regarding Jeb Bush’s opposition to Florida’s Amendment 2 medical cannabis initiative while he was governor of Florida. Bush defended his opposition to whole-plant medical cannabis programs, which he sees as a fast-track to recreational legalization, by pointing to Florida’s passage of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act (SB 1030) which legalized CBD-only cannabis oils.

Cannabis activist, journalist, and radio personality Radical Russ Belville was quick to point out the inherent danger to cannabis legalization efforts that was laid bare in this conversation. “Within that exchange was the core political problem with the recent spate of CBD-only medical marijuana laws … They provide a rhetorical shield against the most powerful attack we have against marijuana prohibition, the suffering of patients who use cannabinoid medicines.” Now, conservative politicians in conservative states can come out in favor of medical marijuana, but with the caveat that it is CBD-only, without any psychoactive THC. Regrettably, this is also without the numerous medicinal benefits of THC, such as lowering ocular pressure in people with glaucoma, helping trigger apoptosis and appetite in cancer patients, helping combat PTSD, anxiety, and more conditions than this journalist has time to presently list. Another major problem with CBD-only oil laws that Radical Russ points out is that they do not allow for home growing — and on top of that, many do not provide safe access for patients to obtain their medicine.

These concerns have been raised before, by journalists at The Leaf Online and other outlets, and the GOP presidential debate confirms suspicions that politicians will use flawed CBD-only laws as a cover to subvert attempts to legalize whole-plant medical cannabis programs. With a presidential election around the corner and Congress actively debating cannabis legalization with the CARERS Act of 2015, it is critical that our elected representatives understand the importance of whole-plant medicine and why single molecule CBD-only laws are not the right approach. While CARERS is a step in the right direction, it contains an inherent pro-CBD bias and would completely remove CBD from the Controlled Substances Act, while leaving whole-plant cannabis in Schedule II, and Marinol (synthetic THC) in schedule III. Even with it’s anti-THC bias, CARERS should be passed by Congress to allow for better access to cannabis for research purposes, which would lead to the sort of scientific studies that advocates of legalization need to prove their case.

In our interview, Jason David had some sobering words on the topic of CBD-only legalization efforts. “Cannabis legalization has never been about just one component, one strain, or one method. There are thousands of methods, over a hundred cannabinoids, and countless strains. [CBD-only laws won’t] help 1% of patients out there. A lot of people just believe what they see and hear on TV rather than doing their own research. Unfortunately, what people see on TV isn’t telling the whole truth about cannabis. [CBD-only laws are] like if you have over a hundred different pharmaceuticals you can use for epilepsy but you’re being told you can only use one and if it doesn’t work then you’re out of luck. Why should we limit it to just one cannabinoid or just one strain?” Looking at the entourage effect, it is no surprise to see why whole-plant cannabis is more effective than any single molecule form, either in a CBD-only oil or synthetic THC in Marinol. One can only hope that our politicians listen to either the mountain of scientific evidence in support of whole-plant cannabis legalization, or the countless personal stories, like Jason and Jayden’s journey, about patients using cannabis to do what their doctors had told them couldn’t be done.

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