Every 19 seconds somebody dies of a prescription drug overdose. It dosen’t happen with marijuana. — Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Go back to 1936, and you’ll find the roots of the current complexities confronting medical professionals attempting to alleviate pain and symptoms of illness, both physical and psychological, with marijuana (aka weed). It is one view and a distorted one at that. The film was “Reefer Madness,” and it was meant to show the evils of marijuana as a drug that precipitated rape and other criminal behavior as it released our inner, wicked instincts. Watch it here. Today, it is in the public domain. The urban legends that have cropped up around marijuana and LSD are frightening and untrue.
Originally financed by a church group under the title Tell Your Children, the film was intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use.
Image: Undark.orgThe Distinction Between THC and CBD
THC is an active ingredient in Nabiximols, a specific extract of Cannabis that was approved as a botanical drug in the United Kingdom in 2010 as a mouth spray for people with multiple sclerosis to alleviate neuropathic pain, spasticity, overactive bladder, and other symptoms.Nabiximols (as Sativex) is available as a prescription drug in Canada.
While THC can have the effect of elation or a stimulant drug effect, CBD, a highly refined component of marijuana, does not produce this “high.”
In the United States, the cannabidiol drug Epidiolex was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 for the treatment of two epilepsy disorders. Since cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, other CBD formulations remain illegal under federal law to prescribe for medical use or to use as an ingredient in dietary supplements or other foods.
Fear of addiction is reasonable. All of us know what happens when someone who is healthy, begins using addictive substances. And addiction is a significant cause of death in the US. The National Institute of Drug Abuse could not be more directive than its statement on these deaths. “More than 67,300 Americans died from a drug-involved overdose in 2018, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.”
And the drug-death figure is only up to 2018. How many more deaths occurred in the following two years? It is a problem of epic proportions, and that’s where the fear meets the skewed views of all substances that can be seen as “addictive” in people’s minds.
The Covid-19 pandemic may make matters worse as depression and anxiety fuel the use of alcohol and drugs, both street and prescription drugs, according to recent research. While drug use can increase the risks associated with a coronavirus infection, the social and psychological risks of the pandemic can favor and intensify drug abuse, in a potentially catastrophic cycle.
The effects of that 1930s film are still with us, and medical professionals must consider the implications of marijuana in a more enlightened view, especially when it comes to CBD. One hospitalization by a child who took a patient’s CBD gummies does not make a case against its use just as one rainstorm isn’t a hurricane.
The uses for medical marijuana extracts such as CBD are many and increasing with new research. “…many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy. One particular form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome is almost impossible to control but responds dramatically to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web. The videos of this are dramatic. Here’s another video in which Dr. Gupta explores the uses of CBD.
What About Psychedelics? Psychedelics are a whole different ballgame as they are manufactured in drug factories, not gardens, and have a disturbing past. I recently discovered that my college participated in a CIA experiment of LSD during the Cold War period. Students were unaware that they were, involuntarily, enrolled in a highly controversial experiment of mind control.
Of course, Nixon also gave Elvis Presley, a notorious abuser of addictive substances, a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Presley was to be involved in the “war on drugs.” The “war” would continue with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, but illicit drug use didn’t stop.
In the United States, drugs are closely regulated and placed on various schedules by the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration. Under their guidelines, Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Included in the Schedule I category are LSD, marijuana, and heroin. The scheduling continues to be a highly contentious political issue, especially as it relates to LSD and marijuana. Heroin, made from the opium poppy, is highly effective in treating cancer pain (Brompton’s Mixture’s original recipe) and can be grown in the United States. But it’s not grown here but on clandestine farms in the Far East.
Heroin has been used in Canada for cancer pain relief and sedation. Anabolic steroids and ketamine (“Special K”) are listed as Schedule III“drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” A change is coming and ketamine has now begun to come into its own in another way; the treatment of mental disorders such as PTSD. Ketamine, PTSD, and Depression
One researcher currently exploring the medical uses of ketamine, marijuana, and other psychedelic drugs, Dr. Julie Holland, believes the benefits are being realized now. She views it not only as a treatment but as an adjunct to psychotherapy and a substance that may cause brain growth and new connections. The neurogenesis portion is something traditional medications do not cause.
Anyone who grew up in the ’80s has this idea that these drugs kill brain cells, but it’s actually the exact opposite — that a lot of these plant medicines and psychedelic medicines, they engender brain cell growth and what’s called neuroplasticity, which is sort of new connections being formed and potentially the brain being somewhat rewired, which really helps.
Forty million adults in the US suffer from an anxiety disorder, and we know that anxiety is closely allied with depression. Therefore, the potential patient pool is quite large.
It is Dr. Holland’s view that the current treatments with SSRI medications, while useful for some, inhibits the viability of these alternative treatments.
She cautions, however, that these alternative treatments should only be attempted with knowledgable healthcare professionals. Also, she does not disparage the use of SSRI meds. The path for medical research on these formerly forbidden substances is clear, but forging ahead may not be so easy. Funding is still reliant on belief-systems, some of which have not caught up with the science.