Bad news for stoners: FDA approves marijuana-based medication that helps you without getting you high

The “medical marijuana” canard is now more than a decade old.  It’s the argument that marijuana can’t remain illegal because, you see, it’s medicine! It helps with everything from glaucoma symptoms to loss of appetite to the always popular “chronic pain.”

And we’ve all been regaled with heart-rendering stories of the suffering granny who just couldn’t find anything else that made her feel better until she toked up. These tales have been convincing enough to convince either legislators of voters in many states (regrettably including my state of Michigan) to legalize weed for “medicinal purposes.”

Now a few of us have said: Wait a minute. Legitimate medicine isn’t something you simply buy on the street, or from a “dispensary.” Before a real medicinal drug can go on the market, it has to go through FDA testing and approval, for the sake of things like safety and understanding of how dosage should work. Even the safest medicines can become problematic if you take them in the wrong doses, and there’s scarcely a less precise method of delivering a drug than smoking it.

If it’s really true that cannabis contains properties that have medicinal value, then drugmakers can explore how to develop these properties into a safe drug that can pass regulatory inspection and be used only for the medical purpose for which it’s intended – not for getting high.

If that were ever to happen, it would be very bad news for the stoners who push the “medical marijuana” nonsense in a transparent effort to legalize their partying habits. And their mellow is now officially harshed:

Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes are extremely debilitating. Children often suffer multiple seizures per day, they are likely to have developmental problems and are at high risk for early mortality. For several years, desperate parents with children suffering from these disorders sometimes relocated to states where marijuana had been legalized to obtain CBD oils, since this compound had been reported anecdotally to be helpful.

But since medical marijuana products are still not subject to the same federal safety regulations that govern pharmaceuticals, there is no guarantee that CBD oils are accurately labeled or do not contain contaminants; also, with such products it may not be possible for a patient or their caregivers to accurately control the dosage or even know what dosage is being administered. Epidiolex, an oral solution expected to be available to patients in Autumn, 2018, will be safer and more reliable than CBD products currently available through marijuana dispensaries or on the Internet.

In 2014, GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK-based company specializing in cannabinoid-based medicines, obtained Fast Track designation for their medication from the FDA, to accelerate the development of a medication capitalizing on CBD’s anti-seizure properties. Three randomized clinical trials were conducted with 516 children who had either Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.

In April of this year, an FDA advisory committee consisting of experts from around the country (including a representative from NIDA’s Division of Therapeutics and Medical Consequences) assessed the evidence from the trials and voted unanimously to recommend approval of Epidiolex®, given its effectiveness at reducing the frequency of seizures (compared to a placebo) and the fact that the drug appears safe, with mild or infrequent side effects that are far outweighed by its benefits.

Epidiolex® is the first FDA-approved medication made from a purified extract of the marijuana plant. Two other FDA-approved medications, dronabinol and nabilone (used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and to boost appetite in patients with AIDS, respectively), contain synthetic versions of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes the high and is responsible for its addictiveness as well as most of its other effects in the brain.

Disentangling the impairing effects of THC from its potentially therapeutic properties (for instance in treating pain and nausea) has been a challenge in developing safe medications that target the body’s endocannabinoid system. CBD, which interacts with other signaling systems and does not have the same impairing or euphoric side effects, faces fewer safety hurdles.

You take it orally. You don’t smoke it. The labeling is clear. The safety warnings are readily available. You can get the dosage exactly right. And you can get guidance from a doctor on exactly how to take it to deal with your symptoms.

That’s how medicine is supposed to work. The way it’s not supposed to work is: You walk into a “marijuana dispensary” at Woodward and 7 Mile, flash your card and buy a dime bag so you can take it home, roll joints and smoke up. That is not how legitimate medicine is taken.

And because of the work the drug developers have done, they’ve been able minimize or eliminate altogether the chemicals that impair you or introduce so-called euphoric side effects.

In other words, if it’s true that there are medicinal properties in pot, then it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to extract them from the weed itself and make it safe and effective to take as a pill – without getting you high. That now appears to have happened.

If the “medical marijuana” advocates had ever been sincere, they would celebrate this development and admit there is no longer a reason to advocate for legalizing the smoking of blunts for medicinal purposes. They won’t do that, though, because this was never about medicine. It’s always been about making it possible for them to get high and avoid legal jeopardy. Their insistence that these new medicine are ineffective will be coming shortly. They said the same thing about Marinol, and they’ll always say it.

This has never been about anything but getting stoned.

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