Surgeon General Says Yes to Science, Admits Weed Has Medical Benefits

Vivek Murthy says marijuana is ‘helpful’ for certain medical conditions. Could this be the tide-turner for legalization?
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy believes in science.

As he answered questions Wednesday about the measles outbreak that is turning into the year’s first public health emergency, the 37-year-old doctor assured Americans that vaccines are safe and that government policy is informed by sound data and scientific consensus. When CBS This Morning host Gayle King pivoted to ask Murthy for his views on marijuana, the country’s youngest ever surgeon general gave an answer that was at once historic and entirely consistent with his scientific approach.

“We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful,” Murthy said. “We have to use that data to drive policy making.”

While a first for a surgeon general, this was not actually a risky statement. Murthy’s belief is in line with the positions of the American College of Physicians (PDF), the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association (PDF), the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (PDF), The California Medical Association (PDF), Dr. Sanjay Gupta, countless less famous but equally sincere physicians, and laws in 23 states and the District of Washington that permit the use of marijuana for medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, and a host of cancer-related symptoms.

But the statement also seemed to put the nation’s top health official in direct conflict with federal law. To the Department of Justice and its Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana remains, along with heroin, a Schedule I narcotic, defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use.” Cocaine and crystal meth, on the other hand, are listed as Schedule II drugs, with “less abuse potential.”

This absurd policy has been inexplicable for so long, that the nation’s highest officials have given up trying to defend it.

“I don’t think it’s more dangerous than alcohol,” President Obama said to The New Yorker’s David Remnick about marijuana last year. Casual as his remark seemed, Obama rocked the drug reform movement. Just weeks after the president said what a sizable majority of Americans already agreed with, a group of 18 representatives from nine states took a stand on the issue and, in a gesture of bi-partisan consent, wrote a letter (PDF) that called on Obama to take executive action.

“We were encouraged by your recent comments in your interview with David Remnick,” the name-dropping representatives wrote. “Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate was, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.”

This absurd policy has been inexplicable for so long, that the nation’s highest officials have given up trying to defend it.
Nine months later, in his exit interview with Katie Couric, Holder passed the buck right back.

“At the federal level marijuana is still classified in the same category as heroin,” Couric said. “In your view should that change?”

“I think that’s certainly a question that we need to ask ourselves,” Holder said, “whether or not marijuana is as serious a drug as is heroin.” Couric nodded and as Holder weighed the pros and cons, she pressed him on decriminalization. That, he said, is “something for Congress to decide.”

Congressional action might be Holder’s preference, but it is not actually mandated by the law.

“Eric Holder could initiate that process today if he wanted to,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a decriminalization advocacy group, and pointed out that the 1970 Controlled Substances Act gives the attorney general sweeping power to define and classify the full schedule of illegal drugs. At the same time, Angell said, “Congress could pass a bill to move marijuana from Schedule I to a lesser one, or make it unscheduled, like alcohol or tobacco.”

But as public opinion on the issue passes the super majority mark, neither branch of government has made a move. “In essence, the Justice Department and Congress are both begging each other to fix federal marijuana laws,” wrote Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post. An aide to Senator Rand Paul told The Daily Beast that the Kentucky lawmaker is considering a bill this year that would reschedule the drug. “It’s a work in progress,” the aide said, but couldn’t offer any specifics.

In his interview with Couric, Holder left open the possibility that his department could one day endorse rescheduling marijuana. Whatever is decided, Holder said the government should let science be the guide. “Use science as the basis for that determination,” he said.

A Department of Justice spokesman said, “the Department supports research into potential medical uses of marijuana.” Surgeon General Murthy told the Daily Beast that “marijuana policy—and all public health policies—should be driven by science” and that “the Federal Government has and continues to fund research on possible health benefits of marijuana and its components.”

The problem with this, said Angell, is how difficult it is even for academic institutions to gain government approval for such studies. The American Medical Association (AMA), one of the most conservative organizations on marijuana decriminalization, changed its long-held position on classification in 2009. Marijuana’s ongoing schedule I classification “limits the access to cannabinols for even research,” said Edward L. Langston, MD, an AMA Board of Trustees member. “It is very difficult,” he told American Medical News, to legally research the substance. A report by the AMA Council on Science and Public Health that same year found that, “bureaucratic hurdles apply to cannabis research that do not impede other drug investigations.”

Evidence for the claim is not hard to find. At the University of Massachusetts, an agricultural professor has been trying for more than 15 years to gain approval to grow cannabis for research. In Kentucky, the DEA finally released a shipment of research-bound hemp seeds last May, but only after the state’s agricultural commissioner sued the agency in federal court.

The medical community and public opinion has come a long way in the 20 years since Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Surgeon General under President Bill Clinton, took flak for defending decriminalization. But even as a new surgeon general calls for more science, Angell said the research opportunities won’t change until the laws do, and that politicians are lagging behind most Americans on the issue.

“They don’t realize that a majority of Americans are ready for medical marijuana to be legalized,” he said. “They perceive it as dangerous when it is not.”

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Pediatricians Urge DEA to Reclassify Medical Marijuana to Boost Research

For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reclassify marijuana so that more research can be conducted in the hopes of finding benefits for children. The influential medical society also proposes that marijuana should be made available on a compassionate use basis for children with debilitating or life-threatening illnesses.

Specifically, the AAP wants marijuana to be removed from the DEA’s Schedule 1 listing for controlled substances, which are not considered to have any “currently accepted medical use in the U.S., a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and a high potential for abuse.” Other drugs in this category include heroin, acid and ecstasy.

Instead, the medical society wants marijuana downgraded to the list of Schedule 2 drugs, which are considered to have a “high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” These include various widely prescribed narcotics, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, as well as morphine and codeine, which are used for medical purposes.

“A Schedule 1 listing means there’s no medical use or helpful indications, but we know that’s not true because there has been limited evidence showing [marijuana] may be helpful for certain conditions in adults,” says Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor in pediatrics at Stanford University and a member of the AAP national committee on substance abuse, who co-authored the new policy statement.

“By placing this on Schedule 2, it would allow the FDA to be involved [in pediatric research] as the agency is in any study. Unless scheduling changes, this won’t happen. And there could be therapeutic benefits. The AAP is not opposed to medical marijuana, per se, but we feel it’s important that this be explored within the [framework of the] FDA process, where you have standardization.”

Epilepsy has been high on the list of potentially beneficial uses. Last year, the Epilepsy Foundation called on the DEA to reschedule marijuana so to improve and bolster research, reflecting a growing belief that medical uses can combat the affliction. Since marijuana became legal in some states, there have been reports that cannabis compounds may reduce the frequency or severity of seizures.

To what extent the Obama administration will consider making such a change remains unclear. There have been numerous proposals and recommendations made over the years to change the DEA scheduling. In 2008, the American College of Physicians suggested a review. But the federal government has resisted relisting over debate about the kind of scientific evidence that would warrant a change.

Although 23 states have legalized medical marijuana for those who receive recommendations for use by physicians, there is no accepted medical use on a federal level. The FDA is conducting an analysis – at the request of the DEA – to determine whether marijuana should be downgraded on the Controlled Substances list. We have reached out to the FDA for comment and will update you accordingly. The DEA, meanwhile, last year approved an increase in the amount of marijuana that government researchers can use for studies.

The AAP recommendation, meanwhile, is potentially significant. By adopting such a policy, the influential medical society is lending its voice to a growing national debate over the veracity of using marijuana for medical purposes. And any steps that lead toward new research may also open the door to further investment from a variety of companies that view marijuana as a growing, if risky market.

“Most people realize AAP advocacy is for the well-being of children,” says Ammerman. “As pediatricians, we’re into prevention and early intervention. So having this voice will be important. We’re advocating for the kids and if it leads to research that establishes [that marijuana offers] a benefit – whoever conducts the research – then what we’re doing could help improve pediatric care.”

[UPDATE: An FDA spokeswoman says the agency "can’t comment on the suggestion to change the schedule for marijuana, as the latest FDA review of the issue (known as the 8-factor analysis) is currently ongoing. However, FDA agrees with the call by the AAP for rigorous scientific research into the uses of marijuana. The FDA has an important role we are playing to support scientific research into the medical uses of marijuana and its constituents as part of the agency’s drug review and approval process. As a part of this role, the FDA supports those in the medical research community who seek to study marijuana."]

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Medical Marijuana After Traumatic Event ‘Prevents PTSD Symptoms’

Providing trauma patients with medical marijuana shortly after the event could help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), researchers have said.

In a study on rats, scientists at the University of Haifa in Israel found that administering synthetic marijuana, or cannabinoids, helped to prevent PTSD symptoms caused by both the trauma and trauma reminders.

It is estimated that about 3% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with combat soldiers, prisoners and victims of crime particularly at risk.

Researchers Nachshon Korem and Irit Akirav said: “The importance of this study is that it contributes to the understanding of the brain basis of the positive effect cannabis has on PTSD and thus supports the necessity to perform human trials to examine potential ways to prevent the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders in response to a traumatic event.”

Published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the authors note that common phenomenon of PTSD is the ‘trauma reminder’ – which evokes the memory of the traumatic experience.

Previously, Akirav had found that the use of marijuana within a short time frame after a traumatic event helped to reduce PTSD symptoms in rats. In their latest study, the team looked at whether cannabinoids could reduce the symptoms of PTSD following a trauma reminder.
Findings showed that rats treated with marijuana showed no PTSD symptoms compared to the control group that did not receive the drug. The treated rats also showed better results than those that had been given an antidepressant.

“In other words, cannabis made the effects of trauma reminders ‘disappear’,” the researchers said in a statement, adding they believe the cannabinoids prevented the brain from forming and saving traumatic memories.

“The findings of our study suggest that the connectivity within the brain’s fear circuit changes following trauma, and the administration of cannabinoids prevents this change from happening. This study can lead to future trials in humans regarding possible ways to prevent the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders in response to a traumatic event,” they said.

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Finally, Some Hard Science on Medical Marijuana for Epilepsy Patients

A groundbreaking clinical trial may provide some answers to medical marijuana as a seizure treatment

For years, some parents have turned to medical marijuana to treat their children’s debilitating epilepsy, crediting the drug with dramatically reducing seizure activity. A groundbreaking clinical trial about to begin recruiting test subjects may finally provide some science to back their claims.

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver will study the genes of those with a kind of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome who have been treated with a strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web. The study will attempt to determine if specific genetic components can explain why some epilepsy patients see positive results from ingesting Charlotte’s Web, while others do not.

The plant, grown by five brothers in Colorado through a non-profit organization called Realm of Caring, is low in THC, the compound that produces marijuana’s psychoactive effects, and high in CBD, a compound believed to reduce seizures in those suffering from certain forms of epilepsy. It is administered to epilepsy patients, including many children, in the form of an oil. The plant is named after Charlotte Figi, a young girl who was the first epilepsy patient successfully treated with the strain.

While anecdotal evidence suggests Charlotte’s Web can be highly effective in treating such conditions, scientific investigation of the product has been stymied by federal drug laws that severely limit marijuana research. Edward Maa, the principal investigator of the Charlotte’s Web study, says the new trial could be a first step toward building a body of research on how and why medical marijuana can be used to treat epilepsy. “This is the first attempt to get the information people are interested in that is observational in nature,” says Maa, an assistant professor at UC Denver and chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Programs at Denver Health.

The new study will recruit epilepsy patients who have already taken Charlotte’s Web. The patients will be divided into two groups—those who have seen seizure activity reduced by at least 50 percent on Charlotte’s Web and those who have had less dramatic or no results from taking the marijuana oil. Genetic analysis of the patients in both groups will then be performed in hopes of discovering what genetic components may cause a patient to be responsive to medical marijuana. Interventional studies, in which patients would be given Charlotte’s Web to measure its efficacy, are far more difficult to conduct. “That would be the Holy Grail,” says Maa.

Still, researchers on the UC Denver team will collect data on dosages used by patients in the study, for example, which could allow for further research down the line. “The more data we are able to collect in a large sample, the closer to the truth we will get,” says Maa. He says the study could allow children with Dravet Syndrome to be genetically screened before taking Charlotte’s Web so parents could know ahead of time if their children would benefit. It’s possible to conduct the study in Colorado because Charlotte’s Web is grown there legally and is home to many families who have moved to the state to specifically to access the marijuana strain.

“Do you uproot and move your entire family to not have an effect? I think this could be very helpful to answer this question,” says Maa.

Recruiting for the new study will begin within a month and data will be collected until February 2016.

Kate Pickert

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Federal Bill would legalize low THC / high CBD strains

Federal marijuana bill
Daily Dose: Federal marijuana bill would legalize some strains of cannabis

Doctors in Macon, Georgia, told Janea Cox that her daughter, Haleigh, might not live another three months.

That was the middle of March, when Haleigh’s brain was being short-circuited by hundreds of seizures a day, overrunning the array of five potent drugs meant to control them. Worse, the drugs were damaging Haleigh’s organs.

“She was maxed out,” Cox said. “She’d quit breathing several times a day, and the doctors blamed it on the seizure medications.”

Cox had heard that a form of medical marijuana might help, but it wasn’t available in central Georgia. So a week after hearing the ominous diagnosis, she and Haleigh packed up and moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, Haleigh began a regimen of cannabis oil: four times a day and once at night.

By summer, she was down to just a handful of seizures a day. In less than three months, doctors were able to wean her off Depakote, a powerful medication that had been damaging her liver.
Haleigh had never been able to walk or talk. But freed from seizures in Colorado, “She said ‘Mama’ for the first time,” Cox said. “She’s playing with puzzles; she’s walking. She’s almost being a normal child.”

Despite all the good news, Cox is living in limbo. Her husband, a paramedic, couldn’t afford to leave his job and pension; he still lives and works in Forsyth, Georgia. The family is relying on charity to keep their Colorado apartment for the next few months; beyond that, the future is uncertain.

A bill being introduced Monday in the U.S. House of Representatives could be Cox’s ticket home. The three-page bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act — the federal law that criminalizes marijuana — to exempt plants with an extremely low percentage of THC, the chemical that makes users high.

If passed, it would be the first time that federal law allows any medical marijuana use.

“No one should face a choice of having their child suffer or moving to Colorado and splitting up their family,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania, the bill’s sponsor. “We live in America, and if there’s something that would make my child better, and they can’t get it because of the government, that’s not right.”

The bill will land in a Congress that may be open to change. Across the country, highly sympathetic patients and a nonintoxicating product have proved a popular mix. This year alone, 11 states have passed legislation loosening regulation of cannabis strains with high cannabidiol and/or minimal THC content.

In this atmosphere, Perry says that once members and their staffs are brought up to speed, he expects the bill to attract “overwhelming” support. “In a time of intractability in Washington, D.C., this is something where we can show some progress.”

Dubbed the Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014, the bill is named after Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl whose parents have campaigned nationwide for easier access to medical marijuana after successfully controlling their daughter’s seizures with cannabis oil. Since her story became known, a growing number of parents have flocked to Colorado, hoping for similar success.

The Charlotte’s Web cannabis strain, developed by the Realm of Caring nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs, is in high demand, in part because of the attention it’s received in the media. Many families wait months for a batch to be grown and processed into cannabis oil. Perry’s bill, however, would apply to any cannabis strain with a THC content of less than 0.3%.

Charlotte’s Web and similar strains not only have minimal THC, they have high levels of cannabidiol, another chemical. A growing body of anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabidiol can effectively control seizures, though there are no published studies to support its use.
It’s easy to find critics who say parents should follow a more traditional route.

“There is no evidence for marijuana as a treatment for seizures,” Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, a physician, claimed during a congressional hearing last month. “We hear anecdotal stories, and that’s how myths come about.”

Fleming and others point out that a pharmaceutical version of cannabidiol oil, called Epidiolex, is being tested in clinical trials. But many children aren’t able to get into the trials. Haleigh Cox is disqualified because she has type-1 diabetes. Others aren’t willing to wait several months to be enrolled.

“With Epidiolex, there just aren’t enough seats at the table,” said Mark Knecht, a father from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, whose story helped inspire Perry’s bill.

His daughter Anna, 11, has epilepsy and suffers anywhere from a handful of seizures a day to more than 100, despite her four anti-convulsant medications. Knecht, the chief financial officer of a large Christian medical nonprofit, says Anna has been evaluated at several top hospitals but couldn’t land a spot in the Epidiolex trial.

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The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics

Off to the 2014 Endocannabinoid Medical Conference! Looking forward to hearing about the latest research…! We will update you on the blog when we get back!

The Eighth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics

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Our Video Introduction

Click on this Video Link to learn more about What we Do at the SW Medical marijuana Evaluation Center!

How do you get an MMJ Card in Arizona? Make an appointment with us and we can explain the medical criteria to you and conduct an evaluation to see if you qualify for certification.

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American Academy of Neurology Calls For Research on Marijuana’s Benefits

This gallery contains 1 photo.

“In new guidelines published this week, the world’s largest association for neurologists concluded that marijuana may be an effective treatment for a number of brain-related conditions.”  Read the full article in Leaf Science here…

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Medical Marijuana Professionals Seek Willing Charities

Arizona’s Medical Marijuana professionals want to support charities that are affiliated with conditions qualified for medical marijuana use.  Unfortunately, finding organizations willing to accept their donations is not as easy as it may sound.  Many charities are still reluctant to accept funds from anyone associated with cannabis even though medical marijuana businesses are legal entities in Arizona. Both sides suffer as a result.

A recent event is a case in point.  In an effort to give back, state licensed medical cannabis dispensary, The Holistic Center (THC), recently hosted a community charity event in recognition of the 4/20 Medical Marijuana Holiday. As they prepared for the event, organizers approached various charities but were turned down by several organizations.  Only the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Arizona Chapter was willing to accept their generous offer. They reaped the benefit of a successful event while others missed out.

Dr. Elaine Burns, Medical Director of Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center, participated in the event.  Donating 20% of her proceeds from the day, she also offered reduced fee certifications for the AZ MMJ program and conducted evaluations in the Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation mobile unit.  “Every day, we see patients who suffer from a wide variety of ailments, everything from cancer and MS patients to individuals whose severe seizures leave them with little to no quality of life.  Medical marijuana helps them immensely but most of them also rely on the resources provided by charities that support those with their condition.  We respect those organizations and want to support them.  In fact, to maintain their not for profit status, dispensaries are required to give to other 501(c)3 organizations. Dispensaries and certification doctors are not street corner drug dealers.  We are serious, legitimate medical professionals who wonder how any charity can afford to ignore such readily available funds.”

Dr. Burns, an Arizona-licensed and board-certified Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and Certified Expert in Cannabis Medicine, is the founder and Medical Director of the Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center.  She was the first physician in Arizona to pass the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine’s (AACM) physician certification test which established her as Arizona’s only certified expert in the clinical application of cannabis medicine. With interests in both anti-aging and the medical uses of cannabis, Dr. Burns is deeply committed to improving the quality of life for her patients.

In addition to a Mobile Unit that travels around the state, Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center is located in Phoenix at 12620 N. Cave Creek Road, Suite 7 and in Scottsdale at 8010 E. McDowell Road, Suite 105.For further information, contact Dr. Elaine Burns at 480-656-2119, email her directly at or visit www.EVALUATIONTODAY.COM.

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Az Medical marijuana program faces key test in court

By Yvonne Wingett Sanchez The Republic | Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:32 PM

The top lawyers for the state and county, strong opponents of Arizona’s medical-marijuana laws, will argue in court today that federal drug laws pre-empt the voter-approved law.

Attorneys arguing on behalf of White Mountain Health Center of Sun City, meanwhile, charge that state law does not require anyone to violate federal laws by issuing permits for medical-marijuana activities since the state has decriminalized those acts. In their lawsuit, they also allege that Maricopa County illegally rejected the center’s registration certificate, which is among the state requirements to become a medical-marijuana dispensary applicant.

At stake is the future of medical marijuana in Arizona, one of 17 states to approve the drug to treat certain medical conditions. If government lawyers prevail, they would shut down the legal growing of marijuana and ensure that dispensaries do not open — making it impossible for patients to legally obtain pot.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Gordon will hear arguments at 3 p.m.

For full story go to :

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