A s evident in both Chicago and the State of Illinois, society’s interest in making cannabis available for medicinal use has increased dramatically over the last 20 years. Beginning with the passage of Proposition 215 – the legalization of medical cannabis in California and opening of the state’s first dispensary – to a count of now 30 states and the District of Columbia with some form of active medical cannabis programs, public support for medical cannabis options is not just waning, it is increasing from acceptance to demand.
The year 2008 marks what can arguably be called a tipping point in the history of medical cannabis and public acceptance, as the rate of medical cannabis program adoption increased thereafter by more than 60 percent and voters continue to make their voices heard at the polls. Now at the 10-year anniversary of that shift, we take a closer look at why public opinion has shifted from disapproval to exploration to acceptance to endorsement.
The efficacy of cannabis has been publicly validated by the medical community. Credible media figures in health care, such as CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, MD, and acclaimed Israeli cannabis research pioneer Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health), have been outspoken advocates on the medicinal benefits of cannabis and the need for rescheduling it as no longer fitting the criteria for being labeled as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.
Various state-based medical associations across the U.S., including the Florida Medical Association and Massachusetts Medical Society, have begun offering continuing medical education classes with content that includes The Endocannabinoid System, the History of Medical Cannabis, and Medical Cannabis Use for Epilepsy/ Cancer/ Neuropathies, etc., in an effort to educate the medical community.
Prestigious medical centers and teaching hospitals around the world and in the United States such as Johns Hopkins Medical Center and other universities have received initial funding to begin baseline data collection on registered medical cannabis patients from around the country using medical marijuana to treat the symptoms associated with their qualifying medical conditions.
To further the cause, some medical associations such as the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine and American Cannabis Nurses Association, have been established with the express purpose of promoting cannabis as medicine through “high ethical and practice standards in the clinical application of cannabis and cannabinoids.”
The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. Department of Health, added information to their website on Cannabis and Cannabinoids, as a viable treatment for people with cancer-related symptoms caused by the disease itself or its treatment.
This trend is anticipated to continue as the demand for alternatives to traditional medical therapies, along with transparency in common sense medical cannabis regulation continues to escalate and demand audience.
Natural cannabis-based medicines, such as Marinol or Sativex, have been used for decades to treat nausea, vomiting, neuropathy and severe pain. More recently, however, new cannabis pharmaceuticals have come to market and gained approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with noteworthy attention from the media.
Epidiolex is a highly concentrated cannabidiol (CBD) oil extracted directly from cannabis. In June 2016, a landmark announcement was made on the positive outcome of the drug’s Phase 3 clinical trial for those patients suffering from a rare and severe form of epilepsy. Similar cannabis-based formulations are in development to treat muscular dystrophy, pancreatic cancer, autism and schizophrenia.
The passage of these clinical trials flies in the face of the FDA’s long-held position that cannabis is not safe or effective. With an expected increase in the number of positive findings from these trials, more pharmaceutical companies are likely to begin developing cannabis-based medicine for an expanded list of conditions.
Further, these product developments are concurrent with cannabis-based research studies. A cursory search through some of the most credible medical journals reveals research on subjects ranging from natural cannabis vs. synthetic cannabis, cannabis as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans, and the effect of medical cannabis on the absence of sickness, among others. One of the more recently publicized studies was done by the University of Michigan, exploring the relationship between medical cannabis use and opioid consumption. The article, published in “The Journal of Pain,” provides evidence of a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medication, and an improved quality of life for those patients medicating with cannabis. As the opioid crisis continues to reach epidemic proportions, the logical predictive outcome is that medical cannabis may not only be a remedy for the opioid epidemic plaguing the country, but serves to underscore the likelihood that medical cannabis therapies would be an effective treatment modality for opioid addiction.
According to Nicole van Rensburg, CEO at Midwest Compassion Center (an Illinois-licensed medical cannabis dispensary located in Romeoville, IL), “Cannabis falls in accord with integrative therapies that seek to unify conventional and non-conventional methods of treatment.”
Broader growing interest in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) among the general population has grown over the last decade. CAM includes the practices of yoga, meditation, herbal medicine and massage. People are turning to CAM to treat everything from insomnia to anxiety to depression, often aspiring for a greater sense of well-bring. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, more than 40 percent of Americans have tried some form of CAM.
“The majority of alternative medicine users appear to be doing so not so much as a result of being dissatisfied with conventional medicine but largely because they find these health care alternatives to be more congruent with their own values, beliefs, and philosophical orientations toward health and life,” stated the “Journal of American Medicine,” (May 1998).
Elevated awareness and the significant propaganda and misinformation around cannabis have fueled the public’s desire to know the truth. Dr. Sanjay Gupta writes, “The road to medical marijuana research is paved with surprises and hypocrisy nearly everywhere you look.” Though the Drug Enforcement Administration maintains the status of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services holds a patent on cannabinoids for a wide range of medicinal purposes. This contradictory information has undeniably sparked public curiosity.
Although inhalable plant material still accounts for the largest portion of sales at most medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivators and medical cannabis processors have discovered new avenues for product development. Cannabis oils can be extracted from the cannabis plant through a process similar to the extraction of essential oils for fragrances, food flavorings, etc., and utilized in a variety of preparations such as transdermal patches, suppositories, capsules, and avenues for oromucosal delivery.
These new medical cannabis products provide a myriad of benefits over inhaling combustible plant material. They offer an alternative for many patients reluctant to smoke due to the associated health risks and carcinogenic effects of inhaling burning plant matter. Additionally, non-inhalable cannabis product can be applied to a localized area, delivering immediate treatment to a patient directly to the area most affected by the patient’s medical condition. For example, a patient with a neuromuscular disorder such as muscular dystrophy may apply a patch to their leg that is experiencing involuntary muscle spasms; a cancer patient undergoing radiation therapy may utilize an oil rub on their skin to relieve irritation from the burn; and you have probably already seen the video of how the administration of a cannabis nasal spray to a child having a grand mal seizure was able to immediately stop the seizure and prevent further injury to the child. Moreover, these new products are in line with traditional methods of pharmaceutical administration, such as skin-regenerative creams used to facilitate and support new skin growth on post-burn victims, skin graft patients and other surgeries.
Regardless of the available delivery routes and product preparations, medical cannabis is available in so many varieties today and physicians are recommending that their patients try the various varieties available to find the one that best meets their needs. At Midwest Compassion Center, dispensary personnel are ready. “Once we have verified a patient’s eligibility, the next thing that happens is a thorough patient consultation,” said Van Rensburg. Consultations cover a patient’s qualifying medical condition, risks and drawbacks, products and dosage methods, side effects and interactions, and the practices of safe and responsible use. Ongoing education and continuing patient, physician and community outreach ensure that both dispensary employees and the Illinois patients they serve have the latest in scientific research and product innovation.
As education continues to proliferate throughout mainstream media, common sense legislation continues to be implemented, the stigma perpetuated by misinformation and sociocultural bias continues to be debunked, and healthful alternatives to inhalation of combustible plant matter, public support and the support of the medical community for the use of cannabis as viable and complementary treatment options will continue to grow and become louder.