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The Future of Medicinal Cannabis

Tablets next to each jar at a Colorado dispensary present an assortment of information about each strain.
Tablets next to each jar at a Colorado dispensary present an assortment of information about each strain.

By: Marshall Williams

I spent this last weekend at the Southwest Cannabis Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. Throughout the weekend I had the opportunity to meet a lot of movers, makers, dreamers and innovators that make up the ever-growing American cannabis industry. Along with all the vendors and product demonstrations, there were an assortment of speakers who came from every corner of our society. Medical professionals, lawyers, professional football players, medical marijuana patients and their families and leaders in the cannabis technology field. At the end of the 2 day conference, the TV host and long-time cannabis patient/advocate Montel Williams gave a speech to wrap it all up, and it really resonated with me.

Montel pulled no punches during his speech. He called upon the industry to begin to self-regulate itself and only accept high quality products. He called out people in the industry that claim to be providers of “medical marijuana” but really didn’t sell anything higher than the quality of marijuana you would find at a standard recreational storefront or from your friend who grows crops in his basement. He claimed that he had a personal grower and processor who was one of the only people he trusted to provide him with his medicine, as any slight impurities could cause his immune system to buckle and do far more harm to him than good.

Montel really drove home the point that what a lot of people in the industry are doing is not providing medicine, they are just providing marijuana. That’s great for people who want marijuana, but it’s awful for people who want medicine.

I think that 100 years down the road, what we call a “medical” industry today is going to be nothing more than a punchline on a joke, because that’s how we’re treating it.

Personal Background

Those who know me well know that I am a no-nonsense kind of person. I don’t like unsubstantiated claims, even the ones that support my beliefs. With little exception, I like to have cold hard facts for everything and think that any non-quantitative data is nothing more than an anecdote.

I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theorist beliefs such as the idea that big pharma is slowly trying to kill us all nor outlandish claims that cannabis can/does/will cure cancer. There’s shreds of truth in both of these statements, but they are certainly not factual statements on their own.

Simply put, facts and numeric data win every single time.

What Is A Medication?

Let’s just start this out with the fact that is going to make a lot of people reading this very upset: Marijuana is not medicine.

There, I said it. Cannabis is useful for treating a wide array of conditions and side-effects from other treatments, no doubt. It’s awesome for people going through chemo or for those who have severe, debilitating pain. It’s a great asset to lower/eliminate the occurrence of seizures in epileptics and it’s been shown to have good success in helping those with autism control their aggressive tendencies and develop speech.

All of these results however are not the byproduct of cannabis by itself, but rather the chemicals that the cannabis plant produces. THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBD and all the other wonderful molecules within the cannabis plant are responsible for these great success stories and outcomes. We can’t allow ourselves to call marijuana a medicine simply because it contains these chemicals though.

When you go to the doctor with a bacterial infection, you are not handed a big bag of amoxicillin and told to “take enough until you feel better”. You will receive a prescription for an exact dosage amount to be taken at certain intervals to maximize the effectiveness of the drug. This is a targeted approach to get the right amount of what you need to the places where you need it, when you need it. This is what medicine does. Proper medicine needs to be dosed accurately so you know what is going into your body, what it is doing and have an ability to quantify the effects it brings with it.

If treating a bacterial infection with a controlled dose of antibiotics is like doing surgery with a steady hand and a scalpel, smoking a joint to treat back pain is like doing surgery with a shotgun. Yes, you will probably hit what you want, but you’ll hit a lot of other stuff with it.

The Case for Flowers

Despite my firm belief that cannabis is not a medicine, you would have to be a fool to ignore the therapeutic properties that the chemicals within provide. The “shotgun approach” to treatment, while not elegant, isn’t much of a risk to the patient. It’s a well proven fact that, for all intents and purposes, you will not die or have any long-lasting negative effects as a result of excessive cannabis consumption. Put simply, the current model isn’t hurting anyone.

Until we can isolate, research, test, run clinical trails and do more research on not only each cannabinoid, but also it’s interaction with every other cannabinoid and every combination that can be made of different cannabinoids, we are a far cry off from anything I would consider “medicine”. Despite this, I do not think we should not limit ourselves to the high standard of modern pharmaceuticals when it comes to treating our sick. Running all of these trials and tests is going to take decades at best. As more jurisdictions lessen their legal restrictions, we find more and more that cannabis is a whole new world for the biochemistry and pharmacological communities to explore, and we should allow them to take their time doing so.

However, if the shotgun approach helps someone to feel better than they do otherwise, who are we to deny that to them? We don’t have isolated, chemically pure, well researched cannabinoids available for general use now. We do have whole-plant cannabis, so let them have it. No one deserves to suffer or die because we’ve spent almost the last century rejecting the medical and scientific communities.

Big Pharma

Big Pharma is attempting to make a move on cannabis, no doubt about that. With drugs like Sativex, Marinol and nabilone, Big Pharma is showing us they know how to use these drugs and get them to market. Once the floodgates open on the general cannabis sale market, they’ll undoubtedly have a ton more drugs coming in.

Rather than trying to stoke up fear about Big Pharma and spread lies about how they will “ruin nature.” (They won’t. THC is THC, whether it’s made in a lab or grown on a plant. It’s the same.) Let’s look at what pharmaceutical companies are doing right, and what the medical cannabis market should be trying to emulate.

Consistency

When you go pick up a prescription, you don’t have to worry if you 20mg dose is actually 20mg. Every dose will be as consistent as the last. While the legal cannabis industry has really improved over the last few decades in terms of producing a consistent product, even more so now with the popularity of concentrates on the rise, there is still plenty of room for error. Rolling a joint with one section of a big bud and rolling another joint with parts from a different section of the same bud can result in 2 joints with very different cannabinoid profiles. That’s not even taking into consideration the inefficacy of smoking as a measurable drug delivery route.

Concentrates have improved this dramatically, but they still can suffer from minute differences in doses that you just don’t see in a standard pharmaceutical drug.

Cleanliness

Tying into consistency, you never will find impurities in your pharmaceutical grade pills. At the last Emerald Cup in California, 40% of the entries into the “tinctures” category were disqualified as a result of impure lab test results. That is absolutely unacceptable for anything that would market itself as a product that sick people are expected to put into their bodies to feel better.

While we may not like the politics that Big Pharma brings to their market, I certainly would feel much better putting one of their products into my body than I would putting anything extracted and packaged in a standard back room of a dispensary. The cannabis market needs to improve itself here, and the consumers need to be informed and make educated purchases to facilitate this change.

The Future

100 years down the road we will probably have isolated and researched most, if not all, of the most prevalent cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. We will have a strong understanding of their reactions within the body and many of their reactions with the other cannabinoids.

I think we will have a world where custom cannabis prescriptions will be possible. The ability to have your pharmacy mix up the perfect chemical cocktail on demand is a good likelihood. Imagine getting a prescription for your doctor that you could use to go pick up a bottle of pills that, using nothing but cannabinoids, could take away your pain, allow you to sleep better, increase your appetite or treat any number of other conditions without any of the side effects that are associated with cannabis use today.

Rather than just smoking a 0.5g joint of Blue Dream and now having to deal with an insatiable hunger, red eyes and occasional memory problems when all you wanted to do was solve your back pain, now you can get a custom made pill of exactly the right dosage and chemical combination to treat your back pain with no undesired effects.

This is what true cannabis-based medicine looks like, and this is what we are going towards.

We have a long way to go before anything like custom made pharmaceuticals are available to us. Many companies are already producing pure forms of THC and CBD, and that’s a great start, so long as their products are created under the same conditions that any other pharmaceutical drug is made under.

For those of you that want to object to this idea and claim that the side effects of current cannabis treatments are “nice” or “just a benefit to being in so much pain,” I just ask that you please don’t. Saying things like that make it hard to convince others (like politicians) that the medical movement is actually about sick people. If you just want to get high, please do, more power to you, but don’t call it “medical.”

Originally published at mwthink.net

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MarshallWilliams

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