Since the premiere of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary “Weed” back in August, the general public has quickly come to understand the miraculous healing power of cannabidiol, or CBD. The political perception of medical marijuana changed forever when parents saw little Charlotte Figi, the girl with intractable epilepsy, go from hundreds of seizures a week to just one or two, thanks to CBD treatments.
But that change in perception isn’t a good one. For now there are two types of medical marijuana – CBD-Only and “euphoric marijuana”, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls medical marijuana that contains THC. Just as “We’re Patients, Not Criminals” cast non-patients as criminals, the lobbying for these new CBD-Only laws relies heavily on pointing out that CBD is a “medicine that doesn’t get you high”, which casts THC at best as a medicine with an undesirable side effect and at worst as not a medicine but a drug of abuse.
This is a disaster both politically and medically; let’s begin with the former. Politically, whole plant medical marijuana (the kind with THC in it) began in 1996 in California and from that point, it took eleven years before there were a dozen whole plant medical marijuana states in America. CBD-Only medical marijuana began in March in Utah and from that point, it’s taken only four months to put us on the brink of a dozen CBD-Only medical marijuana states.
Also consider that of those first dozen whole plant states, eight of them were passed by citizen ballot initiative. All twelve of the CBD-Only laws were passed by state legislatures, often by unanimous or near-unanimous votes. Every legislature that has taken up the issue of CBD-Only medical marijuana has seen the legislation fly through the committees and both chambers (except Georgia, and that state was only derailed by some parliamentary shenanigans by one legislator). Take North Carolina this week as an example.
On Tuesday, a committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives cancelled a meeting to discuss a CBD-Only bill. No rescheduled date for the meeting was announced. Local newspapers on Wednesday posted headlines that the bill’s passage was unlikely. The Senate wasn’t likely to pass the bill in this short session that ends next week. There would be no good reason for the House to move forward with the bill.
But on Wednesday afternoon, the meeting was suddenly rescheduled and the CBD-Only bill passed unanimously. This morning (Thursday) the bill was heard by a second committee and passed immediately. This afternoon it was heard and amended on the House floor where it passed 111-2. It now awaits passage by the state Senate.
By the end of this week, it seems North Carolina could become the 12th CBD-Only state, joining Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri (awaiting governor’s signature), New York (governor’s executive order), South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin. Why are legislators so fast to pass these CBD-Only bills? It’s fair to assume politicians are moved by the plight of epileptic children. With CBD-Only, there’s no downside of being the guy or gal who voted for legalizing something that “gets you high”. But even so, how do these bills move so fast and garner little to no opposition?
Because CBD-Only bills are political cover. Voting for the CBD-Only bill allows the politicians to say they’re sympathetic to the plight of sick people and want to help patients get any medicine that will ease their suffering. But they can also still play the “tough on drugs” game and maintain their support from law enforcement and prison lobbies. Their vote garners headlines that a politician formerly considered “anti-medical marijuana” has “changed his mind” or “altered her stance” on medical marijuana. Best of all, it gets the sick kids and their parents out of the legislative galleries and off the evening news. For the politicians in these conservative states, it makes the medical marijuana issue go away, or at least puts the remaining advocates in the “we want the marijuana that gets you high” frame where they are more easily dismissed.
Medically, the CBD-Only laws are also a disaster. Cannabidiol is just one constituent of cannabis and by itself, it doesn’t work as well as it does with the rest of the plant. Dr. Raphael Machoulem, the Israeli researcher who discovered THC (the cannabinoid that “gets you high”), called it “the entourage effect”, the concept of many cannabinoids and other constituents working in concert, synergistically. To make an overly-simple analogy, it’s as if we discovered oranges have vitamin C in them, but banned oranges completely and only allowed people with scurvy to eat vitamin C pills. Yes, those pills can help you if you’re vitamin deficient, but any nutritionist will tell you eating the whole orange will not only allow your body to absorb the vitamin C better, the fiber from the orange is also good for your body, and oranges taste delicious, which makes you a little happier. Plus, if oranges are in your diet, you’re not going to get scurvy in the first place.
The authors of these CBD-Only bills aren’t writing them for optimal medical efficacy, however, they’re writing them for political cover. The parents treating their children in Colorado with CBD oil will tell you that it takes quite a bit of tinkering with the ratio of CBD to THC in the oil to find what works best for their child’s type of seizures. Some of these kids need a higher dose of THC. But the legislators write the laws mostly to ensure that the THC “that gets you high” is nearly non-existent.
The North Carolina law, for instance, mandates that the oil contains at least 10 percent CBD and less than 0.3 percent THC. That’s a CBD:THC ratio of at least 34:1. For comparison, an article by Pure Analytics, a California cannabis testing lab, discusses the high-CBD varietals most in demand by patients are “strains with CBD:THC ratios of 1:1, 2:1, and 20:1.” The article explains how a breeding experiment with males and females with 2:1 ratios produced 20:1 ratio plants about one-fourth of the time. It also describes a strain called “ACDC” that “consistently exhibited 16-20% CBD and 0.5-1% THC by weight.” That’s one variety with a range of 16:1 to 40:1. But you must only use the ones that are 34:1 or higher.
In another indicator that politicians are more interested in political cover than helping sick kids, many of these laws are written with no mechanism for in-state production and distribution of the CBD oil. Some expressly protect the parent who goes out of state to acquire the oil (likely from Colorado) and brings it back home. So parents are given hope for their kids, but they have to go to Colorado, establish three months residency to qualify for a medical marijuana card, clear the hurdles necessary to get their child signed up for the card, purchase the high-CBD oil, break Colorado law by taking it out of state, and break federal law by being an interstate drug trafficker.
Then back home, the parents are safe, assuming the oil they purchased in Colorado meets the CBD:THC ratio mandated by law. The ratio listed on the label or mentioned by the provider is no guarantee. At The Werc Shop, a cannabis testing lab in Los Angeles, an intern writes about how she was sold a strain promised to be 15 percent CBD and 0.6 percent THC, a 25:1 ratio that would be illegal in North Carolina if processed into oil. When she ran liquid chromatography tests on the sample, it turned out to be 9.63 percent CBD to 6.11 percent THC, a 1.6:1 ratio.
CBD-Only isn’t just a political and medical disaster in the states that adopt it. These laws also have a detrimental effect on the process of passing whole plant medical marijuana in other states. Every medical marijuana state since California has enacted increasing restrictions on its access based on the need to keep out the illegitimate marijuana users – the ones who just want to get high. First, qualifying conditions were restricted. Then, home cultivation of marijuana was eliminated. Now, medical marijuana laws are being debated and passed that ban all marijuana smoking and allow no access to the plant itself, just pills, oils, and tinctures.
Thus, it is no surprise that as Wisconsin, New York, and Florida are hotly debating and likely to pass whole plant medical marijuana laws, the legislatures and governors of those two states rushed to pass CBD-Only laws first. It’s reminiscent of then-Govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger rushing to sign a marijuana decriminalization bill in summer of 2010 to take the talking point of California arrests for personal possession away from Prop 19’s campaign to legalize marijuana. Every press conference and public debate about the CBD-Only bills will emphasize “it doesn’t have the THC that gets you high”, forcing whole plant advocates into a defense of THC’s medical efficacy in spite of the “high” even more than they’re already forced to.
This is why any fight to allow patients to grow whole plant medical marijuana with the high-inducing THC in it must now pivot to the support of all adults’ right to grow marijuana if they want to get high. Every new restriction on medical marijuana, whole plant or CBD-Only, arises from the perceived need to keep the healthy high-seekers out of the medical marijuana. Eventually, pharmaceutical companies will perfect the CBD:THC ratios and dosages in sprays, tinctures, and inhalers that will surpass the consistency and efficacy of the plant with its natural variety. Those companies will be glad to supply the 34:1 CBD oil North Carolina requires and whatever ratio any other state requires, for a hefty profit, of course.