The “medical” marijuana bill, Senate Bill 271, misrepresents, ignores or simply violates safe and effective medical standards that mandate that all medicines should be approved for human use only after clinical trials.
SB271 is not really concerned about ensuring reliable treatment options. Instead, it is simply designed to increase access to cannabis, which creates significant risks, especially for kids.
Though the proposed legislation labels cannabis as “medicine,” SB271 removes the need to “prescribe” it from Louisiana law and thereby bypasses all of the patient safeguards provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Marijuana contains a host of biologically and psychologically active substances. Some specific cannabis components (such as Marinol or Cesamet) already have been evaluated and found to be safe and effective by the FDA. They already are on the market. Clinical trials of other marijuana-based chemicals (such as Sativex or Epidiolex) are nearing completion, and favorable findings should result in the availability of these drugs as an alternative to help children suffering with intractable epilepsy.
Louisiana has no pressing need to make the whole plant available before the credible evidence is in.
Accordingly, major medical organizations do not currently support the use of marijuana for any physical or mental health condition, especially the use of concentrated marijuana products such as extracts or oils.
The Louisiana Psychiatric Medical Association vigorously opposes SB271 because we believe that overall, it will do much more harm than good for the people of Louisiana. The American Epilepsy Society also opposes the use of marijuana oils to treat children suffering from epilepsy because this formulation can cause “severe dystonic reactions and other movement disorders, developmental regression, intractable vomiting and worsening seizures that can be so severe they have to put the child into a coma to get the seizures to stop.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes marijuana use for children and adolescents, and also notes that there is no solid evidence yet from controlled trials that supports the use of marijuana for treatment of severe epilepsy in children.
The American Psychiatric Association also has gone on record stating that there is no scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder.
In contrast, it points out that the current evidence suggests a strong association of cannabis use with the earlier onset of a variety of serious psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly more vulnerable to long-term harm from the effects of cannabis.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine advises that the current “medical marijuana” practice in states where it has been available is far from the acceptable practice of science-based medicine and that all cannabis-based and cannabinoid medications should be subjected to the rigorous scrutiny of the FDA regulatory process.
In the few states that already have passed the medical marijuana legislation, prevalence of drug use among youth has doubled or more, and the number of children diagnosed with addiction and substance abuse disorders also has significantly risen.
These states are experiencing an increase in marijuana-related crime, vehicular accidents, poison control center calls, hospital emergency room admissions, arrests for marijuana use in schools and teen admissions to treatment centers.
SB271 permits production and use of concentrated marijuana extracts and thus opens the door for products that are infused with marijuana, such as cookies, cakes and candy. These are not “medicines,” and some of these will inevitably make their way into the wrong hands. Thus, this bill will create opportunities for diversion, result in more widespread abuse of cannabis and increase risks of access by children.
We also should recall what historically results when highly concentrated forms of recreational drugs become more widely available.
Until the early 1980s, most of the cocaine available to the street user was relatively “cut” or diluted with various fillers to increase profitability. It was quite expensive, so it became known as a rich person’s drug, and, as a result, both the use and the serious public health consequences from cocaine were fairly limited. Then some clever drug marketers transformed it into a highly purified form that produced intense euphoria when smoked, and the crack epidemic was born.
Creation of both a steady supply and enlarged market for highly concentrated cannabis derivatives could have similar consequences. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that must not happen here.
Louisiana should support safe and proven medicine by insisting upon clinical trials for all marijuana products and facilitate this research through funding to Louisiana universities that can properly evaluate the potential benefits and the risks before we unleash this on our citizens. Reject this harmful bill — SB271.
Dr. Dean Robinson is president of the Louisiana Psychiatric Medical Association. Dr. A. Kenison Roy III is founder and medical director of Addiction Recovery Resources in Metairie.