Currently, 40 states have passed laws that allow for the use of some form of medical marijuana. Even though marijuana clearly has medical benefits, it remains a Schedule I substance alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and bath salts under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I substances have the following characteristics:
- The substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The substance has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the substance under medical supervision.
In late June, the White House took a major step forward to support cannabis research by eliminating the Public Health Service review requirement. Now, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will help facilitate medical marijuana research.
Marijuana advocates have said that the federal government’s strict rules on marijuana research have prevented researchers from performing necessary studies in the United States. These strict polices have caused the United States to experience a “brain drain” with regard to scientists interested in learning about the medical benefits associated with marijuana.
Dr. Alan Shackelford moved to Israel after seeing U.S. drug laws block clinical studies into promising applications that treat illnesses which conventional medicine cannot treat. Dr. Shackelford is a Harvard-trained physician who was Charlotte Figi’s doctor.
Shackelford said, “I went to Israel because I was frustrated. Israel is the one place in the world that combines the scientific expertise, world-class universities and scientists. It’s so exciting.”
In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers were able to determine that the states with medical marijuana dispensaries experience a decrease in opioid addictions and overdose deaths compared to states that do not.
Five overlooked benefits of marijuana
Five overlooked benefits of marijuana include its potential to treat the following debilitating and deadly diseases:
Cannabinoids, the active components of marijuana, inhibit tumor growth in laboratory animals and also kill cancer cells. In April 2015, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells. The monthly publication was revised to say the following:
“Recent animal studies have shown that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one animal study suggests that extracts from whole-plant marijuana can shrink one of the most serious types of brain tumors. Research in mice showed that these extracts, when used with radiation, increased the cancer-killing effects of the radiation.”
Zynerba Pharmaceuticals (ZYNE: NASDAQ) is a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing synthetic cannabinoid therapeutics formulated for transdermal delivery. Zynerba is developing two therapeutic candidates based on proprietary transdermal technologies.
The company’s THC Pro-Drug Patch is a pro-drug of THC that enables transdermal delivery via a patch. Zynerba is studying ZYN001 in patients with fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathic pain.
In mid-April, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) issued a statement saying GW Pharmaceutical’s (GWPH: NASDAQ) Epidiolex product, “may show promise” in the treatment of severe epilepsy in children.
The AAN provided the results of a study of 213 people (median age of 11) who suffered from severe epilepsy and did not respond to other treatments. For the 137 people who completed the 12-week study, the number of seizures decreased by an average of 54%.
Among the 23 people with Dravet syndrome who finished the study, the number of convulsive seizures had gone down by 53%. For the 11 people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who finished the study, there was a 55% reduction in the number of atonic seizures, which cause a sudden loss of muscle tone. A total of 12 people, or 6%, stopped taking the drug due to side effects.
In December, Nemus Bioscience Inc. (NMUS) reported that Dr. Soumyajit Majumdar, an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics at the University of Mississippi, presented data at the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) that showed that a pro-drug formulation of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) significantly lowered intra-ocular pressure (IOP) in an open-angle rabbit glaucoma model.
The rabbits that received the THC pro-drug saw a greater percentage drop in IOP when compared to timolol, and an even greater percentage drop when compared to pilocarpine. The THC pro-drug resulted in an IOP lowering effect of 45%-50%.
Marijuana can be used as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. GW Pharmaceutical’s (GWPH: INSY) Sativex product is sold as a treatment for multiple sclerosis and is derived from cannabis. Sativex is sold in 27 countries and it is currently in Stage 3 FDA testing (results expected late 2015/early 2016).
But it still remains a Schedule I substance
The benefits of marijuana can no longer be ignored. The recent findings, NIDA’s admission, company developments, and the opinion of Dr. Sanjay Gupta and of the United States Surgeon General should be enough to reschedule marijuana and promote research into it.