As many have heard there are two bills this session regarding legalizing medical cannabis or also known as medical marijuana. There is growing evidence that cannabis has many medicinal properties from pain relief to helping deal with neurological diseases and seizures. Some have even suggested that it may slow down cancer
Senator Madsen, who has much more of a libertarian perspective, has been trying pass a bill like this for many years. He has first hand knowledge as to the dangers of opiates as he was almost killed when a pain patch burst. He deals with chronic pain from back problems. Although Madsen is more libertarian he has tried to create enough regulation to be compatible with other political philosophies.
We do have concerns about the use of medical cannabis, especially with THC. Probably the biggest concern is with addiction. Addiction is a terrible disease that claims many lives each year. We are also concerned about the addictive nature of current painkillers such as Oxycontin. The general consensus we have seen is that Oxycontin is more addictive than medical cannabis, even with THC.
Another concern is with snake oil. There are many claims about medical cannabis that simply don’t have enough scientific studies backing them. Should that stop people from using it? We think we have much lower hanging fruit in Utah before we start going after this. We also think that as it becomes more legal and used that studies will take place to show where the benefits are and aren’t. Restricting studies seems very dangerous as you may be halting advances in medicine that may benefit a huge number of people.
Our biggest concern is the potential side effects. Some studies have been done that suggest some long-term side effects such as an schizophrenia but there is no general consensus. There are likely other potential side effects but more research needs to be done, especially before introducing a much wider audience to it.
Senator Vickers has also created a similar bill with Rep Daw. Some have speculated that this bill was created to torpedo Madsen’s bill. But at least it is far more restrictive. Their approach is to allow more research. Rep Daw told us that they have been working with the University of Utah to make sure that they will be able to begin research. While some might like the approach of taking things slower perhaps this is taking things too slowly.
Too many restrictions may actually create more problems. There are many restrictions that are troubling and will quite possibly discourage companies from setting up in Utah. This may also drastically increase prices of the medicines they produce.
The most controversial part and probably the biggest difference between the bills is the use of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Many believe this to be a very beneficial drug but others are not sure about the side effects. The Daws-Vickers bill severely limits the about of THC in the plant to be used for medicine and for research. The Madsen bill allows it.
Both bills help set up an infrastructure to grow, process, distribute, and research. We do find it interesting that both sponsors claim to have research supporting them. And that is part of the problem, the research can contradict. Using better statistical methods will likely yield more conclusive results, including double-blind placebo studies. As more studies are done we gain a better understanding. When are there ever enough studies though? It depends on how cautious you want to be and what you weigh higher. Are you more concerned about people having a viable alternative to opioids for pain relief, or are you more concerned about potential side effects, known and unknown? An important question to ask yourself though is what data will change your mind.
Which bill will lead to better research? Probably Madsen’s. Which bill will lead to those currently suffering having more benefit? Probably Madsen’s. Which bill could lead to more abuse of the drug? Probably Madsen’s. Which bill gives a likely better alternative to current opioid prescriptions? Probably Madsen’s. Lawmakers have the difficult task of weighing the pros and the cons of each bill.
Much of the research in the United States has been held up by the federal government and we do appreciate both SCR 11 and HCR 3. SCR 11 is a resolution asking the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a schedule 2 drug, which allows for more research to be done. HCR 3, by Rep Daw, is another resolution asking the federal government to allow more research, specifically requesting the FDA to “take action to provide the means for determining the human medical benefits of these products.”
Here are some interesting links:
Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study (COMPASS)
A really old Swedish study that reported schizophrenia as a risk factor (this study had a lot of problems).
The Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids
The wikipedia page for Tetrahydrocannabinol