Saturday, May 22, 2021 | 2 a.m.
The role of medicine and science in finding cures for human diseases has taken on a new level of appreciation and understanding over the past year. In the midst of tremendous suffering and loss, we have witnessed unprecedented advances in science and innovation in the authorization of not one but three vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year. What’s more, two are new types of vaccines — mRNA — which bring with them newfound hope and promise in the treatment of cancer and other devastating diseases. This scientific evolution is the result of decades of research, and it underscores the need for science to adopt new approaches, beyond the traditional methods, for all kinds of diseases.
I am an epilepsy specialist, and I care for patients with seizures. About 30% of my patients suffer from severely disabling forms of epilepsy and are at risk of dying prematurely because of their seizures. As a health care provider, I am always grateful for tools that help me mitigate my patients’ suffering.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, has demonstrated potential in several therapeutic areas, and it has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat seizures from three rare forms of epilepsy. Cannabis has also been found beneficial in the treatment of other conditions including spasticity, pain, and anxiety. Right now, the possibility that cannabis can treat or mitigate a host of other conditions is very real, but we may never know exactly what its full potential is with the significant cannabis research restrictions that are currently imposed.
In the case of CBD, we know this cannabis-derived compound is active pharmaceutically, meaning that while it holds promise in helping meet patients’ medical needs, it can also come with safety risks and adverse effects, as well as interactions with other medications that patients may be taking. Other compounds or drug ingredients that are used to treat and mitigate serious medical conditions have been thoroughly studied so that we have accurate data related to their dosage, interactions with other medications, and more. Unfortunately, we are lacking this data for CBD and other cannabinoids. Put simply, more scientific study is needed.
And although CBD has tremendous therapeutic potential, it is not necessarily a harmless compound. In fact, the FDA has stated that it cannot give CBD its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) designation, and rightfully so. Clinical trials and data the FDA has compiled thus far show that CBD may be associated with liver damage, male reproductive issues and other adverse health effects. Again, we need further scientific study.
The therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives is enough reason to expand its research. Without scientific research, we will have no solid knowledge and evidence to support the widely believed claim that cannabis is entirely safe. This is of particular importance as more states legalize cannabis for either medicinal and/or recreational use.
As Americans continue to get more comfortable with cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds, lawmakers do too. We must ensure that, as state and federal policymakers push for marijuana legalization, they also push for further clinical study of cannabis and cannabis derivatives so that we may better understand how these substances may be used to our benefit.
Cannabis should be treated for the medical promise it holds to advance modern challenges in medicine. We need state leaders to encourage and support scientific and medical cannabis research, so our patients with unmet medical needs have more proven opportunities for treatment. Research will protect consumers, while helping us realize the potential that cannabis may hold to advance modern challenges in medicine.
Dr. Rolando Ania is board certified in neurology, epilepsy and electrodiagnostic medicine and serves as division chief of neurology and section chief of epilepsy at Renown Health.