Separating the “Medical” from the Marijuana

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In a case of “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it,” marijuana reform activists are facing a dilemma. The advent of marijuana legalization for medical purposes has scientists taking another look at the plant, and they may have found a way to remove the high while still getting the medical benefits.

THC vs CBD

It’s called compassionate care – the use of marijuana for medical treatment. Compassionate care has been a boon to those seeking looser restrictions on marijuana, as voters in 17 states (and rising) have approved legalization for patients. And marijuana does seem to help many of them. However, scientists have found that one component of the drug, cannabidiol (CBD) is responsible for many of the beneficial effects. A recent study in Current Pharmaceutical Design now shows CBD is safe in humans, and unlike THC (the ‘active’ ingredient in marijuana), CBD doesn’t produce euphoria, or a “high.”

This process is actually pretty common in phytopharmacology (the science of drugs derived from plants). The classic example is willow bark. Making a tea from willow bark had long been known to have pain relieving and fever reducing effects. Scientists investigated (back in 1897) and eventually, the drug aspirin was born. Importantly though, no one is making willow bark tea anymore. This same thing could happen with marijuana – find the useful chemical and dump the rest. Separate the medical from the marijuana.

About CBD

CBD is safe, non-toxic and can be used for everything from mild sedation to anti-nausea. It’s been found to be helpful in diabetes and as an anti-seizure medicine. What it doesn’t do is produce “unwanted behavioral effects,” a code phrase for “doesn’t make you stoned.”

Because CBD is derived from marijuana, it is still illegal on the federal level. But this might change. Marijuana reform advocates could find themselves with a hollow victory – one chemical in the plant legal, and the rest not.

If medical marijuana really is meant to treat illness, then finding and purifying the active components would be the normal course of development. And this might happen while the plant itself remains illegal. After all, growing poppies to produce opium is illegal in the US, but we use derivatives (such as codeine) all the time.

It would be the height of irony if all the support for medical marijuana led to a treatment that abandoned the plant altogether. It is unlikely that legalization advocates would find much humor there.

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