Lyle V. Harris
If you agree with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that that the benefits of medical cannabis have been “hyped” and also believe the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) claim that marijuana has no accepted medical value, please remember this number: 6,630,507.
Those obscure seven digits are the file numbers for the official U.S. patent on medically therapeutic compounds contained in the cannabis (marijuana) plant. They could also serve as the not-so-secret passcode for a very cruel example of government-sponsored double-talk dating back several decades.
Patent # 6,630,507 actually belongs to another branch of our government, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency now headed by former Congressman Tom Price of Georgia.
So why is the DEA demonizing cannabis as a highly dangerous, illegal substance on par with heroin and LSD on one hand, while its sister agency holds a cannabis patent and is actively seeking to license the plant’s well-established health benefits to private companies on the other?
If this sounds bizarre, that’s only because it is. And it’s nothing new.
In 1981, during the height of the misguided (and ongoing) “War on Drugs,” the DEA first classified cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic with no accepted medical use and a high potential for addiction and abuse. But after a lawsuit was filed challenging the DEA’s position, the agency’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young, wrote this opinion:
“The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the Drug Enforcement Administration to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence.”
Although Judge Young went even further, calling marijuana, “…one of the safest therapeutically active substances known…” the DEA stood firm. Over the years — and as recently as last August — the agency denied repeated requests to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule II narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, a move that would enable researchers to study it more easily and thoroughly.
Despite DEA’s intransigence, limited studies have been stacking up, helping to prove that cannabis, and constituent compounds called “cannabinoids”, offer effective treatments for a wide range of ailments. In 2003, the U.S. Patent office issued Patent # 6,630,507 to HHS.
It’s worth noting that the cannabinoids covered in the HHS patent do not include THC, the compound that produces the euphoric feelings associated with recreational usage. Instead, the patent is focused on “non-psychoactive” compounds that can be used to prevent or treat strokes, trauma, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
Based on the HHS patent, the National Institutes of Health is advertising six licensing opportunities to produce specific, cannabis-based drug treatments on its website. So far, Kannalife, a biopharmaceutical company based in New York, is one of the few for-profit companies that is an exclusive cannabis licensee with the NIH.
The list of serious ailments that may be treatable with medical cannabis therapies has gotten longer since the HHS patent was originally issued. It now includes hypertension, anxiety, glaucoma, pain relief, diabetes and metabolic disease.
Someday, hopefully, researchers may also discover that cannabis can also help cure hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness, seemingly intractable diseases that have infected many of our top policymakers and politicians on this issue.
For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Syndros, a relatively new prescription drug that will be used to treat anorexia in AIDS patients and nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. Although the drug’s main ingredient is a synthetic equivalent of THC — which is an illegal substance — the DEA last week granted Syndros a favorable classification as a Schedule II narcotic.
The DEA, however, steadfastly refuses to grant the same, less restrictive classification to plant-based drugs that already contain THC produced by Mother Nature. Go figure.
Meanwhile, AG Sessions also remains tragically out of touch with reality on any form of cannabis use. During a speech this month, he claimed that the benefits of medical cannabis have been exaggerated.
Still, there are some faint glimmers of optimism for medical cannabis patients. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) called for the DEA to reclassify medical marijuana.
“I think cannabis oil derived from marijuana can be helpful and under regulation for medical purposes should be allowed,” Isakson told a caller during a recent telephone town hall. “I believe in its use for medical purposes, they’re documented, I believe cannabis oil is something we ought to regulate from a medical standpoint for access…”
In the final days of the Georgia General Assembly, lawmakers are set to approve SB 16, a bill that would increase the number of conditions for patients that are legally eligible for treatment under the state’s existing medical cannabis law.
The expanded, qualifying diagnoses under the bill include autism, severe or end-stage Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS or peripheral neuropathy, severe Tourette’s syndrome, palliative care for hospice patients and the rare and painful disease called epidermolysis bullosa.
Dr. Rasean Hodge, an Atlanta physician licensed to prescribe medical cannabis, recently testified about the bill during a legislative hearing at the Capitol. As Georgia and other states approve or expand their medical cannabis laws, Hodge expects much-needed treatments will become more widely available.
“I think Georgia still has a long way to go but at least we’re heading in the right direction,” said Hodge of Premier Chronic Pain Care in Midtown. “No matter what happens in Washington, I’m glad Georgia is taking steps to help people get relief from their pain while using fewer opioids that can be addictive and very expensive. Georgia should be leading the charge on medical cannabis in the South and I think we’re really positioned to do that.”