Marijuana, both medicinal cannabis and recreational, is growing more mainstream. Medical cannabis is now legalized in the UK and has been legal since November 2018, the process to receive a prescription is still extensive, but is it worth it?
During research we came across much anecdotal evidence to support the fact the medical cannabis if used correctly is the answer but not enough evidence. Ricky Lake in the series Weed The People is one series we recommend people look at especially where cancer and children is involved. We can’t refer to research to medical cannabis helping cure cancer but there is large volumes of evidence that sleep in itself, can help the body recover faster and aid patients recovery. Perhaps medical cannabis can help people with illness directly or perhaps it just helping people relax and sleep, either way we believe Ricky Lake and the experience these children had with medical cannabis is worth looking into before you decide if a prescription for medical cannabis is something you wish to consider.
Weed the People
A 2018 documentary called Weed the People explored the potential of medical marijuana for childhood cancers and the regulatory hurdles facing people who want to use cannabis, it focused on a number of families who were looking at cannabis as a last resort.
The film, executive produced by former talk-show host Ricki Lake, follows five families using cannabis oils to treat cancer. Some of the children used cannabis alongside treatments like chemotherapy, while others turned to the drug after conventional treatments had failed. Everyone who watched could not help but be moved by what unfolded during filming.
In the documentary, one autistic 17-year-old boy is treated with CBD tinctures in the hope it would allow him to find his voice as he has never spoken. During the filming, his mother asked him what he would like for breakfast and he spoke for the first time, “I would like some eggs,”.
The film looks at the evidence to see was it an amazing coincidence or does it reinforce what many parents have said about CBD helping their children worldwide.
Another child who had chronic pain, had been taking up to eight Oxycontin pills each day was also given CBD oil and within 48 hours, the child had stopped taking all the pain medicine and used only CBD.
When her late ex-husband, Christian Evans, began researching cannabidiol (CBD) Lake became interested in medical marijuana — in particular CBD which is a cannabinoid in weed that does not cause a high —for his own health issues, including chronic pain and ADHD. (Evans, unfortunately, died by suicide last year.)
The two met a young girl with a tumour disorder whose family was desperate to get her an alternative to chemotherapy, and Rickii and Christian together connected her with a doctor who specializes in medical marijuana.
Lake summed up the benefits of using CBD over opiates “It makes no sense kids who are battling cancer are being given opiates and narcotics to manage pain…your body is trying to battle cancer and you’re taking painkillers that are shutting down your organs”
Lake and her production partner, director Abby Epstein, were inspired by the anecdotal evidence and the huge benefits to families from medical cannabis to find other families in similar situations and tell their stories on screen and broadcast it around the world to try and educate people from England to Mexico. They made Weed the People to explore the potential of medical marijuana, and the regulatory challenges families and researchers must overcome to use it.
The TV series is widely available and The Extract also has an article that talks about the effects of CBD on cancer in depth more about how medical cannabis has been used as an aid.
Access to cannabis & lack of clinical studies is the issue
“I want to get people seeing it as a medicine, seeing what it was able to do for these children, and fight for this medicine to be available to everyone who needs it,” Lake says.
“It’s a human rights issue.”
“This can only happen when we have more trials and clinical evidence, more investment and we believe the governments should not be fighting over whether or not it should be legal but instead spend resources and financing testing and trials to be able to make an informed decision based on fact.”
The film paints a rosy, anecdotal picture of the effectiveness of cannabis oils; some of the children featured had their tumours shrink substantially or disappear entirely, even if they were using cannabis oils in place of chemotherapy and other conventional treatments. “You can’t say the ‘cure’ word,” Lake says, “but how else do you explain it?”
But the concept is far from proven and could even be dangerous.
Potential side effects?
While there is some evidence that medical marijuana can ease chronic pain and chemotherapy side effects, the American Cancer Society (ACS) warns that “relying on marijuana alone as treatment while avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.”
However, some studies have shown marijuana can slow growth cells in animals, sufficient evidence unfortunately in humans is not yet available.
Though conventional treatments like chemotherapy are still the standard, pediatric cancer providers are increasingly voicing their support for the use of medical marijuana, particularly in palliative or end-of-life care when other treatments may not be necessary.
More research is needed to learn about the potential effects and limitations of cannabis-derived medicines for both adult and pediatric cancers. As the families and experts in Weed the People see it, this lack of evidence is precisely the problem — and it’s exacerbated by current regulations around medical marijuana. Investment by governments now will be refunded and paid back ten times from the tax revenue from the sale of cannabis and CBD products in time.
Cannabis still a schedule 1 substance
Marijuana, like heroin and LSD, is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug. According to the DEA, it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
However, in June 2018, the FDA approved the first drug derived from marijuana, a purified version of CBD called Epidiolex. This drug is specifically for kids and adults suffering from two rare forms of epilepsy.
At this time, the DEA rescheduled Epidiolex (but not CBD as a whole) to schedule V-the lowest restriction classification for controlled substances.
Researchers wishing to study cannabis need a Schedule I drug license and must submit to background checks and site visits from the DEA.
The DEA also only permits one institution, the University of Mississippi, to grow marijuana for study, though DEA spokesperson Melvin Patterson says it is planning to grant additional licenses to other growers, which would “increase access to marijuana for researchers, potentially increase the number of available strains for research, and may foster additional research on marijuana.”
Scientists face strict limitations
This means scientists are limited to studying only the products and formulations available from the University of Mississippi. This doesn’t include popular consumer products like vapes. It also doesn’t include cannabis and CBD gummies.
Dr. Jeff Chen is the director of the University of California Los Angeles Cannabis Research Initiative.
“At UCLA, I look out my window and I can count two dispensaries that I can see,” Chen says. “We can’t touch that cannabis—not even to understand what’s in it.”
As a result of these challenges, many families who wish to use cannabis are often in a position where they buy it from sources outside the conventional medical system, this is a danger to them and unnecessary. They then are in the uncomfortable position of blindly trusting that what they’re using is safe.
“I just find it absolutely staggering to accept that in this day and age, with the billions of dollars that are spent on cancer research, the medicine we were relying on was made in somebody’s kitchen,” says Angela Smith in the film. Angela’s son, Chico, uses cannabis oils to treat his soft tissue cancer.
Chen became swayed by the medical potential of cannabis compounds early in his career. This happened when he encountered a young patient with epilepsy whose parents were treating her with CBD. His interaction first hand has led him to become an advocate for CBD.
Health benefits of cannabis
Today, Chen works to understand the health benefits and risks of marijuana and its many compounds, including CBD and how it affects anxiety and other conditions.
The film also touches on funding challenges associated with marijuana research, an impediment Chen has encountered with his own research.
Chen says the “vast majority” of research investment goes toward understanding the harms of cannabis, not the potential benefits. Researchers wanting to study how marijuana may improve conditions ranging from cancer to chronic pain must find the money themselves.
Laws are slowly changing for the better.
Grant says there’s some evidence that the availability of medical cannabis worldwide is increasing. His lab recently imported marijuana from Canada who legalized cannabis during 2018. This move suggests U.S. researchers may soon have greater access to the plant. That access, combined with lighter regulations from the government, could open new doors, Grant says.
“You would have to both reschedule it and increase the availability of manufacturers,” he says. “This could be a joint effort between states, manufacturers, academia and federal [regulators].”
This type of collaboration is crucial, Lake says, and she hopes her documentary will garner public support for it. “I’m really hoping to reach the people who really have this idea that this drug is bad,” Lake says. “It’s a matter of just changing mindsets and having them fight to have access to this plant. I do believe change is coming.”
To the children who medical cannabis can help we sincerely hope this documentary is watched by the people in power and helps them better understand that the benefits may far outweigh the side effects and allow access to children, adults and everyone who can benefit from the “weed” plant.