The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
By: W. James Huffman III, M.D. — Moultrie, GA
Next week, the Georgia Senate is slated to take up Georgia’s Hope Act, legislation to provide for the production of low THC oil in Georgia. Predictably, this legislation comes with a variety of misconceptions about the medicinal properties of cannabis and opponents of medical cannabis are working to exploit these misconceptions to frighten lawmakers into opposing compassionate use of cannabis derivatives like Low THC oil.
It bears mentioning that the stigma that currently surrounds the medicinal use of cannabis was essentially created by the skewed studies funded by the profit hungry tobacco industry in the 1960s and currently continues to be fostered today by large pharmaceutical companies that fear a drop in profits if this natural chemical is allowed to be used as a medication by patients across the nation.
Conservatives have always stood together to oppose government involvement in the decisions between a doctor and their patient, and for the last several years Georgia has proven that they agree with this stance. Fueled by the preponderance of good evidence that came out of the many legitimate medical studies done on cannabis starting in the 1990s, Georgia legislators in 2015, 2017, and again in 2018 passed legislation recognizing that a chemical derivative of the cannabis plant, low THC oil, offers therapeutic benefits to chronically ill patients suffering from conditions like seizures, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and intractable pain, just to name a few. And in doing so, it has allowed doctors to help get patients approved to possess and use low THC oil in Georgia with the guidance of their physician.
Despite progress, Georgia continues insert itself in the decisions between a doctor and patient. Though patients can legally possess and use low THC oil, they cannot legally buy it anywhere in Georgia. The production and sale of low THC oil, even in the exact form and concentration that the state allows patients to possess and use, remains illegal. As a result, low THC oil is only available to patients willing to violate federal laws by importing it from out of state producers. Those producers do not have the burden of proving purity, safety or consistency, nor are the products tracked or monitored or regulated preventing diversion or misuse.
Opponents of medical cannabis also attempt to obfuscate and confuse low THC oil and CBD oil. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD oil, low THC oil’s unregulated cousin, is now legal if derived from Hemp (cannabis sativa) plants that contain less than 0.3% THC. CBD oil will soon be sold without regulation or physician approval. Although CBD oil may have some medical benefits and may be effective for certain conditions, it will be sold as a dietary supplement, without the oversight of a physician.
Moreover, from a physiologic and clinical standpoint, CBD actually needs the THC molecule to be present in order for it to reach its full spectrum of effectiveness; in other words, the THC molecule essentially acts as a “gatekeeper” for the CBD molecule to enter the cells of the body. The low THC oil, which by definition contains an equal mixture of 50% CBD and 50% THC, is a more optimal mixture medicinally and is used by physician certified patients with physician certified medical conditions.
Chemicals that are used as medicines should be tested for purity, consistency and safety. Since low THC oil has medicinal uses that are distinct from CBD oil, it should be viewed by the State of Georgia as a medicine and a pharmaceutical with requirements for purity, safety or consistency. It should also be tracked, monitored and regulated to prevent diversion or misuse. But none of that is happening today, and as a result, patients taking low THC oil are forced to utilize the “gray market” to obtain their medication.
Georgia’s Hope Act, the legislation passed by the Georgia House of Representatives, to legalize the production of low THC oil in Georgia appropriately balances the needs of patients with stringent regulation needed to prevent expansion of medical cannabis beyond the General Assembly’s intent in 2015. It also distinguishes the benefits of the balanced ratio low THC oil from the clinically unsubstantiated claims of CBD oil alone, while keeping the government from hindering the doctor and patient relationship. As a physician, I want my elected officials to take patient care and wellness seriously. Georgia’s Hope Act is good legislation that will help patients and ensure safety, and I urge the Georgia General Assembly to vote for approval in 2019.