Varieties and nuance
In the meantime, the FDA’s own review of the drug is complicated because regulators typically seek to judge the effectiveness of a drug’s various components, said Mark Rosenfeld, a Utah researcher who conducts most of his studies on cannabis in China and Israel to avoid U.S. restrictions.
For patients using marijuana, combinations of the drug tend to work together to create the worthwhile effects, said Rosenfeld. That flummoxes regulators who want to understand exactly how it works.
Marijuana’s varieties also complicate the debate – at least on the state level – because some are less potent than others.
Rosenfeld noted that some variations, such as those used by epileptic children, include such low levels of THC, the drug found in the cannabis plant, that they are less psychoactive than Benadryl.
Advocates of medical marijuana worry about the nuances. Patrick Nightingale, an attorney with the Pittsburgh branch of NORML, who also represents Snee, said he’s concerned about potential compromise in Harrisburg to legalize only the use of cannabis with low levels of THC.
That would be fine for epileptic children, he said, but does nothing to help those with conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.
Some doctors argue that Congress should reclassify the drug – based on its already proven benefits – to make it easier for researchers to conduct the studies needed to convince the FDA.
Reclassify or declassify?
Marijuana’s current classification under the Controlled Substances Act is on Schedule 1, among the drugs considered to be the most dangerous. Liscinsky said that’s based on the premise that it has “a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
A bill to reschedule marijuana is mired in committee, despite having 22 co-sponsors, none of whom are from Pennsylvania.
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming, is skeptical of the effort, said spokeswoman Sarah Wolf.
“As a former U.S. attorney, Tom saw first-hand the detrimental effects this drug had on countless lives, and he opposes any efforts to weaken the drug’s current status as a Schedule I controlled substance,” Wolf said in an email.
Josh Stanley, co-founder of the Realm of Caring, a Colorado nonprofit that developed a cannabis treatment for children with epilepsy, said he would like to see cannabis products labeled as herbal supplements. That would put some restrictions on marketers, he said, but the products would be available to those who need them.
“We don’t need reclassification, we need declassification,” said Stanley, whose group was featured in a CNN segment that helped catapult the issue of medical marijuana into the national spotlight.