South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson appeared in front of the press last week with state law enforcement officers and doctors in white lab coats in tow to make the ridiculous claim that cannabis is “the most dangerous drug” in America.
Wilson spoke out in response to South Carolina’s proposed Compassionate Care Act, a bipartisan state medical cannabis law designed to give patients with chronic pain treatment options other than opiates. The bill would allow for patients to receive up to 2 oz. of cannabis in the form of vapor, oil, gel caps, suppositories, patches, edibles, and topical creams, is only available to those who suffer from “debilitating medical conditions” and get “written certification” from their doctors.
Wilson seems to take his guidance on medical cannabis from Reefer Madness-era propaganda, telling the press, “They use words like stoned, high, wasted, baked, fried, cooked, chonged, cheeched, dope-faced, blazed, blitzed, blunted, blasted, danked, stupid, wrecked — and that’s only half the words they use,” Wilson said. “Are these consistent with something that describes a medicine?”
Dr. Edward Bednarczyk, a clinical associate professor at The University of Buffalo and expert on medical marijuana, told Wikileaf he finds the view that medical cannabis isn’t a viable form of medicine a very hard claim to make about any type of natural cannabinoid. “It’s very uncommon for that statement to be supportable, particularly in an era where we have an unprecedented number of deaths from opioids. I’m really a little puzzled about where that statement is coming from.” Dr. Bednarczyk said.
“The laws of pharmacology don’t get suspended just because it’s a cannabis derivative.” The National Drug Abuse Institute, a leading national research and addiction prevention organization, wrote that they feel “safe medicines based on cannabinoid chemicals derived from marijuana plants have been available for decades and more are being developed.”
The Medical Potential of Cannabis
In 2018, the FDA even approved the use of several cannabinoid-derived products for medical use for the treatment of those who suffer seizures due to severe epilepsy, to treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and to treat loss of appetite and weight loss for those suffering from AIDS.
“I think there’s important and intriguing data about cannabinoids that suggest it may have an important role in pain management.” Dr. Bednarczyk told Wikileaf. “The cannabinoid system needs to be explored further for pain modulation. I think it’s an important thing to look at.”
The Opioid Epidemic
While some like AG Wilson are still beating the drum against cannabis, the nation's problem with opioid abuse is so severe that the President declared the issue a national Public Health Emergency under federal law. According to the National Drug Abuse Institute, more than 130 people in the United States die due to opiate overdoses on substances like heroin, abused prescription medication and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
It’s strange Wison would be so vehemently against medical cannabis legislation that is looking to provide an alternative for those suffering from chronic pain and illnesses when approximately 21 out of every 29 patients prescribed opiates will go on to abuse them.
In 2017, 1.7 million Americans suffered from addiction and substance abuse issues stemming from their abuse of prescription opiates, a problem led to 47,000 overdoses. Dr. Bednarczyk told Wikileaf that studies suggest the dependency rate for recreational cannabis is only about 10 percent, meaning the likelihood that someone smoking cannabis will become dependant on that substance is as likely as someone who drinks alcohol is to become an alcoholic.
When compared to the dependency rate of opiates, it pales in comparison. Maybe AG Wilson should look closer into the addiction numbers in his own state when it comes to opioid addiction before he makes such a sweeping indictment of medical cannabis as a whole. Between 2008, when Wilson first won office as the state’s attorney general, and 2017 the number of people who have died of overdoses on opiates has doubled from 569 to 1001.
A National Crisis
Unfortunately, the opiate crisis is not strictly a South Carolina issue. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of deaths due to opiates has gone up from 5.2 per every 100,000 deaths to 13.1 every 100,000 deaths in 2016, along with those dead from fentanyl, from 50 in 2013 to 237 in 2016, and heroin, from 32 in 2013 to 115 in 2017. On top of that, opioid abuse is the real gateway drug to worse addiction, with about 80 percent of heroin abusers admitting to abusing prescription drugs before moving on to heroin.
Unfortunately, due to the current federal laws and cannabis scheduling, research on cannabinoids and their medical benefits are still in their early stages but with 33 states approving some form of medical cannabis and more likely to approve it in the next few years, it’s clear the potential of cannabinoids for medical use when it comes to pain management is a better option for many than using addictive opiates.
Cannabis Remains a Schedule I Drug
Dr. Bednarczyk firmly believes that the current lack of research on cannabis due to it’s scheduling is a major issue. “That’s a huge problem. If you have a drug that you keep schedule one, including for research purposes, they should make it easier to be studied.” Bednarczyk said.
“What’s inhibiting good research is having the schedule 1 classification of all cannabinoids or anything derived from cannabis. There’s no real reason to do that.” While the answer about whether medical cannabis is without a doubt a viable alternative to opiates, Dr. Bednarczyk believes that the idea marijuana shouldn’t be considered medicine is ridiculous.
“This is serious stuff. You have people who are desperate. To say that those people were just looking for a weed fix, that’s not fair to those patients with very difficult to treat chronic diseases.” Dr. Bednarczyk said. “You can’t delegitimize research into cannabinoids and say this doesn’t have potential.”