“We Need Proof on Marijuana” reads the headline of the op-ed in the New York Times, accompanied by an illustration of an old-timey snake-oil bottled labeled “Miracle Elixir” and festooned with a pot leaf.
I checked the date: February 12, 2014. Whew! I hadn’t been sucked into a temporal vortex back to 1995. What kind of ignoramus in 2014 could be demanding “proof” of marijuana’s medical efficacy?
Oh. Drs. Orrin Devinsky and Daniel Friedman, authors of the op-ed who are physicians at the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. Those kind of ignoramuses. Edumacated ones.
“Many people have heard the story of Charlotte Figi, a young girl from Colorado with severe epilepsy,” the doctors begin. They tell the tale of her miracle recovery from Dravet Syndrome thanks to the use of high-CBD/low-THC cannabis oil, reducing her epileptic seizures from “hundreds of seizures per week to only two or three per month.”
The doctors say once Dr. Sanjay Gupta exposed her story on CNN, other families left their states for Colorado because anecdotal reports on Facebook “aroused outsize hopes and urgent demands.” Then, shockingly, these two epilepsy specialists write:
“But scientific studies have yet to bear out the hopes of these desperate families. The truth is we lack evidence not only for the efficacy of marijuana, but also for its safety. This concern is especially relevant in children, for whom there is good evidence that marijuana use can increase the risk of serious psychiatric disorders and long-term cognitive problems.
Long-term cognitive problems? Children like Charlotte were losing years of development to their peers thanks to the near constant seizures they suffered! Psychiatric disorders? We’re really supposed to let the children seize up, injure themselves, and potentially die for fear that they might become schizophrenic? These parents dream that their kids get to live to find that out!
The truth is marijuana has been used medically for over 5,000 years without a single documented fatal overdose. Name another FDA-approved drug bearing that record… sorry, you can’t. Aspirin, penicillin and a number of medicines have never been approved by the FDA (and in the case of aspirin, wouldn’t be) yet we accepted them as medicine based on generations of safe effective use.
But wait, it gets better (or worse, I guess). The doctors also write:
“Where is the data showing that marijuana is effective for epilepsy? Although parents may report improvements in their children, it is important to remember that the placebo response is powerful, and the placebo response is greater in pediatric than adult studies.”
Wow. Yeah, right, the placebo effect -- the documented phenomenon where a patient merely believing medicine will work leads to healing. Okay, docs, explain then how the placebo effect didn’t kick in when doctors like you were prescribing these kids a metric buttload of dangerous pharmaceuticals with lousy side effects -- many of which aren’t ever tested on kids? And how is it that the placebo effect works on a three-year-old child; is she getting belief-waves from her parents’ “outsized hopes”? And why are they believing the promises of medical marijuana proponents but not esteemed physicians and pharmacists?
To be fair, the doctors call for rescheduling so more data can be gathered and studies conducted. But for Charlotte’s sake, guys, there’s nothing about pot’s potential side effects, even in the fevered imagination of Harry J. Anslinger’s ghost, that compares to watching a child locked up, writhing, wracked with pain, eyeballs fluttering and a parent holding her, praying this isn’t the seizure that takes her away for good. Shame on you for suggesting parents shouldn’t be trying CBD for their kids until the FDA placebo-controlled double-blind trials are completed.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."