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Why medical marijuana is needed in Mississippi
1. Why do people in Mississippi need access to medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option for a broad range of serious medical conditions and their symptoms, such as chronic pain. More than 2.8 million Americans are using medical marijuana in 33 states, and there is no reason to deny that same option for relief to Mississippians who are in chronic pain or suffer from other symptoms from debilitating medical conditions. These laws are working well and helping patients in other states. Mississippians with these types of medical conditions and diseases have little choice but to suffer with little or no relief, or to turn to opioids and heavy pharmaceutical drugs, which can cause dependence.
2. Is medical marijuana something that could actually be beneficial to me or my family?
In states with medical marijuana programs, medical marijuana helps many patients who suffer from chronic pain or other symptoms associated with a variety of debilitating conditions. Mississippi’s medical marijuana initiative lists the conditions for which patients will be able to qualify, and that list relies on the experiences of other states and the available medical research. The list includes epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, Crohn’s disease, ALC, and sickle-cell anemia. To see a comprehensive list of debilitating medical conditions included in the proposal, see question 59.
3. Aren’t prescription drugs just as effective?
Patients suffering from debilitating illnesses and the treatments associated with those illnesses find that medical marijuana provides relief. Available prescription drugs, like opioids, often come with far more serious side effects than medical marijuana, which are modest compared to the risks associated with many prescription drugs. Moreover, there have been no reported deaths from a marijuana overdose — unlike opioids and other dangerous medications that are prescribed every day. Also, many patients who find relief from marijuana simply do not respond to prescription medications.
4. Are there any prescription drugs that are made from marijuana?
Yes, the FDA recently approved a drug called Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy called Lennox-Gestault syndrome and Dravet syndrome. This is the first FDA-approved drug that contains a purified substance derived from marijuana called CBD which is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. The FDA classifies this drug as a Schedule 5 controlled substance which is given to drugs with a proven medical use and low potential for abuse.
The FDA has previously approved 3 drugs that are made from synthetic cannabinoids, which means they are man-made and not naturally derived from the marijuana plant. Marinol and Syndros are used to treat anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS, and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment of cancer. Cesamet is used to prevent or treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Both Marinol and Cesamet have been legally available since 1985 and Syndros was approved in 2016.
5. I thought Mississippi had some type of medical marijuana program?
In 2014, Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill into law that would legalize the use of CBD oil, which is an extract of the marijuana plant, for certain kinds of medical conditions. The law was named “Harper Grace’s Law,” after a young girl who has a rare type of epilepsy that causes violent seizures. In other states, children like Harper Grace have used medical marijuana to fight seizures. However, Harper Grace has yet to receive her first dose of CBD oil from Mississippi.
The problem is that the Harper Grace Law required the CBD oil to be provided by the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi under “appropriate federal and state regulatory approval” and restricted the dispensing of CBD oil to the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Due to these restrictions and difficult-to-obtain approval from the applicable federal agencies, the hospital has yet to provide any CBD oil to qualified patients. Consequently, since the passage of the law, Harper Grace, and patients like her, have yet to receive any relief in Mississippi.
UMMC announced a small clinical trial of CBD in 2018 to determine the safety and tolerability of the medication for children with severe epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled by other medications. The trial is limited to only a dozen children and does not include Harper Grace. It is a positive step for Mississippi but does not provide readily accessible CBD medication to children or any other person suffering from a debilitating medical condition outside of the trial.
6. What about the CBD that is available in some of the stores in Mississippi?
CBD (cannabidiol) that is for sale in stores across Mississippi may not be legal under state law or compliant with US Food and Drug Administration regulations, depending on where the CBD came from and how it is being sold. Selling CBD is currently in a legal grey area because of recent changes to federal law and a lack of direction from the FDA.
The marijuana plant and the hemp plant are genetic cousins that both contain chemical compounds called cannabinoids which produce certain effects within the human body. Cannabinoids can be extracted from either plant and turned into processed products. CBD is one type of cannabinoid and it can be found in both marijuana and hemp. THC is another cannabinoid and it contains psychoactive properties, yet hemp does not contain effective amounts of THC as specified by federal and state law. Through the 2014 and 2018 federal Farm Bills, the federal government has allowed states to regulate the growing of hemp. Though Mississippi does not currently allow hemp farming or processing, many states legalized hemp leading to legally-available CBD products.
Therefore, some producers outside of Mississippi are manufacturing CBD products from hemp and not from marijuana. These hemp-derived CBD products can be found in some stores throughout Mississippi. However, the legality of these products is unknown at this time. Though Mississippi adopted Harper Grace’s Law, that law does not allow the unregulated sale of CBD products around the state.
7. So why do we need a medical marijuana program?
A medical marijuana program will allow patients access to whole plant medicine instead of only CBD, which is just one of many helpful cannabinoids in the plant. The many different cannabinoid chemical compounds found within whole plant medical marijuana were created to work in concert with one another in order to interact with the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. Many patients, including those who suffer from seizure disorders, find their symptoms are treated most effectively when they are allowed to use the full plant to medicate instead of only the CBD component. In addition, the use of private businesses to grow and dispense the medical marijuana will avoid the problems of using a federally regulated medical center like the University of Mississippi.
8. Has the Mississippi Legislature ever considered legalizing medical marijuana?
Over the last several years, several legislators have introduced bills to make medical marijuana legal in Mississippi. Unfortunately, none of those bills have been given a hearing or even a vote at the State Capitol.