March 2014 – now
New York University School of Medicine
Dr. Orrin Devinsky

Cannabis and Epilepsy

Thanks to heightened media coverage over the past several years – particularly Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report on the dramatic, life-changing effect that THC and CBD-rich therapeutic cannabis oil has had on a young patient with a severe seizure disorder – cannabis has recently been thrust into the spotlight for its potent anti-convulsant properties.

With so much recent buzz, it may be surprising to learn that anecdotal accounts about the use of cannabis as a seizure treatment have been around for centuries and documented since at least 1881. However, research regarding its effects on epilepsy and seizures is still in the early stages.

As a result of families pushing for access to CBD for their sick children (and moving to states where it is legal and available in limited quantities), the need for research is more urgent than ever.

According to Orrin Devinsky MD, Professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and Director of NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center:

There remains an enormous unmet need in a range of pediatric and adult treatment-resistant epilepsy syndromes, which affect approximately 750,000 Americans. Some of the greatest needs are in children with severe epilepsy syndromes such as Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut, where frequent seizures often persist despite high doses of multiple anti-epileptic drugs.

February 2013 – now
San Francisco General Hospital
Dr. Donald Abrams

Cannabis and Cancer

It has long been accepted that cannabis is very useful in helping cancer patients to manage their symptoms – pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia and others. For several decades, a synthetic version of THC, the active component of cannabis, has been available in the prescription drug, Marinol. Though now marketed as an appetite stimulant for AIDS patients, Marinol has also been used to treat cancer patients with nausea and vomiting.

As Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief of Oncology and Hematology for San Francisco General Hospital stated in an interview, “I can sit there and write [cancer patients] a prescription to cover each one of those symptoms, or I can recommend they try one medicine, and that’s cannabis.”

Though the medical establishment will require much needed clinical trials in order to be convinced, evidence has been mounting that the cannabinoids in cannabis – THC and CBD – are not just good for palliative care but also have a direct anti-tumor effect.

May 2013 – now
Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol
Dr. Bar-Lev Schleider

Why Not Hemp Oil

There is a lot of confusion about hemp and what we popularly know as “marijuana.” Most people assume that hemp and marijuana is the same thing. Historically, the government has lumped them together as banned substances. It doesn’t help that some medical cannabis proponents refer to it as “hemp oil.”

What is hemp and how is it different from medical cannabis?

Although hemp is technically a cannabis plant, it is a very different variety from the cannabis that is used recreationally and medicinally. The website, HempEthics, defines hemp in this way:

The term ‘Hemp’ commonly refers to the industrial/commercial use of the cannabis stalk and seed for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials.

Hemp is an amazingly versatile and useful plant, not unlike its medical cannabis cousin in this regard. However, the similarity might end there. In addition to usage, there are several other ways that hemp and recreational/medical cannabis differ, according to HempEthics.

Unlike recreational cannabis that has been bred over the years to yield high THC (the psychoactive compound responsible for feeling “high,” as well as having a number of documented medical benefits), industrial hemp is very low in THC.

In hemp, it’s the stalks and seeds that matter. The stalk provides strong fiber for making rope, paper, textiles, and building materials and the seeds can be turned into cooking oil and food products, body care products, and biofuel. In recreational/medical cannabis, the prized parts of the plant are the buds and flowers of the female plant, the source of THC and CBD and other beneficial components.

Hemp and marijuana plants look entirely different. Hemp more closely resembles bamboo in the length and woodiness of the stalks and grows to an average height of 10-15 feet before harvest. In contrast, marijuana plants grow to an average height of 5 feet, with leaves and buds that grow out rather than up. Hence, hemp can be grown packed closely together whereas marijuana plants require a lot of space.

The growing conditions and environments also differ for each kind of plant. Recreational/medicinal cannabis plants need warm, humid environments to grow. The more delicate parts of the plant—the buds—require a lot of handling which make them suited for indoor cultivation. Hemp plants, on the other hand, are hardy and can grow in a wider range of areas. They thrive in fields that grow crops like corn and produce higher yields than other cannabis plants.