Among the more than 110 medically therapeutic cannabinoids found in marijuana, the big players are THC and CBD. The influence of CBD-only cannabis oils, which cause no euphoric high, is so great that 13 states have passed limited medical marijuana laws targeted only at CBD extracts.
Products like Charlotte’s Web, an increasingly popular pharmaceutical-grade CBD (cannabidiol) extract from Colorado that’s available in capsule, oil, and tincture form, are being used by patients in several states where they are legal. Instead of activists on bullhorns, the loudest — and most persuasive — voices for at least limited medical cannabis legalization are those of the parents of very sick children.
Children with intractable epilepsy, especially those who have tried all conventional pharmaceutical treatments but gained almost no benefit, are using CBD oil to control seizures with amazing efficacy. Unfortunately, CBD is not an end-all cure. It does not work in all cases.
Charlotte Figi & Benton Mackenzie
Charlotte Figi, a nine-year-old Colorado resident, has become the poster child of pediatric medical marijuana. She inspired the creation of a family of CBD-rich Charlotte’s Web products (named by its producer, CW Botanicals, in her honor) to reduce her epileptic seizures. Use of CBD oil has reduced Ms. Figi’s seizure activity by 99.7 percent (before CBD treatment, she suffered between 400 and 1,000 seizures per week).
Benton Mackenzie, a man from Iowa, was suffering from aggressive angiosarcoma, a highly invasive form of cancer. He used high-CBD strains of cannabis to treat his condition — some of which, like Valentine X, provide a 25:1 CBD to THC ratio. For two years, Mackenzie was able to hold his angiosarcoma at Stage 1 though the use of high CBD cannabis.
After being busted for cultivation and incarcerated, where he was obviously deprived of his cannabis medicine, Mackenzie’s cancer progressed from Stage 1 to Stage 4 in only six weeks. Although highly anecdotal, this case is convincing evidence for the power of the CBD cannabinoid to prevent tumor growth and possibly kill cancer cells.
The medical benefit of certain cannabinoids, like CBD, has been clearly illustrated both anecdotally and via limited medical research. The good news is that actual extract products, like Charlotte’s Web, are finally becoming available and legal in many states.
Beyond Extracts: Synthetic Cannabinoids
While cannabinoids are typically isolated via extracts, they have also been synthesized by pharmaceutical companies. In fact, the FDA has approved both Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone), two forms of synthetic THC.
Unfortunately, these man-made products have garnished mixed — and often negative — reviews from patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and cancer. This indicates that there may be other chemicals and elements available in CBD oil extracts that simply aren’t present in synthetic versions of these cannabinoids. (It is already understood that certain cannabis terpenes play a role in regulating the amount of cannabinoids that reaches the brain.)
Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician and advocate of integrative medicine in Maine, succinctly summarized the attitude of the medical establishment toward cannabinoids and whole plant cannabis medicine:
“Many physicians cringe at the thought of recommending a botanical substance, and are outright mortified by the idea of smoking a medicine. Our medical system is more comfortable with single, isolated substances that can be swallowed or injected.”
“Unfortunately, this model significantly limits the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids.”
Think Outside the Box
When considering medical cannabis, one must think outside the box and not constrain the issue to only whole plant cannabis that is smoked, vaped, or used to create edibles.
In the case of children, a cannabis-derived medicine that provides no euphoric high, is easy to administer, and delivers significant relief for some patients is where medical science and nature work in tandem to provide sometimes remarkable efficacy.
This post was originally published on May 1, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.