From multiple sclerosis to post traumatic stress syndrome, medical marijuana is increasingly prescribed to treat a number of conditions.
But an analysis of studies compiled by researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports there’s little or no benefit for many conditions.
“We’ve seen brain tumors shrink by a third, seen people survive cancer,” said Karl Keich, owner of Seattle Medical Marijuana Association. “I’m not saying cannabis is a cure-all, but it has miraculous medicinal powers and needs to be researched more.”
The long-time Fremont dispensary owned by Keich has treated thousands of patients for a variety of conditions with medical cannabis.
But Keich said it’s a chicken and egg situation.
Because marijuana is still illegal federally, most researchers can’t get funding for studies. And the limited number of studies have relied almost exclusively on one source of marijuana from the National Institute of Drug Awareness at the University of Mississippi, which is far inferior to much of the medical marijuana available in Washington state and across the country, he said.
The Federal government is using a strain with a 12-percent cannabidiol content. That’s low compared to the strains being grown locally with 30 percent, Keich said.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of many active cannabinoids in cannabis. It is the non-psychoactive chemical in marijuana that provides many medicinal benefits, such as an anti-seizure medication.
Keich said he’s been using a high CBD cannabis extract to treat a now nine-month-old who was suffering frequent seizures and got no relief from traditional medication.
“We started seeing it when he was four months old,” Keich said. “He suffers from epilepsy. And he was having over 100 seizures a day.”
In a couple of days the seizures began to become less frequent.
Although there are countless anecdotes like that from medical marijuana patients and providers, the American Medical Association report states the strongest evidence is for chronic pain and muscle stiffness in multiple sclerosis.
It says evidence was weak for many other conditions including anxiety, sleep disorders, and Tourette’s syndrome. The study authors say far more research is needed and widespread use of medical marijuana should be limited until more research is done, which gets us back to the chicken and the egg.
“We work with the Cancer Care Alliance, Swedish Hospital … There’s people that come to us for help,” Keich said. “It’s hard for doctors; they can’t tell patients to come here.”
The report found one big problem with medical marijuana — the accuracy of labels and inconsistency of edibles.
A separate study of edible pot products found many of the brownies, candies, and beverages bought at dispensaries in Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco varies widely, with many containing far less or more THC than labeled.
Keich acknowledged it’s an issue, but he said a lack of standardized testing and regulation is to blame, and Washington is at the forefront of improving the system.
But that will remain difficult as long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.