Even without a law to cover them in Georgia, dozens and maybe hundreds of people in the Augusta area are using marijuana or a derivative to treat ailments, one activist said.
Medical marijuana activist Maison Harley said their shadowy use clamors for the state to extend legal protection amid an evolving understanding of the potential health benefits of cannabis.
“That’s the gray area that all of these families are having to go into,” he said. “Most of them have taken it upon themselves to find these products via any means necessary.”
That means using it outside the law.
Asked whether that meant taking a trip to one of the 21 states where medical marijuana is legal and bringing it back or obtaining it by mail, Harley said: “That’s some of the ways, but I can’t fully disclose their means for obvious reasons.”
The families have found each other by “word of mouth,” he said.
“These are everyday people,” Harley said. “The range of social class is phenomenal, the range of backgrounds, jobs, everything.”
He said the number of families doing this is beyond what even he knows.
“I would say it could even be in the hundreds,” he said. “I’ve been meeting folks who have been using it for years now, and obviously they’ve had no means to get in a legal sense.”
Most of them are not smoking marijuana but are eating foods laced with the drug or its derivatives, Harley said.
“And their doctors know,” he said. “They tell their doctors that’s what they do.”
Harley said he got interested in the subject during college at the University of South Carolina when he joined the university’s chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and became fascinated with what he saw as the potential health benefits.
“A lot of people in many families are sick, disabled,” he said. “From cancers to nerve pain, chronic pain, (multiple sclerosis). I found all of these chemicals (in cannabis) have an interaction with those kinds of diseases, mostly beneficial things. There’s something going on, there’s something there.”
MARIJUANA WAS used as a treatment for malaria, constipation and pain in China as early as 2600 B.C. and was widely used in Europe and the United States in the 19th century, according to a review in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis by the medical director of GW Pharmaceuticals, which has created drugs based on cannabis compounds.
The drug fell out of favor with the advent of pharmaceuticals and widespread concern about its recreational abuse, which led to prohibition in the U.S., according to the review.
In 1988, researchers discovered the first cannabinoid receptor on a nerve cell, which led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in the body, which is involved in processes as diverse as immune response, motor coordination, body temperature, emotions and bone formation, the review notes.
Marijuana was historically used as anti-seizure medication, and there is evidence that the endocannabinoid system is involved in modulating seizure activity and the excitation of nerves, the review found.
Specifically, it has centered on a chemical derived from cannabis called cannabidiol, but it has been studied in only 48 patients who were not getting seizure control from their medications, the review noted.
While there was some evidence of seizure reduction, it was not possible to compare to a placebo, so testing in humans “is still in its infancy,” the review said.
GW Pharmaceuticals has a drug with cannabidiol called Epidiolex that is just entering clinical trials in the U.S. in patients with Dravet syndrome, with first 30 and then 60 patients in those trials. The state of Georgia hopes to persuade the company to hold a trial at Georgia Regents University to get desperate parents access to the drug. GRU researcher Yong Park said he has been in contact with the company on his own and hopes to hear back soon.
A GEORGIA BILL that would have legalized cannabidiol oil without tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which causes the marijuana high, wasn’t passed earlier this year despite overwhelming support. It was attached at the last minute to less popular legislation mandating insurance coverage for autism treatment.
That bill authorized the oil for only certain conditions such as severe seizure disorders and made it clear that the change in state law would not be a step toward recreational use.
“There’s no dispensaries, there’s no storefronts being made,” Harley said. “You won’t see this pop up on Broad Street.”
A bill in the South Carolina Legislature would do just that and authorize a much broader range of medical conditions the oil could cover.
THERE IS NOT a medical marijuana prosecution ongoing in Georgia right now as far as Ashley Wright, the district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, knows. It is difficult for her to talk about how she might handle one, other than following the law as it stands.
“You take a case-by-case situation, you look at whether there is criminal intent, you look at what the substance is and how it is obtained and how it is administered,” Wright said. “I think those would be the steps one would go through if there turned out to be a case where there was someone who had a medical need. But unfortunately, the law doesn’t provide that exception right now.”
The cannabidiol oil bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has promised to bring up the legislation again the first day of the session next year to try and give families some protection.
Harley hopes the medical evidence he so firmly believes in, but is now mostly confined to animal models and anecdotal cases, will be even more evident by then.
“There’s definitely something to it,” he said. “It’s definitely moved beyond hippies and Woodstock.”