Clearing the air: Vote YES on SQ788

I read Michael Bates’s latest blog post encouraging people to vote no on SQ788 and was struck by his account of a local doctor’s opinion on State Question 788. It’s as if the doctor whom he cites has gotten his information from “Everything You Need to Know About THC” by James Lankford. If Mr. Bates is accurate that this doctor truly believes that ALL of the health benefits of cannabis are currently available in full spectrum hemp oil [which he apparently sells out of his clinic], without the side effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance found in marijuana, then the doctor is deficient in facts or Mr. Bates has misunderstood the doctor.

It’s true that “full spectrum hemp oil” has beneficial qualities, but it only scratches the surface. THC is also an important compound. The problem we have now in Oklahoma is that the legal amount of THC in our state (less than three-tenths of one percent) is simply not adequate in the treatment of many diseases. People with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Tourette syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, and Epilepsy need access to higher levels of THC. For gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s, THC is crucial for healing.

I get the sense that a lot of Oklahomans are just frightened by the ever-demonized cannabinoid, THC. They have been conditioned to associate being “high” with what you’d see in a Cheech and Chong movie. There is even a reference to this stereotype in Mr. Bates’s blog post. The reality is that patients typically experience a feeling of euphoria that can range from slight to intense depending on strain and amount, but that is not necessarily a negative side effect for someone suffering with intense chronic pain or end stage cancer, for example. Also, there are ways to counter the “high” should one become a bit too euphoric. This doctor is purported to have written that “the higher the concentration of THC, the lower the amount of CBD oil and the fewer the health benefits. This statement is not quite accurate. There are most certainly appropriate medical applications for high THC cannabis.

About the Endocannabinoid System: The Endocannabinoid System (which, by the way, is not taught in most medical schools although it was discovered in the early 90s) is the body’s chief regulatory system. Cannabinoid receptors are located all throughout the body and brain of mammals. When cannabinoids are introduced to the body, they are received by these receptors to restore homeostasis to cells. There are over 80 known cannabinoids in cannabis and they work together in what is known as the “entourage effect” to restore health to the body. Isolating and synthesizing particular cannabinoids, as Mr. Bates suggests, is not necessary for using cannabis as medicine even when we’re talking about dosing.

The doctor is correct that marijuana growers selectively breed for higher concentrations of THC. This is a trend in the recreational market that was created by prohibition. Prohibition caused skewed market signals to be sent to producers —  consumers wanting the biggest bang for their buck. But now that recreational cannabis is becoming widespread, we should expect this trend to adjust to reasonable levels as most adults are not looking to get blitzed out of their minds, but just to relax and/or perform normal duties while taking the edge off. Some people find that it helps them focus. It just depends on the individual and what kind of work they do.

In his blog post Mr. Bates implies that what is currently legal in Oklahoma is just fine. Bates tries to talk some sense into our little heads: “The reality is that medicine from the cannabis plant has been legal in Oklahoma for a couple of years. In 2015, Gov. Fallin signed a law that legalized the use of CBD oil for children with certain medical conditions; in subsequent years legal applications of CBD oil were expanded and industrial (very low concentration of THC) hemp production was legalized.”

The bill referenced is known as Katie’s Law (HB2154) which allowed patients under 18 with severe epilepsy to use oil with less than three-tenths of one percent THC. Interestingly, Katie’s family is very openly pushing for passage of 788. I guess they know a thing or two about medical cannabis and the effectiveness of extremely low THC oil for seizures. This legality was expanded last year through HB1559 which allows adults to partake of this oil as well. Obviously less that .3% THC is not a sufficient stopping point and the citizens of Oklahoma along with many legislators understand this. Enter SQ788. Anticipating passage of this measure, House and Senate members, including Jon Echols, the author of the aforementioned bills, have been actively working on companion legislation to best enact SQ788. Oh, and it’s a bi-partisan effort to boot!

The current legal limit is not just fine for Oklahoma.

Under the current legal limit of THC in Oklahoma, Ray Jennings could not have treated and survived stage 4 cancer. He was lucky enough to own property in Colorado and when he received his prognosis he went there as a last resort, used cannabis, and is now cancer free.

Under the current legal limit of THC, the Hilterbrans are not able to return home to Oklahoma with their son’s life saving medicine. Amy Hilterbran recently said, “My husband, Jason Hilterbran (a former OK firefighter) and I are from Oklahoma – we had to move to Colorado to legally access medical marijuana for our son. It has saved his life and we have documented the journey for almost 4 years now. SQ788 passing could mean that we COULD come home legally with the cannabis medicine that stops our son’s seizures.”

If what is currently legal was effective, we would not have Jaqie Angel’s pediatric neurologist, Dr. Stauffer, supporting this ballot measure. For anyone who does not know Jaqie, she was the little baby who used to seize almost constantly. She was on pharmaceutical drugs which made her zombie-like and were not effective in controlling her seizures. She tried every legal option in Oklahoma. She tried the less than .3% THC CBD oil but it was not enough. Jaqie needed higher levels of THC to control her seizures. Because of our law against higher levels of THC, they had to leave the state to get the medicine. As a result of real medical cannabis, Jaqie is now off all pharmaceuticals and her seizures are under control.

Mr. Bates’s summary that “SQ 788 is a license to be stoned all the time while being protected against any of the social consequences reasonably accruing to a stoner” is inflammatory, untrue, and insensitive to patients. Conjuring up stereotypical stoner imagery is juvenile when this is such a serious topic.

Rather than basing our vote on what a doctor selling hemp oil says, why not consult a doctor, such as Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, MD, PhD, FAAPMR (Fellow of the American Academy of Physical Medicne and Rehabilitation) who has made this area of medicine his life’s work.

Let’s do the right thing. It’s OK to say YES to a beautiful blend of science and compassion. It’s one of the most pro-life, pro-family things you can do this election. YES to SQ788.



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