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Editorial: Primary Children's takes welcome step toward understanding

Published July 3, 2014 5:43 pm

Finally, some research on marijuana.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Seldom does an advanced society pride itself on its ignorance. But, for nearly half a century, the laws of the United States have effectively prevented any honest and useful study of the benefits and harms of various forms of the marijuana plant.

Slowly, that attitude is changing. And Utah's Primary Children's Hospital is to be one of those to take a small but important step toward an understanding that can save lives.

Since Congress passed Controlled Substances Act of 1970, American science has been hobbled by the wholly unsupported assumption that marijuana, aka cannabis, is a totally useless and entirely dangerous substance. Not because of any research or scientific input, but because Congress said so.

This led to the placement of marijuana on the list of what the Drug Enforcement Agency calls "Schedule 1" substances, alongside heroin and LSD. And, as long as marijuana sat on that list, real research on what it and its extracts could do for us, and might do to us, was basically impossible.

Hearts and minds have been opened in recent years, though, by more and more people who came forward to say that they, their loved ones, or their patients, had found welcome relief from such maladies as glaucoma, the crippling side-effects of anti-cancer chemotherapy and, more recently, epileptic seizures.

Just as closed minds kept marijuana out of the labs for so long, it was an open-hearted hope felt by a majority of the Utah Legislature that led to the passage of a law allowing the use of a particular extract of the marijuana plant to treat some forms of debilitating seizures suffered mostly by young children.

Another cannabis-based substance is to be the subject of the study that Children's Research is putting together, awaiting final DEA approval. Even if the work there shows that the drug it is to investigate, a British-made extract called Epidiolex, works, that drug will remain a proprietary, and expensive, treatment. Today, the drug would cost families $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

That is in stark contrast to the substance the Legislature was interested in setting free, an extract called CBD oil, now available from a Colorado-based cooperative for $200 a month.

The problem with both of those hopeful concoctions, and many others, is that we still lack good data, based on hard research, that will tell us what substances, at what doses, for which patients, and at what prices, will fulfill this promise. Utah can be proud that some of that work is being done here.