Dr. Gupta’s desire for medical cannabis policy change has not been a secret over the past year. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he called for federal legalisation right away for medical purposes. He also addressed families that have moved to Colorado solely because cannabis is their last medicinal hope.
“This refugee situation that is developing, I thought it would be a bit apocryphal, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being led down some false path — but I met with these families and it is real,” Gupta said of the hundreds of families who have uprooted themselves and moved to Colorado. For some conditions, like epilepsy, patients have tried many drugs without success and find marijuana or cannabinoid-derived medicines can be their only hope. The patients who move to Colorado can receive the medication from a dispensary legally but could be arrested if they brought the plant across state lines.
“Are you really going to arrest a person for taking their medicine back to their state?” Gupta said. “This is not the society that I think most people would think we are and yet it’s absolutely happening. It’s heartbreaking.”
‘Charlotte’s Web’ is a strain of cannabis that is drawing many of these families. This strain is low-THC, but high-cannabinoid. This produces less of a high, which some patients want, and has been used to treat over 300 patients so far. It was named after 7 year old Charlotte Figi, who suffered from hundreds of seizures a week. She was also the first child in Colorado to be treated with medical cannabis. Her mother has called her recovery miraculous, and said “She is getting a re-do of all the years she was robbed by epilepsy,”.
Dr. Gupta reaffirmed his strong position on medical cannabis in an op-ed piece for CNN.
“I am more convinced than ever that it is irresponsible to not provide the best care we can, care that often may involve cannabis,” Gupta wrote. “I am not backing down on medical cannabis; I am doubling down.”
“The idea that people are able to get their cannabis medicine in one state, but not another, defies some of the core principles of our medical system, which strives for an equality of health care in terms of options,”
Part of a doctor’s mentality is to help those around them. Gupta stance is that research shows the benefits, and patients deserve more access to it. Often times, a cannabis based medication is the only one that works. Other drugs may have harsh side effects.
“As with a lot of things, as you start to dig deeper into something, you want to make sure that it continues to hold up, that you’re pursuing threads and that they are leading somewhere,” Gupta said. “What I found with medical cannabis was that as I dug deeper, that it all really held up. Not only is it real, the mechanisms by which it works are pretty well described and elucidated by a lot of scientists around the world. The therapeutic benefits have squarely moved out of the realm of the anecdotal into science — peer-reviewed science.”
“It doesn’t get sketchier or blurrier or more opaque, it actually becomes clearer as you dig deeper,” Gupta added. “So my focus has been on medical cannabis, and making it available, as a real option, to needy patients.”
Gupta takes a look at federal laws in his second documentary, “Cannabis Madness” that airs Tuesday on CNN. Under federal law, cannabis is classified as one of the “most dangerous” with the likes of heroin, and “with no currently accepted medical use.” Seems archaic. “It just doesn’t meet the criteria for Schedule I — and it never did,” Gupta said.
Due to its current legal status, it is difficult for scientists to obtain cannabis and funding for cannabis related research in the US. Dr. Gupta thinks the U.S. should adopt a system that enables research while making cannabis available to anyone who needs it.
“If you think about this whole story and you substitute in another medicine, other than cannabis, into that exact same story, it would be an outrage — people would be up in arms about it,” Gupta said, discussing the federal/DEA raids on dispensaries. “It flies in the face of what I think many state and federal politicians have telegraphed, in terms of the fact that they wouldn’t behave this way on this issue and yet it’s still happening. For me the real problem is, at the end of the day, it’s of course terrible that these guys are going to prison, but that’s exacerbated by the patients out there now that aren’t able to get what they need because of it.”
He also warned on the danger of ideology clouding the decision making progress, lambasting politicians for their interference in progressing medical uses for cannabis.
“This hypocrisy conjures up for me when I was in medical school, some of our first lessons revolved around when politics or religion trumped science and how dangerous that was,” Gupta said. “And I think that’s what’s happening here — you have politics trumping science. In past situations, it may have been the position of the Earth in the universe. But now it is real people, their lives, their illnesses in the middle of this. It’s incredibly sad.”
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