My wife and I recently came back from a road trip in Missouri to visit friends and family. As much as I like back roads we did travel some on Interstates 44 and 70 and that is where this column began. We saw billboard sign after sign promoting medical marijuana (M&M). And, at the risk of understatement, billboards are a strange medical information medium. These boards were often paired with a number of others targeting, shall we say, trucker’s hormones.

One of the friends we visited has an investment in a “medical marijuana” dispensary. I asked whether I could walk in and buy some gummy bears laced with THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol) the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces a “high” sensation. He said the dispensary would put me in touch with a doctor who would have me fill out a form and that qualifying to receive a medical marijuana card was a “no-brainer” (my favorite).

Several weeks before, I had seen similar signs in both New York and Pennsylvania. Maybe Covid 19 vaccine advice has relegated this new therapeutic to the outskirts of media advertising. I suspect the dispensaries like it there.

On reflection I found myself wondering why, with the proliferation of drugstores, we need new dispensaries to dispense marijuana (a product derived from the plant Cannabis sativa) in medical form. Wouldn’t it be better to take advantage of a trained pharmacist to advise prospective patients if more conventional doctors are going to be circumvented? Keep in mind, M&M (not to be confused with the chocolate candy) comes in many shapes, sizes and doses.

Perhaps the different treatment is to be found, in part, in a seductive description. Eighteen States and the District of Columbia have legalized “recreational marijuana”. Recreational?  Should it be added to YMCA activities? We certainly don’t go to drugstores to buy recreational drugs. 

So what about the medical version? Are we so entangled in the cultural context that we are unable to rationalize the laws on the books?

If you are as confused as I am, here is what the federal government says about marijuana: “Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.” 

Yet, as the Wall Street Journal reported “The FDA has approved a cannabinoid derived drug for the treatment of certain seizure disorders and cannabis-related medications for the treatment of weight loss in people with AIDs or nausea due to cancer treatment.”

While I have an aversion to studying chemical compounds, this approved drug seems to derive some of its therapeutic qualities from CBD, an active element in the cannabis plant that “significantly reduces the frequency and severity of seizures. It also reduces or even eliminates nausea associated with several conditions…..”

So stay with me for a minute. What about new laws? How about a law that recognizes the potential of marijuana or cannabis extracts to be used therapeutically? What about a law that breaks down any barriers to drugstores distributing medical marijuana?

And should the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) look into pairing the use of marijuana with the word recreation. Is this truth in labeling? Or does marijuana interfere with recreation? I suspect the marijuana lobby will make sure this doesn’t make the FTC docket.

In short, let’s concede that what now populates highway billboards and is branded for recreational use deserves our serious attention. And, if marijuana is to occupy our imagination as somehow paired with recreation, we need to better understand the consequences.

But, back to medical claims. The federal government spends billions of dollars on drug research. I would suggest that Congressman/doctor Andy Harris find a sliver of what is spent, to conclude more definitive studies on this plant with it’s over 400 chemical properties and sort out, legally, its marketing and distribution. 

We have a Food and Drug Administration, a Center for Disease Control and a Federal Trade Commission. Should they be leading discovery and direction on how marijuana is used and marketed? Science, law and law enforcement are relatively clear about extracts from Poppies (opioids). We need much more clarity on extracts from the Cannabis/Marijuana plant. If there are legitimate uses for these drugs, should they be relegated to billboards?