The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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January 18, 2014

A medical look at marijuana

Cannabis, marijuana, weed, pot — call it what you may, but the image it brings to mind is people puffing a joint and getting high.

Oklahoma legislators will get a different look during a Feb. 12 hearing to discuss scientific evidence about the medical use of cannabis extracts, and listen to families who wish it could be obtained in Oklahoma.

The subject to be discussed has nothing to do with smoking, and it is not a substance people would use to get high. The product that will be discussed is an oil very low in THC — the psychotropic compound of cannabis that produces its notorious “high.”

Instead, the product is produced from cannabis plants specifically bred for a high level of cannabidiol — a compound with a calming effect on the brain. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has itself held a patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants since 2003.

Expected to speak at the hearing are Jenniafer Walters, president of the Epilepsy Association of Oklahoma; Josh Stanley, a medical cannabis activist; and Mark Rosenfield, a cannabis researcher.

Others who will be at the hearing include Martin Piel, a Perry resident whose granddaughter, Zoey Johnson, has a catastrophic and rare form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet syndrome; Derek Mann, a pancreatic cancer survivor who has listened to other cancer patients talk about the benefit they got from using cannabis; and Seth Stambaugh, an Enid medical technician who got the ball rolling for the upcoming hearing.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Select Agencies, scheduled a hearing. Anderson admits he was skeptical when Stambaugh first approached him.

“The first time I met Seth and he told me what he wanted to talk to me about, I told him I was opposed to medicalizing marijuana,” Anderson said. “But my opposition is based on moral beliefs instead of scientific research.”

Anderson said he’s willing to listen and see if his stance can be changed.

“I think it’s a subject we could learn more about,” Anderson said.

In a highly regulated atmosphere, medicalized cannabis has the potential to bring economic growth to the state and be a source of tax revenue, Anderson said. That’s far from his first reaction, though.

“My initial reaction was, ‘medical marijuana — we’re not going to support it,’” Anderson said.

Stambaugh said one of the reasons he felt compelled to step forward on behalf of medical cannabis is the Oklahoma families who have children with Dravet syndrome.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Dravet syndrome, also called severe myoclonic epilepsy of infancy, appears during the first year of life with frequent seizures. It can cause continuous seizures that require emergency medical care.

“Children with Dravet syndrome typically experience poor development of language and motor skills, hyperactivity and difficulty relating to others,” the NIHNDS web page reads.

Cannabidiol has been known to help epilepsy patients since 1949, but only recently has evidence shown how much it helps with other diseases, Stambaugh said.

Stambaugh said 21 states permit medical use, for treating epilepsy, pain, cancer, severe nausea, wasting syndrome, muscle spasm, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS.

Mark Woodward, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman, said our state experienced a boost in marijuana activity after Colorado’s 2010 legalization of medical marijuana, according to The Associated Press.

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