Republicans love marijuana. Pushed by a cadre of Christian brothers from Colorado and promoted by CNN's doctor-on-television Sanjay Gupta, a strain of marijuana acceptable for suburban squares and the churchgoing set is winning friends on the right. Marijuana low in THC but high in CBD — cannabidiol, one of the many compounds in cannabis — has real palliative value for people who medicine has failed. Specifically, it appears to treat kids with (previously) untreatable epilepsy. And best of all: It's impossible to get high off of.
That's ideal for conservative lawmakers. After several years of watching constituents flee their districts for the West and access to cannabis cures, they've taken action. Eleven states have now passed laws to legalize this stoner-unfriendly weed, while keeping THC-laden marijuana outlawed. A bill to do the same on the federal level was introduced in Congress in late July. The name of the Colorado brothers' strain of cannabis — Charlotte's Web, a proprietary trademark named for the first child to successfully treat her epilepsy with the product — is in the proposed law's title.
This same marijuana would not have saved Mykayla Comstock's life, her family says.
After six weeks of exhaustion, stomach pain, and labored breathing, the Oregon 7-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012. Doctors said chemotherapy would work well immediately. Instead, she got worse. With permission from the state and from her oncologist, Mykayla's father Brandon Krenzler starting giving his daughter cannabis oil.
This marijuana was the same kind that would make you popular at a party: It had plenty of THC. It made Mykayla "visibly stoned" while Krenzler worked out the right dose. It also saved her life, he says: Within a month, the lymphoblasts — the malignant cells — disappeared.
More than two years later, the cancer is still gone, and an arduous medical treatment that included regular spinal taps is almost over. Throughout it all, Mykayla received regular doses of cannabis containing THC, tonic that left her "laughing, smiling, and playing" while beating back cancer, her dad says.
"We don't believe Charlotte's Web would have had the same reaction," Krenzler tells SF Weekly, citing the studies that showed cancer cells were shrunk or killed when exposed to THC.
So what's a kid — or anyone else — to do if they're in a CBD-only state? Move, break the law, or pray — for a lobbyist, or a miracle.
Awareness of CBD is a good thing. Knowing that the marijuana plant offers healing with no high makes the idea of "medical cannabis" more acceptable to more people.
CNN made CBD famous, but the push began in California. An effort called Project CBD has been trying to spread the word for years, and CBD-rich marijuana first began appearing at dispensaries like Oakland's Harborside Health Center in 2010.
But CBD didn't "blow up" until Gupta came along. He dedicated a good portion of last summer's documentary Weed to Charlotte Figi, CBD, and the Stanley brothers, the Colorado brood who have won friends in Congress.
The Stanleys are perfect pitchmen for marijuana. They are the anti-stoners: Tall, clean-cut, muscular, and Christian, they'd do well selling jeans or fragrance. Since Weed, they've given TED talks and dozens of high-profile media interviews. They are also savvy capitalists.
The bill in Congress would re-classify Charlotte's Web or any other cannabis product with 0.3 percent or less THC as industrial hemp. This is big: While you can't grow hemp in, say, Texas, you can possess it there. That would make Charlotte's Web widely available.
Meanwhile, Charlotte's Web is a trademarked name, conveniently introduced to tens of millions of people, including people desperate for cures, thanks to Gupta and CNN. (The demand is startling: SF Weekly has heard from people all over the country asking where they can get the marijuana cures they've heard about).
So lawmakers are now helping push the notion that it's CBD and not THC or the other cannabinoids that makes medical marijuana "medical."
"And that's definitely not true," says Rick Pfrommer, a longtime marijuana activist who now works as director of education at Harborside.
The Stanley brothers know this. So does Gupta, who told viewers of the "entourage effect": THC, CBD, and other components in the plant acting in concert.
Paige Figi, the mother of Charlotte (for whom the cannabis strain is named), is now active with the Stanley brothers' organization Realm of Caring. She knows about the entourage effect, too. But for now, CBD-first pushes are better than nothing, especially in places like Florida where medical marijuana "didn't stand a chance," she says.
CBD-only legislation is a good start. But the science says it won't work on everybody. And if CBD-only is as far as it gets, some sick people, including kids, won't get the help they need.