Friday, February 14, 2014

Sorting the Crop from the Weed

An editorial in Wednesday's Times calls for caution from parents considering using marijuana extracts to treat their children's seizures and, just as importantly, for a full-speed-ahead study of the compounds that may make such treatment effective.  As states like Colorado and California begin to legalize marijuana, it becomes easier to administer the drug to epileptic children outside of the clinic. Unfortunately, federal regulations designating even CBD--the non-psychoactive component of marijuana that may inhibit seizures--as a Schedule 1 drug, make it very difficult to conduct scientific studies. The compound may work, says Orrin Devinsky, an epileptologist at NYU and one of the op-ed's authors, but the science just isn't yet in. Nor has the safety of the compound been proven.  "This concern is especially relevant in children, for whom there is good evidence that marijuana use can increase the risk of serious psychiatric disorders and long-term cognitive problems," writes Davinsky, one of the country's top epilepsy doctors and researchers.

Devinsky and Daniel Friedman, his co-author and colleague at NYU, are not anti-pot ideologues. They are scientists making an urgent plea for the study of a set of promising but complicated compounds. Apparently (from the avalanche of outraged comments) the piece was misunderstood by many legalization advocates. The authors are not calling for pursuit or persecution of patients using CBD but rather for an urgent and rigorous scientific study, and the update of federal regulations that would make that possible. Of course such study will be skeptical; science always should be.

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