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Studies: Medical marijuana shows promise but not proof

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Duluth News Tribune
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Treating epilepsy with medical marijuana shows promise but falls short of clinical proof of success, researchers say in a series of articles published on Thursday.

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The reports in the journal Epilepsia come as Minnesota is poised to become the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana. Compromise legislation passed by large majorities in both the House and Senate only await Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature to become law. Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill.

The legislation was spearheaded by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, and fueled by stories such as that of Amelia Weaver. The 8-year-old Hibbing girl has a debilitating form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. She suffers numerous seizures daily, and the condition has reversed her development to the point where she cannot communicate verbally.

Amelia’s parents, Angie and Josh Weaver, gained new hope when they learned of the story of a Colorado girl — Charlotte Figi — who experienced dramatic improvement in her symptoms when she was administered a strain of cannabis developed by two Colorado brothers.

The Minnesota bill, touted as the most restrictive in the country, would allow the Weavers to obtain similar medicine for Amelia without having to move to Colorado, albeit not until July 1, 2015.

In an email, Angie Weaver said the family is trying to arrange a short-term stay in Colorado to help bridge the gap until next year. But a stay in Colorado may not be affordable, she noted.

“We are so happy to only have to make it work short term!” she said.

The articles in Epilepsia included one co-written by Paige Figi, Charlotte’s mother; and Dr. Edward Maa, chief of the epilepsy program at Denver Health and Hospitals. After documenting Charlotte’s improvement, they noted that families from across the country and other nations have come to Colorado for treatment with the marijuana extract now known as Charlotte’s Web.

But they also noted that other Colorado dispensaries have come up with their own versions of the substance.

“With little to no ability to keep up with the regulatory demands of the medical/recreational cannabis industry, quality control of available cannabis products is next to impossible at this time,” they wrote.

The Minnesota legislation was carefully crafted to avoid that pitfall, Melin said.

“We require third-party independent lab testing for the manufacturers for all the products,” Melin said. “What’s in every product has to be reported to the Department of Health.”

Paige Figi came to Minnesota to testify on that aspect of the legislation, Melin added.

 In other articles, researchers noted the lack of “double-blind studies” — in which neither participants nor experimenters know who is receiving a particular treatment — on treating epileptic seizures in children with marijuana.

Legal restrictions have stymied clinical research, leaving mostly anecdotal evidence, wrote Dr. Maria Roberta Cilio, who researches child epilepsy at the University of California, San Francisco.

Minnesota’s longtime drug safety officer said in an email that she still wants to see those studies take place and decisions about medical marijuana left in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration.

“I strongly support research on multiple forms of cannabis and seizures and understand that there are many studies currently under way,” wrote Carol Falkowski, who now leads a private agency, Drug Abuse Dialogues.

“I believe the FDA is the best agency to evaluate and approve the use of medications used on humans, especially children,” she added.

Melin said the FDA has been prevented from evaluating medical marijuana, but she said double-blind studies are under way in other countries.

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John Lundy
(218) 720-4103
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