COLUMBUS, Ohio – The State Medical Board of Ohio on Wednesday opted against allowing Ohio medical marijuana for people who suffer from anxiety and autism spectrum disorder.
The decision disappointed Ohioans who suffer from the ailments — one man shouted “shameful,” at the board as he left the meeting.
But it was no surprise, since a committee made up of medical board members last month said they were convinced by physicians that marijuana could be harmful.
That included Dr. Anup Patel of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, who ran the clinical trials for Epidiolex, a cannabis-based medication for seizures manufactured by the pharmaceutical company GW Research. Patel hammered on the point that there are few double-blind, placebo-controlled studies — which have been described as the gold standard of medical research — of marijuana.
Thus, the State Medical Board of Ohio is relying on traditional medicine, to the consternation of parents such as Carrie Taylor, a resident of Marysville outside Columbus, whose 8-year-old twins have autism.
Taylor wishes the medical board was open to alternative medicine. She suspects her sons — Landon and Logan Anderson — may benefit from from marijuana.
The boys are highly anxious and self-injurious. There was a time when one of her sons self-injured 370 times a day, through scratching, hitting himself in the head, banging his head against doors, biting himself and kneeing himself in the head, she said.
They receive behavioral therapy. They have tried dozens of medicines — including at one point Adderall and Ritalin — stimulants that made them more aggressive.
“I just want to improve their quality of life in any way that I can,” she said. “They’re talking about the possible side effects of medical marijuana. They’re afraid, but they’re willing to load my kids with amphetamines.”
Research for medical marijuana is sparse because the federal government classifies it as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same category as heroin – making it difficult for scientists to legally obtain.
Nevertheless, Patel, the Nationwide Children’s physician, told medical board members last month that if people were serious about medical marijuana’s efficacy, they’d research it.
The public will get another shot at trying to add ailments to the list of qualifying conditions when the next window for petitions opens, Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, said Dr. Michael Schottenstein, president of the medical board.
However, Schottenstein has also said that once a condition is added to the list, it cannot be removed. That’s the medical board’s reading of the state’s medical marijuana law. The board hasn’t asked the legislature to change or clarify the law to give it the power to remove a condition once cannabis is proven ineffective or harmful for it.
The result of the board’s legal interpretation is that new conditions may never be added.
The medical board also doesn’t believe that it can exclude children when it approves new conditions. Some researchers say marijuana may be harmful to children’s developing brains.
That could be another reason the medical board could reject all new medical conditions presented to it.
Even though the medical board is sticking to tough research standards before it allows a new condition, the legislature passed Ohio’s medical marijuana law without such rigidity.
When the Ohio General Assembly passed the law, it allowed 21 conditions — from Crohn’s disease to cancer — without scrutinizing the research, said medical board member Dr. Mark Bechtel.
“The situation we find ourselves in, nonetheless, is once we approve it, it’s open season essentially for the entire population,” he said.
Robert Ellison traveled from his home in Akron to attend the meeting. Ellison said he can get medical marijuana, since he has bone-on-bone arthritis in the knee. But he wants the state to allow marijuana for other conditions, including for anxiety which he said would help his wife.
He described all the problems with the medical marijuana program, which he believes officials haven’t fixed in an attempt to slow the flow of legal cannabis.
“It was a half-hearted effort because they were afraid of the people’s effort,” he said, referring to the constitutional amendment that had been in the works to legalize marijuana in 2016, before legislature acted.