I don't think it was a single point. I've been reporting about this periodically throughout the years, and as I wrote in that op-ed, I've been pretty critical of marijuana – mainly, I've not been impressed with the data coming out of the United States. While I thought it may have some benefit, I wasn't sure that it would have more benefit than what was already out there. When I started to look at the studies in the United States very, very carefully and realized the mass majority of them were designed to find harm, I realized that was sort of painting a distorted picture. And when I started to look at laboratories outside the country, and smaller labs and smaller journals, but very well done studies, that really started the process for me.
Meeting the patients firsthand and realizing that these weren't just single stories – as remarkable as their improvements were – there were hundreds of thousands of patients like them around the world. So I think those combinations was really what did it for me.
[Read: How to Be an Empowered Patient.]
In your documentary, you profile a 5-year-old named Charlotte who was suffering 300 seizures a month. No medications helped, but once her parents turned to weed as a treatment, she was down to two or three seizure a month. So do you think it's safe to give marijuana to kids if no other drugs work for them?
Any time you think about giving a medicine, you want to know as much as you can about the safety profile. There's certainly more research that needs to be done. Research on adults is challenging. Research on children is even more challenging – not just for marijuana, but for all drugs. Having said that, Charlotte was on seven different medications to treat her seizures, any of which in too high a dose could have been toxic and killed her. She had gone into cardiac arrest several times; her mom had to perform CPR, not because of the seizures, but because of the medications she had been taking.
When people talk about these comparison arguments – "Is one safer than the other?" – that's not typically how we think about things in science because we want to know if things can stand on their own merit. The question isn't always, "Is it safer than something else?" but I do think that in this case, any of those drugs in too high a dose could kill her, and at least the type of marijuana she was taking – which was a high CBD, low THC – was effective. And for marijuana overall, there's never been a case of overdose.
What would you tell doctors who are still hesitant to prescribe medical marijuana cards, since it's still listed as a schedule 1 substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency?
First of all, no one should break the law. There are laws in this country that are set up around marijuana, and those laws are enforced, so I'm not encouraging anyone to break the law. But when you look at why this is classified as a schedule 1 classified substance, really ask yourself as a doctor or anyone else: Does marijuana really rise to that level? Should it really be in the category of "most dangerous substances" in the United States? Should it really be in the category of "highest abuse potential" and should it really be in the category of "something that has no medical applications?" I really think that the answer to all those questions is no.
I would encourage doctors, and anybody else, to just look at the science behind this and come to their own conclusions. This issue is coming onto the ballot in several states, and people may be voting on this, but before you're thinking about voting, just make sure you're armed with the facts.