Ted Simons: Last week on "Arizona Horizon," a state lawmaker and a medical marijuana advocate debated the issue of using medical marijuana to treat children. Tonight we get a local doctor's perspective. Richard Strand, a Phoenix physician, joins us now to talk about the efficacy and the wisdom of treating children with medical marijuana. Doctor, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Richard Strand: Thank you very much.
Ted Simons: This deals with a 5-year-old boy in Mesa, he's got cortical dysplasia, that sounds like I know what I'm talking about, but I really don't. It sounds like terrible seizures, he's got some autism as well, they've tried to use drug after drug, cocktails this, cocktails that. Nothing seems to be working. He's been approved for medical marijuana. Does it concern you as a doctor that a 5-year-old will be given medical marijuana?
Richard Strand: I think the answer to that has to be taken into context of his whole medical treatment. This isn't what I would consider as his first treatment. He should see the pediatrician and the neurologist, have the full work-up. Try the anti-- The drugs for the treatment of seizures to see if they work. But unfortunately, and about 40% of children with seizures, they're not effective treatment. Plus they have some pretty significant side effects. This patient, as well as several others that have been covered recently on CNN, on the weed show about a month ago with Sanjay Gupta, there's quite a few kids out there now that are being treated. Surely there's over 40 in Colorado, so they're probably in the hundreds now. The treatments are showing to be effective. They're not the front line treatment, but for people that are at the end of their rope, that have tried all effective medical treatments without good results, I think it's good they have that alternative.
Ted Simons: And we hear medical marijuana is effective against nausea, pain, seizures, some are saying early-onset dementia. Is that accurate? Is that what we're seeing and hearing out there?
Richard Strand: I think for the general physician community, the feeling is that for some people in some conditions, medical marijuana really is the best thing to treat them. The problem with medical marijuana in the United States is that it's a schedule one drug. The DEA, the Department of Justice, has declared this as a substance with no medical use, and highly dangerous. Marijuana is neither of those two. It does not belong on schedule one, but being it's on schedule one, that means effective research in the United States is completely stymied.
Ted Simons: So basically -- Because we have critics who say the FDA hasn't approved, the American Academy of Pediatrics are suggesting don't give medical marijuana to children. There are other groups and other studies suggesting the younger the child that gets the medical marijuana, the more the chance or the risk of problems later in life, especially psychiatric problems, addictive problems. How much weight does that carry?
Richard Strand: Well, I think the thing is again, you have to look at the context of an individual patient. And not speaking to our case in Arizona, but just in general. If somebody is having 300 seizures a week, and they're not receiving any benefit from conventional treatment and they've seen experts in the field, it makes sense to me to try. If something works and it seems in this case medical marijuana is working, it's well worth any risk.
Ted Simons: But without the research, and we had Representative John Kavanagh who has been very much against medical marijuana in general, in particular to children, we had him on last week and had quite a response from his experience, he says no one knows without the research if it does work, and he says you can't flip a coin on something like this and guess. Here's what the representative had to say.
John Kavanagh: The United States has the safest prescription and nonprescription drug program in the world, because we don't allow snake oil to be peddled. Before a drug can be given to the public, studies have to be shown that convinces the FDA, research doctors, statisticians, pharmacologists, that it's safe and it’s effective. Marijuana has not passed the hurdles for any condition whatsoever.
Ted Simons: Do we know enough of how marijuana affects small children?
Richard Strand: I think the answer to that question is no. We need research. But I will point out that in the United States, it's very, very difficult to perform research such as what Representative Kavanagh is discussing because NIDA, which is a branch of the NIH, will not fund or approve any research designed to show the effectiveness of medical marijuana. They will only fund programs to show the harm. Therefore, a study that's been approved for a doctor at the University of Arizona, approved by the FDA and the legislature of Arizona changed the law so they can have research done on Arizona college campuses, she cannot get approval from NIDA to do the study. The FDA says yes, this is exactly the kind of study that we need. This case doesn't involve children, but it does involve Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We've got 20 veterans a day committing suicide, and we can't get an approval for a study for something that might help them.
Ted Simons: Why can’t we get it? The National Institutes of Health -- We're talking groups that are there to help us in terms of health matters. And this is something that might -- Come on, what's going on here?
Richard Strand: What's going on is politics, number one. Strong emotions, a lot of lack of scientific knowledge. Some of these people and what they say, they might as well be members of the flat earth society. And I think for some people that aren't really involved with this subject, if they hear falsehoods enough times, they're going to believe it. That medical marijuana has been a whipping boy almost since the prohibition of alcohol back in the 30's. There's a long history of people with vested interests that are not interested in medical marijuana, or research being done upon it.
Ted Simons: And you're saying the research isn't even done -- Some of this research might prove it is harmful. It is something that shouldn't be given to kids or shouldn't be given to adults who have addictive -- You don't even know that, you can't even prove it's harmful.
Richard Strand: That's right. I think the answer for good science, you have to be able to live with results. You're not going to presuppose the result in the beginning. If the result shows harm, good. You learned. If it shows benefit, good. Let's look at it some more. That research is not going on in the United States. Fortunately countries like Israel, Canada, Spain, are doing research, so we are getting research, but just not here.
Ted Simons: I've heard a criticism that big pharma is against medical marijuana because it can't be patented and they accident find a way to make money off it and it might take money from their products. Is that a valid criticism?
Richard Strand: I think so. Big pharma obviously this would be competing against some of their other medications, they do have patents upon, so it makes sense to me that why am I going to support a competitor? And I think that also is true for the whole antidrug establishment. The DEA itself, NIDA, private prisons, police guard unions, politicians that get elected on this. There's a whole big complex of people that would not benefit by having medical marijuana used more or researched or legal.
Ted Simons: Last question, it sounds like from research we've got at least 40 medical marijuana patients in Arizona that are under the able of 18. As a doctor, does that concern you?
Richard Strand: It would depend again on the individual case. You really can't say more than that. But I will say that your point that it does seem that people under the age of 16 or 18, before the brain is fully developed, do have some increased risks of future adverse developments, psychologically and so forth. But those people would normally be people we talked about in the recreational use category. Surely, teens should not be using marijuana. But if they have a medical condition that hasn't been effectively treated by conventional treatment, yes.
Ted Simons: Doctor, it's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Richard Strand: Thank you.