“Weed”: Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary on medical marijuana

August 13, 2013, 2:25 pm

You couldn’t miss the news this week that Dr. Sanjay Gupta — CNN’s chief medical correspondent as well as a neurosurgeon — has changed his mind about the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana. Seemingly every time one turned on the TV, there he was on Piers Morgan or The Situation Room apologizing for systematically misleading the public in the past by emphasizing the dangers or cannabis.

“Weed” — his one-hour special about medical marijuana — does have some striking stories about patients who, having failed more traditional treatments, seemed to have improved miraculously after starting medical marijuana. Especially moving is the case of Charlotte, a 5-year-old stricken with Dravet Syndrome, a severe and unrelenting cause of pediatric seizures. Because there is some evidence that one of the chemicals in marijuana —cannabidiol (CBD)— could have anti-epileptic properties, Charlotte was started on extract from a strain of marijuana rich in CBD but low in the psychotropic cannabinoid THC. On this treatment, the frequency of her seizures decreased from 60 per day to one each week.

Less convincing was the case of a young man with intractable diaphragmatic spasm. The documentary made it seem that the severe spasms stopped completely within a second or two of taking one hit of marijuana. Maybe, but I did not find it convincing.

In any case, these are just anecdotes. Certainly much more research is needed. Unfortunately, Gupta did not make it clear how much research was being carried out at this point, or whether such work is being impeded or facilitated by various institutions and government agencies. Nevertheless, the documentary is well worth watching.

By the way, the ready availability of marijuana edibles — brownies, s’mores, cookies, etc — in states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana means that cases of inadvertent pediatric exposure will undoubtedly increase in the future. My Emergency Medicine News column describing this problem — and how to recognize a stoned toddler — has just been posted. You can read it by clicking here.

2 Comments:

  1. Ben - wikileaf Says:

    By far and a way the most interesting part of the segment had to do with the high CBD marijuana treating the little girl. If you’ve ever seen a breakdown of THC and CBDs in medical strains, you’ll see why. Its typically 15-20 % thc (the component that gets you high) and >1% CBD. They had these numbers reversed with what they were prescribing her.

  2. Leon Says:

    Ben:

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that the part about CBD and pediatric seizures was fascinating. I wonder if that treatment has been successful in other children.