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“What is falling, we must still push.”—Nietzsche

Industrial hemp oil marketers tried to put a positive spin on the Food and Drug Administration’s recent slap-down of companies that pitch CBD products as legal in all 50 states. In late February and early March, the FDA sent warning letters to 11 companies for making unproven medical claims about their CBD-infused products. The FDA also tested some of the commodities peddled by these companies and found that in many cases the products contained little or no cannabidiol. The FDA warning letters did not address other mislabeling red flags, such as assertions that CBD is extracted from the stalk and seed of the hemp plant, not the leaves and flowers. Nor did the FDA directly address CBD’s legal status. CBD hemp oil boosters were heartened because the FDA didn’t say CBD-infused oil per se is illegal. But the fact that the FDA sidestepped the issue of CBD’s legality does not necessarily mean that the FDA signed off on it. The FDA has yet to approve CBD either as a dietary supplement or a drug.

Nutraceutical merchants, meanwhile, are chomping at the bit for CBD. They yearn for clarity regarding the legal status of CBD oil derived from industrial hemp with less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabidiol extracted from CBD-rich cannabis remains illegal under federal law, despite the fact that it is not an inebriant, is nonlethal, and has no known adverse side effects (though drug interactions can be problematic). State legislatures aren’t waiting for a signal from the Feds. Thirteen states in recent months have enacted so-called “CBD-only” laws, or better put, “Low THC laws,” though a cynic might call them “Keep marijuana illegal” laws. Backed by conservative Republicans and blue dog Democrats who have long opposed medical marijuana, most of these CBD-only bills ostensibly provide an affirmative defense that allow certain people to use cannabidiol-rich oil derived from hemp or cannabis that measures below or near 0.3 percent THC, the federal guideline. But each state government sets its own rules. Some limit the sources of CBD-rich products and specify a narrow range of conditions for which CBD can be used; others do not.

Will CBD-only laws prove to be a key first step toward full-fledged medical marijuana legislation in Red State America? Or is “CBD-only” a cul-de-sac that delays and thwarts safe access to a broader range of cannabis therapies?

To date, it is difficult for residents of CBD-only states to obtain CBD-rich oil legally. And even if they could, many would be disappointed to find that low-THC oil doesn’t work for everyone. Most medical marijuana patients are not adequately served by CBD-only laws. They need access to a wide spectrum of whole plant cannabis remedies, not just low THC medicine.

Parents of children with seizure disorders and other serious illnesses have been at the forefront of lobbying state officials to enact laws to protect families seeking access to CBD-rich oils. In February, politicians in Virginia—where hemp growing was once mandatory by colonial decree—enacted low THC legislation in response to pleas from parents and other patient advocates.

The Virginia parents had learned through online discussion groups and illicit, hands-on experimentation that augmenting CBD-rich oil by adding some THC—or better yet, THCA, the raw unheated version of THC—helps with seizure control in many instances.

THCA, like CBD, is a non-psychotropic marijuana compound. If ingested, THCA doesn’t make a person feel “high.” THCA turns into THC, The High Causer, after the dried marijuana flower-tops are “activated” by exposure to heat via combustion or cooking.

So the Virginia pols “legalized” THCA, as well as CBD, thereby providing an affirmative defense for some patients who need safe access to medicinal cannabis.

For years, elected officials and government bureaucrats have slandered this plant, demonized it, demeaned it, and denied its therapeutic value. And now, after decades of hyperbolizing the evil weed and trivializing the funny stuff, policymakers are chopping the herb into bits and pieces, legalizing some marijuana molecules while shunning other parts of the still forbidden Schedule I botanical.

And if all else fails our fearless leaders, who have long since forfeited any claim to credibility with respect to marijuana, have one last trick up their sleeve. They can consign the plant to Schedule II and restrict patient access by needlessly insisting that doctors write prescriptions in triplicate for those who might benefit from cannabis therapeutics.

Rescheduling cannabis as a Schedule II substance should smooth the way for long-suppressed clinical research. That would be a positive development. Placing cannabis in Schedule II would be a significant advancement in other ways, as well. But Schedule II doesn’t go nearly far enough. Cannabis—high THC, CBD rich, and any variation thereof—should be de-scheduled and regulated as a medicinal herb, not as a single-molecule pharmaceutical or a street drug.

Martin A. Lee is the director of Project CBD. He’s authored and edited several books, including Smoke SignalsAcid Dreams, and The Essential Guide to CBD. © Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.

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