By Stephan Drew, Editor
An event took place on Saturday, February 25, 2023, which may have an impact on legalizing medical marijuana in the state of South Carolina. Rep. Robert Williams (SC House District 62) hosted a town hall meeting of distinguished panelists at the Grand Old Post Office, located at 201 Pearl Street in Darlington. On hand were Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Vice-President of Research at the University of South Carolina; Jill Swing, Executive Director of S.C. Compassionate Care Alliance, and Cody Callarman, Veteran Advocate and former Marine, to discuss the efforts of legalizing medical marijuana as well as answer any questions from those gathered for the discussion.
The University of South Carolina is one of America’s leading research institutions in cannabis studies. Having researched the plant for over 22 years, Dr. Nagarkatti’s lab was the first lab in the United States to discover additional medical uses for the stigmatized plants. The doctor explained that, just like endorphins, endocannabinoids are produced naturally within the human body. When these substances are decreased, pain, anxiety, frustration and trouble focusing can take place.
His research, which is endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that, with a complete medical evaluation and physician-monitored use, a patient may be pain-free, focused and less anxious by using medical cannabis than without. “If your body is low on Vitamin C,” Nagarkatti said, “you can go to the store and buy Vitamin C to increase your health and help you combat disease. It is the same with endocannabinoids. If they will help you, and you are taking them safely, and as prescribed, why wouldn’t you?”
Nagarkatti described the chemical reaction to the different parts of the brain and body. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical in the marijuana plant which triggers the “high” feeling people describe but, as Nagarkatti explained, it has a complex mechanism. “THC activates CB1 receptors in the brain, giving you the ‘high’ feeling” the Dr. stated, “but it activates CB2 receptors in a different way. It increases your immune system.” Nagarkatti cited a research study where mice were given a bacterial infection. Half of them were given the normal medication treatments for the bacteria and all of them died. The other half were given cannabis and all of them not only survived but were cured of the infection. Immunosuppressive drugs (Sandimune, Dupixent, Stelara, Cosentyx, Tremfya, Imuran, Rheumatrex, Entyvio, Humira and Enbrel) destroy cells and bones and may make you susceptible to cancer. The Doctor reported that cannabis has over 400 chemicals and 420 types of THC within the plant which can help with a multitude of disorders.
Describing the difference between THC and the widely-popular CBD oil, Nagarkatti told the crowd that CBD inhibits the psychoactive properties of THC. THC may give you a “high” feeling but, THC and CBD combined should not. When asked about routes of administration, the doctor admitted that “inhaling it is quicker. Oral meds take longer but, the effect is the same,” the doctor said. When asked about marijuana being a “gateway drug”, Nagarkatti did not hesitate. “Cannabis is not a gateway drug,” he said, “It is an exit drug,” indicating that many who switch to medical marijuana don’t need other medications to relieve their symptoms. The doctor went on to state that addiction rates with marijuana are far less than with pills or alcohol.
Jill Swing recounted her family’s introduction to medical cannabis. Swing’s daughter, now 15 years old, was born with a seizure disorder. “She was having between 800 and 1,000 seizures a day,” Swing told the audience, “there were so many you really couldn’t count them.” Swing stated that her daughter, sadly, has the mental and physical capabilities of a 13-15 month-old child and had not spoken in years. After her first use of cannabis, her daughter was able to stand on her own and said, “Hello, everyone! Hello, everyone!” “In my eye,” Swing stated, “that was a miracle.” Swing is one of the major forces behind Bill F423 which is now in the S. C. General Assembly. “It empowers doctors to work with patients to determine the best course of treatment,” Swing said, “Pharmacies will be approved through DHEC, with a pharmacist always on duty.” Swing continued to explain that pharmaceutical licenses will be limited, extremely restrictive and heavily scrutinized. According to the bill, there will be one Cannabis pharmacy for every 20 other pharmacies in the area. The bill was introduced in January of this year and is expected to be taken up and discussed on the senate floor this session. Swing explained how strength and dosages of the drug would be monitored. “If you buy marijuana off the street,” she stated, “you really don’t know what you’re getting. You have to rely on your dealer. But, if you get it from a pharmacy, you will get the proper dosage every time.” As was seen in Colorado and other states over the past several years, the FDA has approved cannabis for medical use. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) long ago listed it as a Schedule I drug (with no medical use whatsoever).
Cody Callarman spoke of his own evolution in the cannabis mission. “I was like many of you,” he said, “I didn’t think there was any use for marijuana. But then, my Mom had surgery and they clamped her Femoral Artery for too long during the operation, leaving her severely paralyzed in her leg.” Callarman explained that his mother couldn’t walk, had severe pain and had a hard time focusing. Against his previous judgment, he obtained some cannabis and convinced his mother to try it. “Now, she’s walking, has a much better memory and is able to work part-time again,” he said. As a former marine, Callarman has worked with many veterans since he left the U.S. military. He recounted stories of the horrible pain, anxiety, frustration and suicides suffered by those with physical and neurological disorders due to their service and injuries. Studies show cannabinoids are extremely effective in those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “I had it,” Callarman said, “I got to the point where I didn’t even like to be alone with myself. Now, I can partake of cannabis and I actually like myself again.” As for cannabis being classified as a Schedule I drug, Callarman said, “I don’t understand that. Alcohol isn’t listed as a Schedule I, and it’s far more dangerous and useless than cannabis. Alcohol has NO medical use whatsoever and it’s not even listed. It doesn’t make sense.” Callarman also stated that the majority of the veterans he interacts with support legalization.
The image of marijuana was also discussed. “Over the last hundred years or so,” Dr. Nagarkatti said, “it has been extremely stigmatized. So, in order to change the availability, you are going to have to change people’s image of it.” Upon hearing this, Rep. Williams stated, “You certainly have your work cut out for you because, a lot of legislators don’t know this information.”
The panel agreed that the attitude of the general public has been changing over the years. “67% of polled Republicans in South Carolina agree that medical marijuana should be legalized,” Swing stated. “I think the people want it,” Williams stated, “but the legislators may not.”
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