A cutting-edge study at the University of Iowa is paralleling legislation that would advance the accessibility of medical cannabis in the state.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, introduced a bill on Monday that would expand the array of diseases that qualify for medical cannabis and expand the types of medical cannabis doctors would be able to prescribe. The bill would legalize accessibility to and distribution of the legal cannabis oil, cannabidiol.
“We think that this is something that should be in the hands of medical professionals and not legislators who think they know better,” Sen. William Dotzler Jr., D-Waterloo, said.
Dotzler spoke on behalf of the bill in a press conference on Tuesday with patients he believes are in need of the medication.
“The room was full of people and a lot of family members explaining their conditions,” Dotzler said. “Everyone that was in the room went out of there with renewed energy about how important it is to pass this legislation.”
He said he expects that Bolkcom’s bill could go to subcommittee next week. He also said the bill has full support from Democrats in the Senate and hopes to work with Republicans in both houses to advance the legislation.
The bill will have to make its way through the Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, a member of the committee, said he supports the bill.
“I am very hopeful that the full Iowa Senate will be moving this piece of legislation this year,” he said. “In general, I believe that Senate is supportive of this measure on the Democratic side.”
This comprehensive legislation, which describes both production and prescription, is an expansion of last year’s bill that legalized cannabidiol.
Cannabidiol is set to begin trials at the UI Children’s Hospital this month. Charuta Joshi, a UI clinical professor of pediatrics, will lead the trials.
The trial will be a double-blind study on a group of children who meet certain criteria, such as type of epilepsy and frequency of seizures.
Joshi said the patients’ families would need to monitor the amount and intensity of seizures throughout the trial, and be available for multiple tests and visits to UIHC during the 18-month trial.
“The hope is, that through studies such as this, we will be able to move away from the anecdotal data currently available about these drugs and get some real scientific backing as to whether these drugs are a viable new path for certain patients,” Joshi said.
Michael Ciliberto, the sub-investigator on the trial, said that it was a very regulated process getting approval to work with the drugs.
“Since [cannabidiol] is a controlled substance, we’ve had to work closely with the FDA and the DEA to ensure this trial is legal,” Ciliberto said. “We had to do a lot of paperwork with the DEA, and it has the right to come in and conduct inspections whenever they want … It should be really fun getting to the bottom of whether this drug really works.”
“The drug company [GW Pharmaceuticals] needs a homogeneous population to test on because that will yield the most concrete data,” Ciliberto said. “Just like any other drug, we don’t know how [cannabidiol] will affect the patient, so these homogenous group studies are important.”
Kris Hermes, an official for Americans for Safe Access, an organization working for legal access to cannabis for therapeutic research and use, said the research “doesn’t go far enough.”
“For years the federal government has been stifling research on medical marijuana, including CBD, THC, and dozens of other cannabinoids found in the plant,“ Hermes said. “We advocate for research on cannabis nationwide, something like this GW trial is great, but there is a lot more that we can do.”
Joshi said she has no predictions for how cannabidiol will affect patients in the trial.
“You cannot predict science, we will have to wait and see to determine if CBD is another drug, another tool we can use to help our patients get better.”
Metro Reporter Bill Cooney contributed to this story.