In late June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration announced approval for a new medication that could potentially change the way the world views cannabis. Epidiolex is a CBD-based oral solution that is prescribed to treat two forms of rare epilepsy. Patients who suffer from Dravet syndrome, as well as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, may find that this treatment dramatically helps to manage their seizures and offers them a better quality of life. Only after undergoing rigorous clinical trials and spending enormous amounts of money on their research and development was Epidiolex able to pass through the complex hoops required to receive approval from this bureaucratic agency.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged that the organization has been aware and supportive of the benefits of marijuana-derived medications for quite some time, but also included the caveat that they will be heavily scrutinizing the drug’s potential for abuse. While it’s clear that this change does not give a green light to any and all entities looking to promote CBD remedies in a non-dispensary setting, it does shine light on the path that’s being forged in the industry. This news is huge for the cannabis world, as the individuals who for years have been singing the praises of both THC and CBD are now getting at least a little more of validation from the powers that be.
As with nearly any topic that’s even semi-related to healthcare or pharmaceuticals, you get two sides to every story. Those who have long enjoyed the benefits of CBD and individuals who suffer from one of the two rare syndromes that Epidiolex will treat could share firsthand about how the use of cannabis in a medical application can be life-changing. Yet when it comes to those opposed, what can the industry at large and specifically dispensary owners do to promote a greater understanding of CBD’s use?
Juliana Ribera, a lead budtender at Sweet Relief in Saint Helens, Oregon, notes that this FDA approval is promising for her and her colleagues. “When it comes to the Western medical mindset when people see ‘FDA approved’ they think that’s ok, but anything related to Eastern medicine is not. The FDA approval might help people to pay attention a little bit more, and change their assumptions away from the idea that people are just trying to get stoned. People may not think it’s such a bad thing anymore.”
Analyzing CBD Products
Sweet Relief operates five locations across the greater Pacific Northwest, and Ribera and her team are gearing up to reevaluate their current selection of CBD products. Operating under the hope that Epidiolex’s approval will open a floodgate of new customers looking for medicinal relief, staff at the shops are looking to carry a more balanced selection of products.
Dispensaries who do not make CBD items a priority may be falling by the wayside, as Ribera explained that more and more of her customers are looking for other methods of using these products. The demand for topicals and concentrates often outweighs current supply in most area locations, making it difficult for patients to find everything they need in one place.
Getting Ahead Of The Issue
While it’s certainly anyone’s guess where the cannabis industry is headed, and quite honestly, many may be surprised that we’re already as advanced as we are, dispensary owners and even investors may want to reevaluate the long-term implications of the FDA’s recent change in heart. Where CBD was once lumped into the negative connotation that marijuana often carries with it, the compound is now being given the appropriate time and attention it deserves.
The conversation about reclassifying marijuana isn’t new, with proposals dating back as far as 1972. While cannabis is currently considered a Schedule I drug on the federal level, there’s no logical reason that it should sit next to heroin, LSD, or peyote now that a CBD medication can be prescribed by a family physician. In fact, just last week the DEA made major waves by moving CBD drugs to a Schedule V classification, thus further cementing the idea that the medical applications of cannabis-derived compounds are relevant to today’s pharmaceutical marketplace.
Steps In The Right Direction
Dispensary owners would be smart to realize that the FDA will probably never fully utilize the term ‘medical marijuana,’ but instead what will occur is continued approval for CBD in a pharmaceutical setting. Given that the approval process for any new drug is incredibly costly and time-consuming, it will take a while before we see more alternative therapies come to market, but that doesn’t mean a little proactivity in stocking the shelves with a wide range of CBD based products is too optimistic either. Seeing the ways in which the cannabis industry may be affected, Ribera speaks to how big pharma could begin to claim their own piece of the profits:
“[Reclassifying marijuana] would change the game completely. I know big companies are looking into growing facilities and seeing what they can do. They recognize that they are going to make less money because people will want to turn to a legalized route if marijuana is approved, and they may lose a large part of people who turn to them for help. You can either grow with it or you can stay behind – I think they’re going to want to put their foot in the door.”
The idea of reclassification for all marijuana products would be a welcome change, but ultimately those in the industry are waiting for the day when declassification as a whole comes to pass. Progress is slowly being made through proposed legislation like the STATES Act, which would open up new opportunities to dispensary owners who are currently impeded by banking and tax regulations. Separating industrial hemp from the marijuana classification itself also begins to demonstrate just how different medical CBD use is from recreational marijuana consumption.
Additional legislation is also paving the way for viewpoints on hemp as well as CBD to shift dramatically. The 2018 Farm Bill proposed by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell demonstrates that the benefits of cultivating hemp have far outweighed the perceived negative connotations associated with the plant. Lezli Engelking, founder and CEO of FOCUS: The Cannabis Health and Safety Organization, explains one of the major proponents of the bill: “In addition to establishing a formal definition of hemp, the legislation will remove hemp as a controlled substance and move hemp regulatory authority from the DEA to the USDA, making hemp an agricultural commodity.”
Those who have a large stake in the industry, whether it’s in dispensary ownership, cannabis and/or hemp growing operations, or even stock ownership should keep their eyes on this issue especially in the next few months. Those on the ground floor can tap into their ability to meet customer’s needs with an increase in the CBD products they carry with a renewed focus on education. Seeing a need for truly changing the way that her customers view cannabis, Ribera emphasizes that quality conversations with patrons can make a huge difference, “You don’t just have to take ibuprofen when you’re sick. We’re here for people who need medicine.”