As of Tuesday, more than 130 patients have qualified for Georgia’s new medical cannabis registry after its first 50 days of business. Yet the pace — celebrated by families and advocates — comes as some doctors have begun calling for training and information about the oil and how it works.
Those concerns in the medical community are not the only hurdles facing families here. The new law legalizing a limited form of cannabis oil to treat illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy does not address the oil’s manufacturing or how to buy or obtain it.
In fact, the sale of any form of cannabis remains a violation of state and federal law. Yet, 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, offer some form of legalized use of cannabis for medical purposes. And Georgia this year created a way to protect some people from criminal prosecution for having a limited form of the oil in their possession.
Advocates, families and doctors here are trying to figure out how best to practically do that.
“This field of treatment is in its infancy,” said Dr. James L. Smith Jr., an emergency room doctor who called himself “arrogant about what I thought was my fund of knowledge” when he first encountered cannabis oil as a possible treatment (one that has since been successful) for his now 8-year-old daughter, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Doose syndrome.
The concerns, however, do not necessarily mean resistance, he said. “I think physicians have been hesitant to start because of their lack of knowledge of how to dose it,” said Smith, a board member of the influential Medical Association of Georgia. “As a physician, I understand that. I think the physician community has been genuinely interested and wants to know more.”
The Medical Association of Georgia has been vocal about getting doctors access to seminars or online webinars as they seek more information about how the oil works. Some physicians worry the oil is, in effect, experimental and not approved by the FDA.
Groups including the Georgia-based Oil for Epilepsy have started to explore how to connect doctors to new and existing research, as well as information about how the oil works and how it’s extracted. There is also talk of forming a new state coalition of people in the medical cannabis industry to help inform doctors and patients about their treatment options and access.
The state Department of Public Health has already partnered with the Georgia Composite Medical Board to develop the process for physicians who may be approached by patients seeking the oil for treatment. Public health officials have so far approved 162 doctors for its new registry, which went live in June.
Georgia has also begun to explore how to develop guidelines related to cultivation and production.
The newly formed state Commission on Medical Cannabis next meets Aug. 26 to talk with manufacturers and growers. Among the topics they are likely to address is the process they use to cultivate plants for the oil. That includes safety, security measures and testing that, among the top manufacturers, is often done by independent UL-listed laboratories.
“I think there’s just a need for additional information in the medical community of what exactly these products are,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the primary author of the new law, “We’ve made sure families that have wanted the product and properly registered with the state have gotten the product.”