4/20 and medical marijuana -- Now’s the time to unleash the power of pot

Friday is the 20th day of April. It’s also “420 Day” – a date when thousands of Americans celebrate the “cannabis culture.”

Cue the adolescent giggles.

But there’s so much more to this day than meets the blood-shot eye. It’s not about people taking off from work so they can smoke pot all day. If that’s the message people choose to glean from observing this “holiday,” then they are missing the point completely.

I look at 420 Day as an opportunity to call attention to all that we still have to learn about the potential health benefits marijuana has to offer, as well as some predictions about its recreational use that have not come to fruition.

Personally, I have changed my views on this plant and continue to believe that we must decriminalize it so that proper studies can be conducted on its medicinal benefits. In my opinion, it’s absolutely crazy to compare marijuana to opioids and other hard narcotics.

The truth is, there is great potential in the treatment of a myriad of diseases with compounds found in medical marijuana. From epilepsy and brain disorders to cancer pain and PTSD, the research – limited as it may be – is promising.

One of those compounds in particular is cannabidiol, or CBD. Strict guidelines and enforcement of laws limiting the availability of marijuana in the United States has meant that global research in this area is outpacing our national efforts to study this healing compound.

As recently as November, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a study on the safety and efficacy of CBD, concluding that “in experimental models of abuse liability, CBD appears to have little effect on conditioned place preference or intracranial self-stimulation. . . . In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.”

Back in January, I was highly critical of Attorney General Sessions’ decision to reverse the Obama-era hands-off policy on state legalization or partial legalization of marijuana. Sessions upset lawmakers across the board with his decision. It’s time for him to get on the pot bandwagon already.

Even former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who as recently as 2015 claimed he was “unalterably opposed” to the legalization of marijuana, reversed his position last week announcing on Twitter that he is joining the board of an investment company with an established footprint in the cannabis industry because his thinking on the subject has “evolved.”

In a joint statement with former Massachusetts governor, William Weld, Boehner stressed the need to federally deschedule marijuana so that proper research can be done on the plant. The pair also recognized its potential use in treating our veterans and helping curb the opioid epidemic.  

I agree, one of the most important steps we can take in furthering research into medical marijuana and its components like CBD is to decriminalize it on a national level, removing it from the list of narcotics, where it currently sits with the likes of heroin and cocaine.

The federal government needs to endorse the medical marijuana industry to further conduct important research and make it available to patients who are not responding to synthetic medications or other treatments.

This seems like a no-brainer, since the federal government actually owns U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 – granted in 2003 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – for the “potential use of non-psychoactive cannabinoids to protect the brain from damage or degeneration caused by certain diseases.”

One of the most promising moves I have seen recently when it comes to marijuana research is federal advisers recommending approval for the first CBD medicine (Epidiolex) to treat epilepsy. It was a unanimous decision and the FDA has indicated that it will approve the drug.

It’s high time that Congress realize that when a group of federal scientific advisers -- as well as the FDA -- is willing to approve a marijuana derivative to treat a debilitating disease like epilepsy, it’s also time to let scientists continue to further legitimate research without fear of going to prison.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.