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Marijuana plants being cultivated. (AP photo) Marijuana plants being cultivated. (AP photo)

Marijuana plants being cultivated. (AP photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin August 19, 2016

'Medical-grade marijuana' won't get you high, cannabis amendment supporters say

Medical marijuana has many uses, according to supporters of Florida’s Amendment 2, but getting high is not one of them.

Kim McCray, outreach director for United for Care, said in an Aug. 11 South Florida Times op-ed that the well-known euphoric effects of cannabis aren’t an issue.

"What is also important to know is that although some debilitated patients may require higher levels of THC than others based on their specific medical condition, medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high,’ no matter what level of THC, CBD or any other compound is found in the plant," McCray wrote. She pointed out that medical cannabis can not only be smoked, but be packaged as ointments, oils, pills and skin patches.

It sounded peculiar to us to say that medical marijuana can’t get you high, regardless of the chemical content. We checked with some experts to clear the air.

Doctor’s orders

Florida voters will decide in November 2016 whether to allow medical marijuana in the state. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis "or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated" to obtain cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.

What the system would truly look like is still anyone’s guess, because the amendment leaves most of the details up to the state Legislature and state health department. Patients would get a state-registered ID card that would allow them to get their marijuana, but the how, when and where of it wouldn’t be decided until the amendment passes.  

Also unknown is just what kind of "medical-grade marijuana" will be available. Amendment 2 doesn’t place restrictions on what forms of cannabis the state could allow, including cannabis in its smokable form.

To understand the types of marijuana or marijuana products we’re talking about, we need a quick chemistry lesson.

Cannabis contains roughly 500 compounds, 70 of which are psychoactive. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana plant.

The level of THC in a plant varies based on the strain, the part of the plant used, and how it is processed for consumption.

Also present is a substance called cannabidiol, known as CBD, which is an antioxidant and has properties that are thought to protect the brain. It’s also not psychoactive like THC.  

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Florida’s 2014 law approved low-THC cannabis oil or vapor products containing CBD for patients with muscle spasms, cancer, epilepsy and terminal illnesses. Fifteen other states have similar laws. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse says CBD may prove useful in treating epilepsy as well as inflammation and mental illnesses or addictions.

Products like cannabis oil are made from strains of marijuana already bred to be high in CBD and low in THC, although THC still is a part of the equation. Research shows that compound is what brings CBD into the brain.

Now for how this applies to McCray’s statement.

United for Care spokeswoman Bianca Garza said McCray meant to dispel the notion that medical marijuana patients obtain their medicine for the sole purpose of feeling its well-known euphoric effects.

"The point being made in the statement is that doctors and patients will decide on a care plan that will enable them to become more normal," Garza said in an email. "In other words, they'll decide on a dosage appropriate for their debilitating condition to feel less pain, to have fewer seizures and spasms, etc. It will be decided by a Florida licensed physician and will not lead to patients being ‘high.’ "

Essentially, their argument is one of semantics: Medical marijuana patients won’t be getting stoned, they’ll be using medication under the supervision of a doctor as a form of treatment. That precludes the idea that patients will just be taking marijuana as a recreational drug, although Garza conceded that "like any medicine, there’s the possibility for abuse."

United for Care’s point of view still doesn’t mean some forms of medical marijuana aren’t capable of getting patients baked. Marijuana still has physiological effects, whether it’s doctor-approved or not.

Dr. David Casarett, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana, said that low-THC strains or oils that have only CBD don’t produce the same buzzed feeling as a joint. But higher-THC marijuana still "will most certainly get you high," he said.

"Just calling something ‘medical grade’ won't prevent you from getting high," Casarett said. "It's like alcohol. Laboratory grade ethanol will get you just as drunk as home-brewed moonshine with the same alcohol content."

Our ruling

A representative of United for Care said, "Medical-grade marijuana alone will not get that patient ‘high,’ no matter what level of THC, CBD or any other compound is found in the plant."

The group said McKay is referring to the controlled conditions under which medical marijuana would be monitored by doctors for use by patients. But her word choice could easily lead to misunderstanding.

While there are non-euphoric strains of cannabis that are already being used as treatments for some conditions, it’s not accurate to say that no form of medical marijuana will get you high. High-THC medical cannabis will still produce the same intoxicating effects as the street form of the drug will.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

South Florida Times, "Amendment 2 supports healthcare," Aug. 11, 2016

PolitiFact, "Has the potency of pot changed since President Obama was in high school?," Jan. 24, 2014

PolitiFact Rhode Island, "Marijuana legalization opponent Heidi Heilman says today's marijuana is 300 percent to 800 percent stronger than in the past," March 30, 2014

National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Is Marijuana Medicine?," April 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Rick Scott signs 'Charlotte's Web' medical marijuana bill," June 16, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida voters just say no to medical marijuana," Nov. 4, 2014

PolitiFact Georgia, "Weeding out the different effects of cannabis oil and marijuana," Dec. 9, 2014

PolitiFact, "Carly Fiorina says pot is stronger today than in the past," Sept. 16, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Florida legislative committee revives bill to legalize all marijuana strains for terminally ill," Feb. 8, 2016

Florida Today, "Medical marijuana back as more careful Amendment 2," March 26, 2016

Associated Press, "First Florida home delivery of medical marijuana made in Pasco County," July 23, 2016

News Service of Florida, "Local regulations 'mixed bag' for Florida medical marijuana dispensaries," July 30, 2016

Kaiser Health News, "As States OK Medical Marijuana Laws, Doctors Struggle With Knowledge Gap," Aug. 15, 2016

PolitiFact Florida, "Medical marijuana amendment doesn't allow local restrictions, opponents say," Aug. 16, 2016

United for Care, "Constitutional amendment petition language," accessed Aug. 17, 2016

Interview with Bianca Garza, United for Care spokeswoman, Aug. 16-17, 2016

Interview with David Casarett, University of Pennsylvania professor of medicine, Aug. 16-17, 2016

Interview with Mara Gambineri, Florida Department of Health spokeswoman, Aug. 17, 2016

Interview with Karen O’Keefe, Marijuana Policy Project director of state policies, Aug. 17, 2016

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