Story by Derek Albert
Food and fiber are familiar commodities to Louisiana’s agricultural stakeholders, but with recent legislation some agricultural researchers have shifted their focus to something a little less familiar—therapeutic cannabis.
Also referred to as medical marijuana, therapeutic cannabis is growing in popularity as patients with debilitating ailments turn to the burgeoning industry for relief.
The advent of the state’s therapeutic cannabis program began in the halls of the state capitol. With the passage of the Alison Neustrom Act in 2015, the Louisiana Legislature opened the doors for the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of a number of ailments including epilepsy, depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome and even to combat some of the side effects of medical treatments including chemotherapy for cancer patients. From this act, licenses were awarded to the LSU AgCenter and the Southern University AgCenter for growing the medicinal plants.
“The legislature decided that the AgCenters (both LSU and Southern University) would be good institutes to grow the plant because we had done that with all the other commodities,” said Ashley Mullens, coordinator of the LSU AgCenter Therapeutic Cannabis Program. “We know how to grow plants and develop best management practices. We know how to bring the science into commodity development. We thought we could bring the same research that we had done with rice, sweet potatoes and sugar cane to the cannabis plant.”
Due to stringent governmental regulations, research with the cannabis plant has been limited up to this point to institutions that would clear the onerous regulatory hurdles, Mullens said.
“There has not been a lot of research,” Mullens said. “A lot of it has been anecdotal.”
Mullens said the LSU AgCenter’s goal with this project is to eventually create a similar genetic development platform that has been developed and refined for the state’s other agricultural commodities.
“We eventually want to become the genetic library where we are breeding and conducting research on the plant and one day have a genetic database for the traits that people are looking for whether it’s disease resistance, high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or pest resistance,” she said.
Industrial hemp is another piece of the agricultural puzzle that the AgCenters are involved in researching. Industrial hemp was designated as an agricultural commodity by the 2018 Farm Bill. Mullens explained hemp is a similar plant to therapeutic cannabis but with a decreased potency of THC.
“Medical marijuana and industrial hemp are both cannabis sativa,” she explained, “Anything that is above 0.3% THC is considered marijuana. Anything below is industrial hemp. But they are the same plant.”
With less governmental regulations, the industrial hemp trade has expanded since its release to farms throughout the state. Hemp can be grown outdoors in mass quantities which Mullens said can offer Louisiana farmers another commodity to add to their agricultural repertoire. While the industrial hemp research projects are still in their infancy, Mullens said the LSU AgCenter has not released any grower recommendations or best management practices yet.
Under this Neustrom Act, patients who get authorization from a physician could access products such astinctures, topical creams, inhalers and edibles. This legislation established the protocols needed for the state to regulate how the cannabis plants are grown, how the products are made from the plants and who can sell them. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry oversees the regulatory processes that distribute the products throughout the state.
The Louisiana Board of Pharmacy initially awarded 10 licenses statewide for dispensaries that are allowed to sell the therapeutic cannabis products. One of those 10 original dispensaries is Medicis Pharmacy, in Lake Charles, which touts a growing patient base who are turning to therapeutic cannabis rather than other traditional prescription medications to treat chronic pain and other maladies.
More recent legislation, passed during the 2021 Regular Legislative Session, expands the availability of medical cannabis to the smokeable flower or “bud” form.
“It’s all grown indoors and tested,” Thibodeaux said of the products available through Medicis Pharmacy. “They test it for everything from heavy metals to pesticides, solubles, fungus and mold.
You’ll know exactly what you’re getting.
Mullens said the LSU AgCenter is well prepared to offer the flower to dispensaries as they have stockpiled product in preparation on the January 1 release date.
“With the passage of flower, we are going to need a lot more canopy space,” Mullens said. “So, we have been actually freezing product. I feel as people become more and more comfortable with the smokeable flower, that it will increase demand for these products.”
As Southwest Louisiana’s only medical marijuana pharmacy, Medicis Pharmacy is prepared to feed the growing demand for the flower form as the market opens this January.
“It’s accessible. It’s efficient,” said Medicis Pharmacy owner John Condos. “And for many people, it’s a familiar form.”
The Medicis staff stressed that the flower being grown by the AgCenters, regulated, and measured by the LDAF and sold by dispensaries like Medicis, is safer than anything available on the black market. While contraband marijuana may offer relief to those who seek it out, the products sold without regulation or oversight could include fungus, mold or even other medications such as the potent painkiller, Fentanyl.
Patient access is a priority to Condos and Thibodeaux, so to get the therapeutic products to patients without delay Medicis Pharmacy offers a web site where patients can access a full list of treatable conditions, find and contact prescribing physicians and order the medicinal products and high-quality implements needed to consume the products. Condos said to further patient access Medicis is now providing home delivery of its growing line of products.
Victor Wukovits said he became a patient of Medicis Pharmacy after a pair of reparative surgeries—one on his back, another on his right bicep. After years of attempting to quell the severe pain in his arm with other prescribed medications, he turned to Medicis for relief from a topical ointment applied directly to the skin.
“I put on the lavender balm, five minutes the pain is gone,” Wukovits said referencing some of the products Thibodeaux was processing a table over. “What I know is, I put something on that hurt a lot and five minutes later, the pain was gone. That’s effective medicine.”
To further explore the products offered by Medicis Pharmacy, visit their website www.medicispharmacy.com.
Medicis Pharmacy is located at 1727 Imperial Boulevard, Building 4, in Lake Charles.