“Patients have waited to access marijuana for medical purposes for far too long,” Baker said in a statement. “This waiver will allow industry laboratories a little more time to reach full operation while providing safe amounts of medical marijuana for qualifying patients who need it.”
Medical science continues to disapprove the idea of ‘medical cannabis’ because of concerns that it has serious potential for dependence and adverse health effects. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), states that the herb cannabis is linked with numerous harmful health effects, and that significant aspects such as content, production, and supply are unregulated.
The FDA approves of the prescription of two products (not for smoking) that have pure THC in a small controlled dose as the active substance.
The drug is often consumed for its psychoactive and physiological effects, which can include heightened mood or euphoria, relaxation, and an increase in appetite. Possible side-effects include a decrease in short-term memory, dry mouth, impaired motor skills, reddening of the eyes, and feelings of paranoia or anxiety. Cannabis has been used to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy and people with AIDS, and to treat pain and muscle spasticity.
However, according to a 2013 review, “Safety concerns regarding cannabis include the increased risk of developing schizophrenia with adolescent use, impairments in memory and cognition, accidental pediatric ingestions, and lack of safety packaging for medical cannabis formulations.
Alternative Therapies Group in Salem, the state’s first medical marijuana dispensary, is however still expected to open shortly, after receiving a temporary waiver Friday that will allow it to sell cannabis that has not been fully tested for pesticides and other contaminants.
The one-time waiver was granted because laboratories in Massachusetts are not yet able to complete the quality testing required by state health department rules, according to Governor Charlie Baker’s office.\
BHowever, chemists at two labs working to test dispensary products said the problem isn’t operations at the labs. The problem, they said, resides with the state’s guidelines, issued just six weeks ago, that set standards that are too stringent to follow and implement on.
And more importantly, the labs claim while the rules require the cannabis to be screened for 18 pesticides that dispensaries are prohibited from using, they do not mandate testing to see whether residue from permissible pesticides remain.
“As a consumer, I would want to know those products are free from pesticides, but how do I know they are free from pesticides if they are not being tested?” said Christopher Hudalla, with ProVerde Laboratories in Milford, which is used by Alternative Therapies.
The Salem dispensary submitted its first sample of marijuana for testing, the Baker administration said, but the lab was unable to test for seven of the 18 prohibited pesticides.
Hudalla disputed that, saying his lab is able to detect atleast 17 out of the 18, and will be ready next week to test for all 18.The Baker administration also said the lab had problems testing for metals.
Hudalla and Michael Kahn, president of MCR Labs in Framingham, said the lead levels allowed by the state are so strict that no dispensaries would be able to meet them.
By comparison, lead levels allowed for medical marijuana in Connecticut and Colorado are at least 40 times higher, and are safe, Hudalla said.
One organic potato tested by the lab had higher levels of lead than allowed under the state’s marijuana rules, he said.
“I am concerned about patients not having access due to too-stringent levels,” Kahn said.
Both chemists said the state Department of Public Health has declined to communicate with them about these problems. The state did not directly respond to a question from the Globe about whether it had communicated with the labs.
Under the state’s medical marijuana rules, the health department regulates the dispensaries, not the labs. Asked about the concerns raised by the labs, department spokesman Scott Zoback said in a statement, “This administration has made it a priority to communicate with [dispensaries] in a timely fashion about our testing standards, as well as all regulations, to ensure safe patient access.”
When Massachusetts issued its marijuana testing rules two years ago, those standards were among the most stringent in the country, requiring dispensaries to have their products screened by an outside lab for heavy metals, pesticides, and mold. They must also identify and measure active chemical compounds in the cannabis.
Under the waiver granted to Alternative Therapies, its marijuana can be distributed with a label that discloses the chemicals not tested.
“We are not lowering our standards for the testing of marijuana for medical purposes. Safety is job one,” Marylou Sudders, the state health and human services secretary, said in a statement. “The waiver allows for small amounts of marijuana to be dispensed for medical use while testing facilities ramp up.”
Under the three-month waiver, Alternative Therapies is allowed to dispense a maximum of 4.23 ounces of marijuana to qualifying patients for use over two months, while instructing patients to consume no more than 2 grams a day. Normally, patients would be allowed to buy up to 10 ounces of marijuana every two months.
During the next three months, the state health department will review its standards for testing metal levels in marijuana to ensure those levels are attainable for dispensaries in the future, the department said.
“We carefully considered the initial testing results, and we will review the standards going forward,” Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, said in a statement. “We believe these levels provide for patient health protections while allowing the first dispensary to distribute marijuana for medical use as voted on in 2012.”
The medicinal value of cannabis remains disputed and still subject to debate. The American Society of Addiction