Louisiana medical marijuana maker planning major expansions, launch of hemp-derived CBD products

Wellcana Group has big expansion plans for its LSU-licensed medical marijuana operations in Louisiana and is separately courting farmers to grow hemp to support the company’s launch soon into CBD products.

Wellcana — which already operates out of Baton Rouge and is one of only two companies approved in the state to produce medical marijuana — is scouting out land in a less-populated area between Baton Rouge and Lafayette for additional cultivation room for medical marijuana, officials said.

The company expects to build a 100,000-square-foot indoor marijuana greenhouse and storage facility that will create between 100 and 200 new full- and part-time jobs. It also would be a center for collecting hemp grown by area farmers for Wellcana’s planned push into CBD, cannabidiol, products that have grown nationally in popularity for their perceived health benefits.

At the same time, Wellcana expects to expand its Baton Rouge facility off Highland Road near Interstate 10 to primarily clone and process plants and make medical marijuana products being sold to about 5,000 patients so far through nine state-approved pharmacies through licensed-doctors’ recommendations.

Currently, Wellcana’s Baton Rouge facility can grow a limited number of marijuana plants and manufactures tinctures for patients suffering from specific ailments outlined in state law. The company also has been developing prototypes for salves, strips that dissolve on the tongue, metered inhalers and chewable medicine, which contain THC, the active ingredient in medical marijuana products. The facility also will be producing Wellcana’s hemp-based CBD products, which don’t contain THC and can be sold over the counter at all kinds of retail outlets and marketed for its own health benefits.

“We’ll roll out topicals first and then the strips, and then the edible chews. Then metered dose inhalers,” Wellcana Chief Executive Officer John Davis said of the company’s medical marijuana products.

CBD products will be rolled out in similar forms, with the exception of the inhalers, he said.

Right now, the company is tightly packed in its Baton Rouge facility, Davis said. Next month, Wellcana plans to build two more stand-alone pods at its Highland Road facility that will be used for manufacturing products after oils are extracted in another room from medical marijuana plants grown on-site.

A deal for the new off-site growing and storage facility planned between Baton Rouge and Lafayette is expected to close soon, likely with cooperation from a small town, Davis said, without elaborating on negotiations or the location.

“We’re also going to put together an industrial hemp processing center there, too,” Davis said.

That will support production of CDB products, which the company has been developing from hemp. Hemp-derived CBD oils do not contain significant amounts of THC and can be sold legally by retailers.

The stage already has been set by federal and state government for growing hemp, a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant and nonpsychoactive cousin to marijuana, in Louisiana. On Dec. 23, Louisiana’s industrial hemp plan was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On Dec. 27, the state’s industrial hemp program began accepting license applications to produce, transport and process industrial hemp in Louisiana.

Wellcana already has been courting farmers for a supply of hemp. Davis trekked to a meeting near Alexandria a few weeks ago to meet farmers at an informational session about hemp that was hosted by the LSU AgCenter.

Davis said the session was standing room only with more than 500 attendees.

Wellcana envisions setting up a system akin to a sugar cooperative, where farmers can buy hemp clones rather than seeds alone, stick them in their fields and return with a fully grown cash crop.

The goal is for Wellcana to source enough hemp biomass so it can supply each of its new CBD products, with the cultivation center between Baton Rouge and Lafayette growing and supplying additional medical marijuana.

“Right now, we can (supply our own biomass) because the market is so slow in ramping up,” Davis said. “We can supply this five times, but in the future when we have different delivery systems (for hemp and medical marijuana), I want to make sure that we’ve got enough biomass dedicated at each one of these lines of products.”

Wellcana has the exclusive license from LSU to grow and manufacture medical marijuana products for patients across Louisiana. Southern University holds the state’s second license and has contracted with another company for operations that are expected to start this year.

The LSU license originally was awarded to Nevada-based biotechnology company GB Sciences, which invested several million dollars into the initial cultivation and manufacturing operation in Baton Rouge through a Louisiana subsidiary. The company also has conducted research alongside LSU into cannabinoids, or the underlying compounds of the active ingredients in marijuana plants.

GB Sciences sold off its Louisiana business over the past two years to a group of Lafayette-based investors, the latest involving a $16 million deal that closed in mid-December 2019 for the half of the company Wellcana didn’t already own.

Wellcana is led by Lafayette attorney Charles Rush and Cajungrocer.com founder Charlie Hohorst III. There are more than 100 investors in Wellcana, which had raised $10 million as of February 2019, including from four former NFL players — among them a former LSU player and two former Saints players.

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Less Constipation in Recreational Marijuana Users

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Recreational marijuana use is associated with decreased odds of constipation, according to findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The endogenous cannabinoid system in the gastrointestinal tract mediates various physiological bowel activities, which might thus be modulated by cannabinoid compounds from recreational cannabis use. Previous studies of the effects of recreational marijuana use on constipation and diarrhea have yielded conflicting results.

Dr. Kyle Staller of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, and colleagues used NHANES data from 2005 through 2010 on more than 9,600 adults aged 20-59 years to examine the effect of recreational marijuana use on self-reported bowel function (based on the Bristol Stool Form Scale (BSFS) and weekly bowel-movement frequency).

They defined constipation as BSFS type 1 and type 2 or less than three bowel movements per week. Diarrhea was defined as BSFS type 6 and type 7 or more than 21 bowel movements per week.

The frequency of constipation (defined by BSFS criteria) was lowest among recent marijuana users (5.2%), intermediate among past users (6.7%), and highest among never users (8.1%, P=0.02), the researchers report in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

In multivariate analysis, recent marijuana use was associated with 36% lower odds of constipation and past marijuana use was associated with 17% lower odds of constipation compared with never users, both significant risk reductions.

The association remained significant after adjustment for demographic factors, comorbidities and diet, but there was no longer a difference between past users and never users.

There was no relationship between marijuana use and diarrhea in either univariate or multivariate analyses.

Marijuana use was not associated with constipation or diarrhea as defined by bowel-movement frequency.

“Further studies are needed to identify how use of whole cannabis, different marijuana strains, and frequency of marijuana use exert their apparent effects on constipation,” the authors conclude.

Dr. Raquel Abalo Delgado of Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Madrid, who recently reviewed cannabinoid pharmacology and therapy in gut disorders, told Reuters Health by email, “This seems to be in contradiction with the well-known constipating effects of marijuana, its derivatives, and synthetic cannabinoids, particularly those acting upon CB1 receptors. However, these results can be due to different factors, most, if not all, related with the observational design of the study and the relatively little information obtained from the questionnaires.”

“Since use of recreational and medical marijuana (or other cannabinoids) is likely to increase worldwide, it is necessary to clarify its impact on all health issues, including gastrointestinal-tract function, many times overlooked compared with other ‘more vital’ body systems,” she said. “To what extent constipation (and other motility disorders, like hyperemesis) induced by cannabis may be considered aversive by marijuana users and may contribute to reduce heavy marijuana consumption has not been studied.”

“Likewise, the pharmacology of the different compounds present in the plant and how they contribute to the final effect on gut function need to be clearly determined,” said Dr. Abalo, who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Michael Camilleri of Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, who also was not part of the study, recently reviewed cannabinoids and gastrointestinal motility in humans. He told Reuters Health by email, “No definite conclusions should be drawn from these epidemiological studies which constitute useful hypothesis-generating data.”

“Further studies with selective CB1 and CB2 receptor modifying medications should be further explored before any conclusions regarding the potential benefits of marijuana in gastrointestinal diseases,” he said.

Dr. Staller did not respond to a request for comments.

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2Pxlw00 The American Journal of Gastroenterology, online November 22, 2019.

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Patients line up for medical marijuana in Louisiana as dispensaries open their doors

MADISONVILLE, La. — Medical marijuana dispensaries opened Monday across Louisiana.

The one on the Northshore, in Madisonville, had a steady flow of patients.

There were children with autism, octogenarians with glaucoma, and all ages and medical conditions in between. First in line at the North Shore location was 80-year-old former state senator Tony Guarisco. Back in 1978, he wrote the first law for therapeutic use of marijuana. He was a young man then, in his late thirties.

“Here generations have suffered and not gotten medicine because of the recalcitrance of, of people in power, who never implemented the law that I passed,” he remembers.

Guarisco says his doctor hopes it will help reduce inflammation for his glaucoma.

RELATED: Medical marijuana sold in Louisiana after years in legal limbo

Story continues below video (Can’t see it? Click here)

“Over two generations waiting for today. I never thought I would be … a patient today,” said Guarisco, who was a state senator from 1976-88.

He got his first liquid dose for drops to go under his tongue, as another patient cheered him on.

Just an hour after the Willow Pharmacy opened, there were already two dozen people who had come through.

Scott Rigdon was one of them.

“This is a really great day for Louisianians,” Rigdon said.

He hopes this will help him get off of morphine for epilepsy and chronic orthopedic pain.

“This is very important, even though this is a great day for Louisiana, I do not think that marijuana should be legal, say in a convenience store,” Rigdon said.

The largest group of eye physicians and surgeons in the world does not endorse marijuana for glaucoma. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says there are several safe and reliable treatments already and this is not adequate.

The cost ranges from $99 to $200 depending on the strength, and insurance won’t cover the cost of product or the doctor visit.

Senate reverses decision on inhaling medical marijuana

Original article by Mark Ballard at TheAdvocate.com

With an amendment, the Senate Monday reversed its opposition to allowing patients to inhale medical marijuana.

Senators voted 21-14 Saturday to strike inhalation, then killed the bill. On Monday the Senate included inhaling then advanced the legislation on a vote of 31-7.

St. Martin Parish Republican Sen. Fred Mills brought House Bill 358 back up Monday and added language that dosage could only be taken using a metered dose inhaler.

“You’re not smoking at all, it’s just a puff of the medication,” Mills said. “It’s just the delivery form of the concentration of the medicine.”

Medical marijuana patients take their doses orally. Inhaling allows the medicine to hit the system faster, he said.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said when the program to allow the use of marijuana products for medicinal purposes a few years ago, promises were made that patients wouldn’t be allowed to inhale marijuana. The products are used to combat pain and seizures.

Mills’ amendment was approved on a 30-7 vote.

House Bill 358 by Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Ted James would have let therapeutic cannabis patients use an inhaler, like asthma patients use. The House overwhelmingly had agreed to the inhalation proposal.

The original language in HB358 was not tight, but the amendments added enough restrictions, said Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles. “This is not inhaling raw marijuana,” he said.

Medicinal-grade pot isn’t yet available to patients. Regulatory disagreements slowed getting the product to shelves, with estimates it could be available later this month.

Voting to allow inhaling medical marijuana (31): President Alario and Sens. Allain, Barrow, Bishop, Boudreaux, Carter, Chabert, Colomb, Cortez, Donahue, Erdey, Gatti, Hensgens, Hewitt, Johns, LaFleur, Lambert, Luneau, Martiny, Mills, Morrell, Morrish, Peacock, Peterson, Price, Riser, G. Smith, J. Smith, Tarver, Ward and White.

Voting against HB358 (7): Sens Appel, Claitor, Fannin, Long, Milkovich, Thompson and Walsworth.

Not Voting (1): Sen Mizell

Read the full article at: https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_788064ac-8643-11e9-9f4e-8f54e3043bf2.html

Congratulations to patients in Arkansas!

Medical marijuana sales there are expected to begin this Sunday, May 12, 2019.  Arkansas voters approved therapeutic Cannabis on November 8, 2016.  Louisiana’s legislature approved of the modern therapeutic Cannabis program by passage of SB 143 in the summer of 2015 and signature of then Governor Bobby Jindal on June 29, 2015.  So it looks like Arkansas is going to beat Louisiana to implementation by at least a full year.


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Doctors in five states charged with prescribing pain killers for cash, sex

April 17 at 3:59 PM

Dozens of medical professionals in five states were charged Wednesday with participating in the illegal prescribing of more than 32 million pain pills, including doctors who prosecutors said traded sex for prescriptions and a dentist who unnecessarily pulled teeth from patients to justify giving them opioids.

The 60 people indicted include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals. The charges involve more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions written in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia, according to indictments unsealed in federal court in Cincinnati.

“That is the equivalent of one opioid dose for every man, woman and child in the five states in the region that we’ve been targeting,” Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in an interview. “If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers.”

The charges include unlawful distribution or dispensing of controlled substances by a medical professional and health-care fraud. Each count carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, and many of the defendants face multiple counts. One doctor in Tennessee is charged in connection with an overdose death caused by opioids, officials said.

The indictments are part of a broader effort by the Justice Department to combat the nation’s prescription pain pill epidemic, which claimed the lives of nearly 218,000 Americans between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How fentanyl triggered the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, has become the leading cause of overdose deaths in America. 

Over the past two years, Justice Department officials said they have targeted doctors, health-care companies and drug manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the epidemic. Last year, the department charged 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.

Benczkowski said he created the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force late last year to target the region, which has been devastated by the epidemic. The department analyzed several databases to identify suspicious prescribing activity and sent 14 prosecutors to 11 federal districts there.

“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement.

Once they had the data indicating suspicious prescriptions, investigators used confidential informants and undercover agents to infiltrate medical offices across the region. Cameras and tape recorders were rolling as they documented how medical professionals used their licenses to peddle highly addictive opioids in exchange for cash and sex, officials said. The arrests began early Wednesday morning.

In one case, a doctor operated a pharmacy in his office, just outside the exam room, where patients could fill their prescriptions for opioids immediately after receiving cursory exams, according to the Justice Department. In another, prosecutors said, patients consented to having their teeth pulled so they could obtain opioid prescriptions from a dentist and then paid in cash.

In a number of cases, according to the indictments, doctors across the region traded prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone for sexual favors. Some physicians instructed their patients to fill multiple prescriptions at different pharmacies. Prosecutors also documented how patients traveled to multiple states to see different doctors so they could collect and then fill numerous prescriptions.

“What these doctors have done is pretty remarkable in its brazenness,” Benczkowski said.

In Dayton, Ohio, which has been hit particularly hard, a doctor who authorities say was the state’s highest prescriber of controlled substances, along with several pharmacists, was charged with operating a “pill mill.” Prosecutors say that the health-care professionals dispensed more than 1.7 million pills between October 2015 and October 2017.

In Tennessee, a doctor who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors. Over the course of three years, prosecutors say he prescribed nearly 500,000 hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1,500 fentanyl patches and more than 600,000 benzodiazepines.

In Alabama, a doctor allegedly recruited prostitutes and other young women to become patients at his clinic and allowed them to use drugs at his home, prosecutors said. Another Alabama doctor allegedly prescribed opioids in high doses and charged a “concierge fee” of $600 per year to be one of his patients.

Prosecutors allege that a doctor in Kentucky prescribed pain killers to his Facebook friends who would come to his home to pick up their prescriptions in exchange for cash.

Prosecutors also said some health-care professionals prescribed opioids for themselves. An orthopedic surgeon in West Virginia allegedly wrote fraudulent prescriptions for pain pills using the name of a relative and a stolen driver’s license from a colleague. In Pennsylvania, a state outside the targeted region, prosecutors say a nurse filled out phony prescriptions for oxycodone in her name and in the names of others to obtain pills for herself.

The arrests could leave thousands of addicts and legitimate pain patients without access to their doctors and health-care professionals. Federal and local public health officials say they are working together to “ensure continuity of care.”

“It is also vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

The opioid indictments come as more than 1,500 cities, counties, Native American tribes and unions are suing drug companies in one of the largest and most complicated civil cases in U.S. history.

A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the cases, which accuse some of the biggest names in the industry of fueling the opioid epidemic by failing to report suspicious orders of narcotics and falsely marketing opioids to pain patients. The companies have blamed the epidemic on corrupt doctors and pain management clinics and say the epidemic is too complicated to attribute to their actions.

Justice officials Wednesday did not discuss the companies that have supplied opioids to the Appalachian region. Benczkowski said this investigation targeted medical professionals because they were “the gatekeepers to the patients.”

“But obviously, if there are doctors or others who give us information working backward up the chain in the course of this case or any other case we’re going to be interested in hearing what they have to say,” he said.

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Louisiana medical marijuana backers demand product by May 15

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Louisiana pharmacists permitted to dispense medical marijuana and the patients waiting for it are demanding that state regulators allow therapeutic cannabis to reach shelves by May 15.

GB Sciences, one of two state-sanctioned growers, said Monday it hopes to have a “limited release of product” by mid-May, available to patients with the most severe conditions. It’s unclear who would be on that list.

A larger release for all eligible patients is predicted for August or later.

But any product availability is contingent on completion of lab testing and other regulatory hurdles by the state agriculture department, which oversees medical marijuana.

Commissioner of Agriculture Mike Strain hopes to meet the May 15 deadline, but he didn’t commit to it.

Lawmakers agreed to a medical marijuana dispensing framework nearly four years ago.

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Agriculture department offers to let LSU expand marijuana production as regulatory process plays out

Louisiana’s state agriculture department on Thursday offered to give LSU permission to expand its medical marijuana-growing operations if its contractor meets certain conditions related to the regulatory process.

Under the agreement, which has not yet been signed, LSU and its contractor, GB Sciences Louisiana, would be allowed to move “plant material” into the vegetative room and mother room of its production facility in south Baton Rouge.

GB Sciences is currently operating in a smaller “pod” facility and has not moved into the main facility because it has not won full regulatory approvals from the state agriculture department. The endeavor has been delayed several times, keeping marijuana from reaching patients several years after the state legalized the program.

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View the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners Verification Results here. 

Israel takes step toward allowing export of medical marijuana

An Israeli government committee gave an initial nod on Sunday for the export of medical marijuana in what could be a windfall for companies in Israel, widely regarded as a leader in research in the field.

A government statement announcing the vote said it could take months for the legislation to make its way through parliament.

In the United States, 28 states have legalized marijuana for medical use and since 2012, Colorado, Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have also approved marijuana for recreational use. The market there, by some estimates, will reach $50 billion over the next decade.

Israel is widely regarded as one of the world leaders in medical marijuana research, even though the local market is small. Only 23,000 people have Health Ministry permits to purchase medical cannabis from nine licensed suppliers, creating a market of $15 million to $20 million at most.

Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, a private cannabis research hub in Israel, said there are about 50 Israeli medical marijuana companies active in many aspects of the industry, from agriculture to delivery devices, such as inhalers.

Kaye estimated that international investments in Israeli companies reached about $100 million in 2016.

Last month, Israel moved toward decriminalizing small-scale personal use of marijuana and authorities are supportive of research. Israeli Health Minister Yakov Litzman supports medical cannabis usage and has introduced steps to ease its prescription and sale.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Source:  Reuters

AUSTIN — Physicians and patients came out in full force Tuesday to support a proposed medical cannabis bill that will be considered in the Texas Legislature next year.

Senate Bill 269, which was filed Tuesday morning, would allow patients with debilitating or chronic conditions to receive medical cannabis under their doctor’s recommendation. The bill would expand on a 2015 Texas law that allows patients to receive certain forms of cannabis if they have intractable epilepsy.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the proposed bill, said the law is helpful but excludes many Texans who have other conditions that could benefit from cannabis treatment.

Twenty-eight states have legalized medical cannabis, but Menéndez said Texans should not have to leave the state to get care.

“Why are we forcing Texans to become medical refugees?” Menéndez asked. “If that’s what they’ve come to find that works for them, they should be able to live in their state and be able to have access to the medicine that their doctor feels is best for them.”

Debbie Tolany, a mother to a child with autism and intractable epilepsy, said her son has tried multiple different medications that have not worked for him.

“I can assure you that when you witness these things in your child and you know that it is because of the medication that you have given him, you wrestle with many emotions,” Tolany said. “These are harmful band aids and do nothing to address the physiological sources of my son’s pain and suffering.”

 Menéndez co-authored the bill that allowed for limited cannabis use for people with epilepsy, and also filed another bill in 2015 that would have extended medical cannabis use to more health condition

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