IN: Doctors Welcome State’s Official Approval Of CBD Oil

Photo Credit: David Zalubowski

The use of CBD oil in Indiana is officially legal after nearly a year of uncertainty, ending speculation among patients who have already been using CBD to treat their pain, and among local physicians who swear by its effectiveness.

Dr. Gary Gettelfinger, who practices out of the IU Health Pain Center on Bloomington’s east side, said he is thrilled with the new law.

“I’m excited for my patients,” Gettelfinger said. “The fact of the matter is, (CBD) is working, and nothing good ever came without a fight.”

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD or hemp oil, is a cannabis compound that contains little or no THC, the compound that creates the high commonly associated with marijuana use. Studies show it can alleviate the effects of Parkinson’s disease, reduce inflammation and blood pressure, relax muscles, reduce anxiety and substance abuse behaviors and provide pain relief.

The legal confusion began in November when Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an opinion that CBD oil should be illegal in the state. The opinion states, “Simply put, cannabidiol is a Schedule I controlled substance because marijuana (cannabis sativa) is a Schedule I controlled substance.”

Gettelfinger had already been treating patients with CBD oil because Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb had signed a bill into law last April allowing its medical use. That law allowed the use of CBD oil in the treatment of children with epilepsy if it contained at least 5 percent CBD and less than 0.3 percent THC. CBD was permitted for other uses as long as the solution was less than 5 percent.

Indiana joined 17 other states with similar CBD laws at the time.

“The AG’s decision threw everyone into a tailspin,” Gettelfinger said. At the time, he had about 150 patients regularly taking a full spectrum hemp oil with zero THC to help manage their pain. “I never missed a day selling it or treating patients with it. Not one day.”

Gettelfinger said he now has roughly 400 patients using CBD oil to manage their pain.

Holcomb issued a 60-day moratorium shortly after Hill’s letter in November, directing Indiana Excise Police to “educate, inform and issue warnings to retailers” instead of confiscating CBD oil in stores. Holcomb extended this “education period” in late January until the end of the legislative session.

When the legislative session began, Gettelfinger, Dr. Matt Andry of Andry Medical Services and Dr. Erich Weidenbener of the Bloomington Bone and Joint Clinic made several trips to Indianapolis to educate legislators on the medical issue.

“This whole thing was such a grassroots effort,” Andry said. “I was proud to be a mouthpiece, but this really came through our patients. That’s who spoke up.”

Andry said he delivered an hourlong lecture to legislators on the benefits of CBD, answered questions and addressed many misconceptions, including ones shared by the attorney general.

“I told them CBD is not a slippery slope to marijuana; it’s an exit ramp,” Andry said, claiming some 200 of his patients have quit or reduced their use of opiates or other addictive painkillers since starting a CBD oil routine. “A lot of senators got it, but some didn’t buy it.”

Both Gettelfinger and Andry said they’ve seen a 70 to 80 percent success rate, in which patients report at least some benefit to taking CBD. Andry also said he had more than a few patients quit using CBD after Hill’s decision because of the question regarding its legality. That was very frustrating, he said, because he knew they were being deprived of something that could help them.

“The law that we have now is going to make people feel confident taking CBD for their health again,” Andry said, adding that physicians around the state are feeling more confident recommending it to their patients. “I’m already seeing that change. Conservatively, I’d say 10 to 20 new physicians each month, across all specialties, are either recommending or actually providing CBD to their patients.”

The text of the bill states “Before July 1, 2018, low THC hemp extract may be distributed in Indiana,” causing no disruption to access of CBD oil during these next few months. What does take effect July 1, when most state laws go into effect, are new labeling requirements of the CBD oil.

“Indiana lawmakers delivered a bill that ensures Hoosiers who benefit from CBD oil can access it. The bill provides much needed clarity, with labeling requirements and a 0.3 permit THC limit on CBD products. I’m grateful for the General Assembly’s hard work to bring me a bill to address the needs expressed by our citizens,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said at the bill’s signing on Wednesday.