March 2, 2015

Missouri House committee hears testimony on medical marijuana

Whether pot should be legalized for medicinal purposes was discussed by a House committee Monday.

State Representative Dave Hinson presents his bill to the committee.

State Representative Dave Hinson presents his bill to the committee as talk show host Montel Williams and other audience members listen.

Republican lawmaker Dave Hinson presented his bill that would set up the production, prescription, and sale of medical marijuana to patients with debilitating diseases.

“This bill is very regulated, because none of us want the Colorado experience,” said Hinson.

For more than two hours, the committee heard testimony from numerous supporters of the bill.  One of those supporters was talk show host Montel Williams.

“Medical marijuana is not going to work for everybody, but there are those of us that it does work for,” says Willimas.  “How dare you deny someone the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cause without it, I don’t have that.”

Williams, who suffers from MS, is filming a documentary about Missouri’s legislative marijuana debate.  Williams has traveled around the country lobbying for medical marijuana.  Ten other states are considering legalizing medical marijuana and 23 states already have a medicinal marijuana law in place.

Williams says he does not stand with those who want to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

“I’m only concerned about people who need to have relief with medication,” says Williams.  “The bill that you have before is one of the most comprehensive bills that has been written.”

An item of the bill that was debated much of the night was whether or not patients should be allowed to grow their own plants.  The bill currently states that a patient cannot grow their own plants.  Some argued that it would be too expensive or difficult for those living in rural areas to travel to a care center, but Williams believes it’s best to allow the care centers to grow the plants.

Talk show host Montel Williams testifies in support of Hinson's bill.

Talk show host Montel Williams testifies in support of Hinson’s bill.

“I don’t know of too many people that grow their own individual medicine,” says Williams.  “We can teach people that there is a difference in the weed that’s grown in some of these states.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander Thomas Mundell gave an emotional testimony in support of the bill.  Mundell told members of the committee about his own experience with Post-Traumatic Stress and how marijuana has nearly eliminated all of this medications since adding it to his therapy.

“It really relaxed me,” said Mundell.  “I was on 71 pills a day, I was taking 41 in the morning and 30 and night, and I take 3 now.”

Mundell has traveled to both Colorado and Washington visiting Veterans Affairs Hospitals to study the effects medical marijuana has on patients.  Mundell says based on conversations with fellow veterans and VA doctors, he’s convinced that medical marijuana should be legalized.

Two witnesses testified against Hinson’s bill.  Missouri Narcotics Officers Association spokesman Jason Grellner says lawmakers should support more research for pharmaceuticals that do not present the problems of standardization.

“This is not a prescription,” said Grellner.  “A doctor in the United States of American cannot prescribe a schedule one drug.”

Grellner argued medical marijuana would be regularly abused by casual users.

Last year Missouri legalized the use of CBD oil, a cannabis extract used to treat certain types of epilepsy.  Hinson’s bill seemed to have committee support, but that committee did not take a vote on the bill.

Medical marijuana to get Missouri House hearing today

The debate whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in Missouri will be discussed by a House committee Monday.

Representative Dave Hinson (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Dave Hinson (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State Representative Dave Hinson will present HB 800, which would set up the regulatory framework for the growing and distribution of marijuana for eligible medical patients.  Hinson says the process would be heavily regulated.

“I think history along the way has shown that it’s a political issue rather than seen as a medical issue,” said Hinson.  “It should really be seen as a medical issue.”

Hinson says there are 10 other states currently looking to legalize medical marijuana on top of the 23 states that already have a medicinal marijuana law in place.  Hinson says there is a medical benefit for those with debilitating medical diseases.

“Whether it’s multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease, the biggest one would be cancer, to have an option with their physician to use medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of their illness,” said Hinson.  “Their physician would sign off on an affidavit … that person would then turn around and apply to the state of Missouri Department of Health to be able to get a card.”

Hinson says patients would be allowed to go to a registered care center and receive up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana over a two week period.  The bill would not allow patients to grow their own plants or travel with marijuana without a prescription and card.

“This bill is fairly similar to someone being prescribed a pain killer right now, so if they’re caught in their car and they don’t have a prescription for that pain killer, it’s against the law,” said Hinson.

Talk show host Montel Williams, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has traveled around the country lobbying for medical marijuana.  Williams is expected to arrive in Missouri to testify before the committee.

University of Missouri study links ‘Facebook envy,’ depression

A study by the University of Missouri says if Facebook causes envy, depression could soon follow.

MU School of Journalism professor Margaret Duffy and her team of researchers surveyed more than 700 Missouri college students to see if activities and motivations on Facebook that cause people to feel envious could also lead to depression.

“We specifically wanted to use college students because of that transitional time and because of their heavy Facebook use,” said Duffy.

University of Missouri School of Journalism professor Margaret Duffy

University of Missouri School of Journalism professor Margaret Duffy

Duffy says those who experienced symptoms of depression often engage in what she calls “surveillance use” of Facebook.

“This idea of Facebook envy really emerges in people who use Facebook primarily for surveillance,” said Duffy.  “They simply look at and observe what’s going on with other people and they often compare themselves to other people.”

Duffy says it’s important to remember that most people try to present themselves in a positive light, not only in real life, but on Facebook as well.

“Being self-aware that a positive self-presentation is an important motivation in almost anybody using social media, you can kind of assume that many users are only posting positive things about themselves,” said Duffy. “Awareness can really make a difference and this self-awareness, we hope, can lessen feelings of envy.”

Duffy says Facebook can be a positive thing for many people and those who use the social networking site to simply stay connected do not suffer negative effects.  She says there is no relationship between heavy Facebook use and depression.

Although the study specifically focused on college students, Duffy says they would like to look at how this study might manifest itself in different age groups and different cultures.

University of Missouri researchers’ discovery may aid Parkinson’s fight

University of Missouri researchers might have found a way to lessen the severity of Parkinson’s disease.

Department of Biochemistry Professor Mark Hannink

Department of Biochemistry Professor Mark Hannink

Researchers have discovered a molecule that could be key to developing drugs that will keep brain cells healthy in individuals with Parkinson’s.

Mitochondria generate the energy needed to keep brain cells alive.  When mitochondria become damaged and are no longer capable of making energy, they are sent to a part of the cell called a lysosome to be repaired.  For those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, mitochondria fail to move to lysosomes, causing buildups of damaged mitochondria that kill brain cells.

Department of Biochemistry professor Mark Hannink says the goal is to prevent the cells from dying.

“We think we know what causes the cells to die and that’s failure to recycle the mitochondria,” said Hannink.  “So, what we think we’ve found is an alternative way to promote the getting rid of damaged mitochondria.”

The alternative pathway for mitochondrial recycling uses a protein called phosphoglycerate mutase family member 5 (PGAM5).  Hannink’s study found a peptide which acts as a “switch” to cause the protein to generate an alternate pathway.  By regulating the protein with the peptide he discovered, it could be possible to restore mitochondrial recycling in neurons of patients with Parkinson’s.

Hannink says most of the published work has been test tube based.

“That’s really the foundation of drug development.  Drugs are small molecules, but are designed then to interact in very specific ways with particular regions on proteins and change their function,” said Hannink.

Hannink says after they characterize how the molecule behaves against purified protein and against mitochondria in cultured cells, they will begin testing on mice.

“There’s a couple of researchers in the school of medicine who have mouse models of Parkinson’s disease.  We’ll be collaborating with them to do those tests,” said Hannink.

With the hope of developing new treatments for Parkinson’s, University of Missouri officials may request authority from the federal government to conduct human clinical trials if these additional studies are proven to be successful.

Missouri ranks among lowest in US for tobacco prevention spending

The latest report on how well states are funding tobacco prevention and cessation efforts has Missouri ranked as one of the worst states in the nation.

Every year the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids issues an annual report on how well the states have kept their promise to use money from the $250 billion state tobacco settlement to protect kids from tobacco.  Missouri still collects money from the 16 year old legal settlement.

Missouri ranks 50th among the states and the District of Columbia.  New Jersey, which is spending zero dollars on prevention, is the only state that ranks below Missouri.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has a recommendation for what each state should spend on tobacco prevention.  The rankings are based on what the CDC recommends and what the state actually spends.

The CDC recommends an annual spending of 73 million dollars for Missouri, but the state is only spending 71,000 thousand dollars.  That’s one-tenth of one percent of the recommended amount by the CDC.

Director of Communications for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids John Schachter says this year Missouri will receive 231 million dollars from tobacco taxes and the legal settlement with tobacco manufacturers.

“The state is literally sacrificing the health and lives of their children and the future of the state for no good reason.”

“Missouri has to pay nearly $3 billion in annual health care costs due to tobacco related illnesses,” said Schachter.  “If you look at the numbers, it’s probably too profitable for a state not to spend this on tobacco prevention.”

Schachter says prevention programs typically include aggressive media campaigns, TV commercials, social media outreach, partnerships with local organizations and student groups, and helplines.  The goal is to educate kids why they should not smoke and to help people who smoke quit.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was established in the late 1990s around the time of the tobacco settlement.  Its goal is to decrease tobacco use among the population, especially among children.  The organization focuses on helping states pass more funding for tobacco prevention programs, raising a tobacco tax, and passing smoke-free policies.