We talked to one of the experts who helped convince WHO that the cannabis compound CBD is safe

Raúl Elizalde felt compelled to step in when he learned that WHO was reviewing CBD as a psychoactive substance.

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      The World Health Organization (WHO) announced earlier this week that the cannabis compound cannabidiol, or CBD, should not be subject to international drug scheduling.

      A report from WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) published last month found that—based on the results of both animal and human studies—CBD “could have some therapeutic value for seizures due to epilepsy and related conditions”. It also found that CBD, unlike THC, doesn’t create dependence and isn’t likely to be abused.

      No one is more grateful than Raúl Elizalde, whose impassioned speech to the committee days before the final report helped guide the decision of committee members who had intially considered it to be a potentially psychoactive substance.

      "My first thought, reading that, was shock," Elizalde told the Straight by phone from his home in Monterrey, Mexico.

      And rightfully so: Elizalde has seen firsthand how CBD can be a safe, effective and nonpsychoactive pediatric medicine. His 10-year-old daughter, Grace, currently uses it to help manage her seizures. 

      Grace was diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe type of pediatric epilepsy, at birth. Elizalde said she had tried 19 different epilepsy drugs throughout her life, even undergoing brain surgery to try to calm her seizures, but nothing worked.

      When he and his wife decided to introduce CBD into her diet, her seizures began to decrease not only in frequency but in intensity. Before CBD, Grace suffered from up to 400 seizures a day; now, Elizalde said, even on the worst days her daughter won't suffer from more than 20 seizures in a 24-hour span.

      Most days, she'll have two or three, he says.

      Elizalde's experience with CBD led to a change in career for the former electronics specialist, who is now the president of HempMeds Mexico and the founder of Por Grace, an organization in Mexico known for its education and work supporting cannabidiol as a safe therapeutic substance.

      Raúl Elizalde, his wife, Mayela Benavides, and their daughter, Grace at a Senate conference in Mexico.

      After working closely with the Mexican health regulatory agency, Elizalde was able to convince them that although CBD can be derived from cannabis, the extract and the plant are not one and the same. In 2016, the Mexican government began permitting the import of CBD to Mexico.

      Through HempMeds, Elizalde is able to import hemp-derived CBD products from the United States. Since it was established in 2016, Elizalde has imported oils for more than 400 Mexican families.

      Knowing how effective CBD could be, Elizalde wrote to the WHO and requested to speak about the benefits of the compound at the 39th meeting of the ECDD in Geneva, Switzerland, where they would be discussing CBD in the context of potentially psychoactive subtances.

      Elizalde was invited to speak, and on November 6 he was one of six experts who addressed the ECDD about CBD. Although some experts were more analytical, he spoke on a personal level about his experiene with the compound at home and the impact he's been able to make through HempMeds and Por Grace.

      "I'm not here as part of the hemp industry," he said in his speech to the committee. "I'm here as a parent of a 10-year-old girl who suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome."

      "My daughter, Grace, has suffered all her life from epilepsy, and, believe me, I know about psychoactive drugs," he told them.

      "I have been giving them to her a lot, and I have seen what they do. There's no comparison with CBD, not even close. It will be a huge mistake to consider CBD psychoactive."

      Elizalde also mentioned studies that had been conducted by Mexican pediatric neurologists, and he noted that descheduling the drug would allow access to safer products.

      "We all spoke to the benefits of CBD. Nobody spoke against it," he said. "There was not a single voice telling the expert comittee, 'Actually, you should schedule CBD.'"

      Elizalde is excited about this week's announcement and said he's looking forward to the results of the ECDD's next meeting, in May 2018, which will be a special session dedicated to cannabis and its derivatives. 

      He's confident that THC will be moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, but for now he's glad the WHO has come to the conclusion that it has.

      "The fact that they don't want to schedule CBD is something great," he said. "I think it should be treated the same way as Vitamin C."

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