In Idaho, we have public officials willing to disregard science-based medicine and, instead, promote so-called “alternative” health treatments.
Numerous Idahoans fervently believe in the efficacy of herbs, acupuncture and the like. Many have anecdotes of this or that working for them. Some successes might be based on the placebo effect or some underlying property of the particular treatment. I would argue that individuals should be able try — on themselves — a wide array of alternative options.
But, because advocates of various non-traditional treatments are loud, does that justify Idaho political figures pushing medical treatments for which the science is still not settled? That is where a line is crossed. And, we’ve had several high-profile examples of politicians pushing treatments of questionable veracity.
One example is the Idaho drive to approve so-called CBD oil, which is a shorthand for cannabidiol. It is made from the cannabis plant. Proponents point out that CBD contains very little of the THC that creates the “high” associated with marijuana but believe passionately that it has a variety of beneficial effects.
In 2015, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill legalizing CBD. It was vetoed by Gov. Otter. This year a similar bill, sponsored by Rep. Dorothy Moon, passed the House but died stuck in a Senate committee.
Seventeen states have approved use of CBD. But, 13 of those limit usage to very narrow circumstances, keyed to one or just a few particular illnesses. This year’s Idaho bill would have allowed use for any purpose if a physician thought there would be some potential benefit. That would make Idaho one of the most unlimited states for CBD usage
But CBD was only just approved by the FDA last week and then only for a single medication, Epidiolox, for use in treating two rare forms of epilepsy. The FDA relied on three substantive studies in making its determination. It is interesting that so many Idaho legislators were willing boost CBD when the evidentiary support for broader use is weak and/or non-existent.
The candidates for governor have been more measured. Tommy Ahlquist has stated: “As a doctor, I support the legalization of CBD oil as a medical treatment that helps sick people as long as the hallucinogenic effects are removed and is prescribed by a doctor like any other drug.” Presumably, Ahlquist would confine use to when the evidence supports application. Raul Labrador has a somewhat similar stance.
Brad Little has been the most cautious, backing the completion of a current pharmaceutical study of CBD being conducted on epilepsy patients. I couldn’t find a statement on the issue by either Democratic candidate.
Another example of advocacy was last week’s Republican debate for lieutenant governor on Idaho Public Television. Former state representative Janice McGeachin pushed adoption of a wide range of alternative medical providers and treatments as a method of reducing Idaho health care costs. Again, few, if any, are backed by double-blind studies.
She is not alone. There is a statewide movement that is hostile to vaccines. In my area, newly appointed Sen. Tony Potts (R-Idaho) indicated his opposition to immunization even before his first legislative session began. He is not the only Idaho legislator with a similar view. This year, 18 members of the Idaho House and seven state senators opposed extending the life of the Idaho Immunization Assessment Board. Yet, vaccines are a key reason our children don’t die of childhood illnesses, unlike what used to happen just decades ago.
I find the CBD issue particularly disturbing. Numerous companies, in and out of Idaho, are pushing to roll out CBD-infused products — potions, lotions, food products, etc. — many with claims to cure this or that. The proof of efficacy is lacking but the majority of the Idaho House and many Idaho senators wanted to plow forward anyway, before the FDA had found a single valid use. That was irresponsible.
It is time for alternative health advocates to step back and put their claims to rigorous, scientific proof. Idaho policymakers should wait until the evidence is solid — and only then move forward. The current course is reckless and could put public health at risk.