Public health researchers say the federal government is slowing the search for cures to breast, colon, prostate, and brain cancer, as well as Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's, and HIV because the research involves pot.
That's the takeaway from the 21st annual symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, held in St. Charles, Illinois July 5-10. Researchers stacked the program with talks not only about cannabis' palliative properties but also its curative efficacy. The event, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was held the same week the DEA reiterated its stance that marijuana has no accepted medical use.
"It was really interesting. At the same time the DEA was publicly declaring that cannabis has no medical value I was surrounded by the most brilliant minds in the world talking about nothing but the medical value of cannabinoids," said Amanda Reiman, who holds a Ph.D from UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare, where she is also a lecturer, and who presented a poster at the symposium. "The frustration on the part of the researchers was something you could feel in the air."
Reiman researches medical cannabis dispensaries as community health providers and the use of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs. It's a topic of key interest to both the International Cannabinoid Research Society and the National Institute on Drug Abuse because — unlike almost every other drug — the National Institute on Drug Abuse can completely restrict researchers' access to cannabis, citing the plant's danger to society.
That means safe, effective treatments that stem from pot are being held up. Take the case of Sativex — the marijuana-based mouth spray made by GW Pharmaceuticals in Europe helps patients with multiple sclerosis and is very safe, but sufferers won't see it in the United States any time soon because it contains cannabinoids.
According to the abstracts of the International Cannabinoid Research Society symposium, researchers have found that the molecules in pot can reverse cancer growth: "Mechanisms of the anti-cancer effects of cannabidiol and other non-psychotropic cannabinoids on human prostate carcinoma" reads one abstract title; "Cannabidiol inhibits glioblastoma dispersal and expression of stem cells markers in patient-derived primary cultures" reads another. There are at least a seven such papers this year.
The molecule in pot called cannabidiol, or CBD, has been shown to reduce anxiety and halt the progression of HIV in monkeys, as well as treat Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis, according to International Cannabinoid Research Society abstracts. Cannabinoid researchers are investigating using pot molecules to treat head and neck squamous cell carcinomas.
These researchers aren't allowed to progress past animal studies, and cannot get their hands on the plant, Reiman said. It's driving them crazy.
Since the conference was sponsored by the drug warriors at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "There was a lot of pushback from researchers in terms of restricting access to these cannabinoids, especially CBD, which is not psychoactive," said Reiman. "There's opportunities to cure diseases like cancer, but also neuro-degenerative diseases and HIV."
However, "A lot of NIDA's mission is to discover the harms associated with drugs of abuse [though not alcohol] and to prevent people from using drugs and to help people who are using them to stop them.
"Nowhere in that mission is it to discover potentially therapeutic benefits for illicit drugs, and that's why cannabis research falls into the crack," she said.
It's unfortunate, because weed may birth the all-star "smart drugs" of the 21st century. The molecules in weed stimulate a sort of intra-cellular Internet called the "endocannabinoid system." Discovered in the Nineties, the endocannabinoid system runs throughout the bodies of mammals, with a large amount of receptors in the nervous system in the head and gut.
Scientists think pot molecules like CBD can help facilitate cellular communication, helping cells send signals like "turn off the inflammation" and "my neighbor is a tumor, kill him!"
"Cannabis seeks out disregulation, like the growth of a tumor, and addresses that problem without interrupting the rest of the body," Reiman said.
While federal officials achieve new levels of hypocrisy, perhaps one million US medical marijuana patients have pushed past the politicians into vigilante medicine, as it were. They're not coming back, no matter what the federal government does.
"They can't put the whole plant medical cannabis genie back in the bottle," Reiman said. "They just have to recognize that it's there."
Seeds and Stems
The West Coast's largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center, is the subject of something called a "docu-soap" to be aired by the Discovery Channel, Entertainment Weekly has reported. Nancy Daniels, executive vice president at Discovery Channel, said: "Like Gold Rush or Deadliest Catch, these are guys pursuing their own version of the American Dream." ... The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo coming to downtown Oakland Labor Day weekend will not permit on-site distribution of medical cannabis, organizers want to clarify. VIP package holders can pick up a box of goodies that includes cannabis samples before the event, and attendees may medicate on-site with a valid doctor's recommendation. But, just to be clear, there will be no on-site distribution of medical cannabis.