It’s A Plant For Fuck’s Sake!

I am not backing down on medical marijuana; I am doubling down.
— Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Things are moving very quickly in the world of weed. Soon after this blog post is published (in the summer of 2018) cannabis might already be rescheduled by the DEA and decriminalized by the federal government. There’s overwhelming public support for legalizing cannabis for medicinal use (94% in the latest Quinnipiac poll) while more than 6 out of every 10 adults support full legalization. Pot is becoming a platform issue in many political campaigns, including the race for New York State governor.

Though Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with his CNN documentary series on medical marijuana which aired in 2013, did much to normalize and legitimize the medicinal use of marijuana, his views prior to his relatively recent conversion are emblematic of the plant's opposition, both within the medical profession and in the chambers of our nation's capital: uninformed, uneducated and uninterested in learning. He was long dismissive of the plant's healing potential without bothering to understand the emerging science behind how the mammalian biochemistry reacts with the 38 million year-old plant's many molecules, which include terpenes, flavonoids and the  medically all-important canninbinoids.

It was only twenty-two years ago, in 1996, that California became the first state to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. Since then, thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal cannabis, and eight states (including DC) have passed additional legislation legalizing cannabis for recreational use.

And yet the federal government even now refuses to reschedule cannabis. It is still considered a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD), which means it is deemed to have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.

By comparison, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates (the latter of which is responsible for the death of 115 Americans every day, or nearly 42,000 people a year) are all considered Schedule 2 drugs, with a lower potential for abuse than cannabis. Opiates, of course, net pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars in profits every year.

This restrictive scheduling, based on the prevailing conservative dogma that cannabis has no medicinal value, constrains innovation in several important ways. It effectively limits the ability of scientists and medical entrepreneurs to conduct cannabis research, and the pot that is available for experimentation must be acquired through the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and its lone pot farm at the University of Mississippi, which grows only a few strains and has limited potency. And it constrains pot commerce because federally insured financial institutions (i.e., banks) won't do business (accept deposits, open checking and saving accounts, make loans) with perfectly legitimate cannabis companies that operate in states which have adopted medical or recreational cannabis laws. This means that the cannabis economy is a cash-only business, imposing operational, security and financial risks which complicate and compromise the profitability of the business model and threaten the viability of companies that are making cannabis-based medicine to help people..

This is especially puzzling in light of the fact that in 2003 the Drug Enforcement Agency issued a patent (#6630507) to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services covering the use of cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants for the treatment of a “wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”

The intertwined history of humans and cannabis has been unfolding for at least 6,000 years (check out the infographic below) and probably even longer. The plant, including its fibers, flowers, seeds and leaves have been variously used to make fiber, paper, industrial building materials, and as religious sacrament, food and medicine for a stunningly wide variety of ailments. Cannabis treatments, in the form of oils, tinctures and ointments, were a standard part of a physician’s medical kit through the early 1900s. The Marijuana Tax Act, shepherded into law in 1937 by rabid cannabis prohibitionist Harry Anslinger, effectively brought an end to the medicinal use of cannabis, and in 1970 the demonization of cannabis was complete with its categorization as a Schedule 1 drug via the Controlled Substances Act.

Thankfully, there were researchers in other, more forward-thinking and less restrictive countries who remained curious about the potential therapeutic uses of cannabis. One of them, an Israeli chemist (and likely future Nobel laureate) named Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, led an Israeli-based research group which discovered the molecular structure of THC in 1964, and then, in 1988, identified the endocannabinoid system, a complex system of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) located throughout the nervous system and on various organs and which control a variety of physical and cognitive processes and is now considered to be a master regulator of homeostatisis. Watch this documentary to learn more about the fascinating life of Dr. Mechoulam and his cannabis research.

What we need now, given both the overwhelming anecdotal evidence and the compelling lab results, is more, not less research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis and how it might be used clinically. In what dosage, how often, and administered by which delivery format (oil, tincture, topical, smoke or vapor) is required to treat epilepsy or cancer or Alzheimer’s? While the anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly supports the case for cannabis as medicine only hard science will convince the naysayers. There are over 400 compounds and 59 additional cannabinoids (besides the best-known ones, THC and CBD), and we are only now beginning to understand what they do and how they interact together and with the other terpenes and phytochemicals in the plant (in what’s known as the entourage effect) in the mammalian body.

I admit to initially being dubious as to the medicinal value of cannabis in the mid 90s when California passed its medical cannabis law. I was an occasional pot smoker through my mid-20s but I was very skeptical that the brown shake I smoked when I was a kid could cure anything. When my California-based friends and family told me how easy it was to get a medical marijuana card I grinned and shook my head knowingly. I admit that at first it smelled like a scam to me.

Then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and one of my dearest friends turned me on to the story of Dennis Hill, a biochemist who used RSO (Rick Simpson Oil, a highly concentrated extract made from whole-plant cannabis) to chase his Stage IV prostate cancer into remission. I was desperate for a non-medical intervention, and Dr. Hill’s story got my attention.

That’s when I first learned that scientists all over the world were conducting research to see if cannabis could be used to cure such diverse illnesses as cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, asthma, insomnia, autism, PTSD, inflammatory bowel disease and Parkinson’s. I am by nature skeptical of anything being touted as a “wonder drug” (especially when it’s being promoted as such by pharmaceutical companies and other monied interests) but this seemed to be the right time to suspend my cynicism and take a leap of faith.

After devouring much of the available research I added the RSO cannabis oil protocol to my anti-cancer regimen. I concluded that after decades of fighting the chronic inflammation caused by an unhealthy diet and high levels of stress my immune system was compromised, and I believed (hoped!) that the cannabis oil could help reset my immune system, freeing it up to fight the cancer growing inside me.

This might have been wishful thinking but it wasn’t a fantasy. There are now over one hundred lab studies demonstrating that cannabinoids can, via multiple mechanisms, provide innate protection against tumor growth and prevent metastases. I wasn’t going to rely only on pot to cure my cancer but if there was a chance that it could help I was going to take it.

And although the use of pot has become more and more accepted as states line up to enact medicinal cannabis legislation there are still hurdles (and not only for people that are unfortunate enough to live in one of those states in which cannabis is still illegal for all uses). There’s the social stigma that pot still carries with it, a stubborn holdover from the days of prohibition and the failed drug wars. And it’s still not considered part of the medical mainstream: you have to see a special doctor to get your medical marijuana card; you get your pot at a dispensary, not the pharmacy, and it’s not covered by insurance, like the rest of your meds; and technically you can’t take your pot medicine with you on vacation (if your vacation crosses into a state where it’s still considered illegal).

But change is here and there’s no turning back. People are demanding access to natural, safe, non-toxic, plant-based medicines that aren’t controlled by huge, profit-centered pharmaceutical companies. People are now eager to learn how to hack into their own bodies to heal, to strengthen their immune systems, to become more resilient to illness and age-related diseases, to live their best lives possible.

I'm asked all the time to ascribe a value to the role that medicinal cannabis oil might have played in my remission from prostate cancer and the recovery of my health and well-being. Was it the leading factor, or was it merely complementary to the other lifestyle interventions -- the eight lifestyle practices of the Health Warrior Way -- that I adopted after I decided to forego surgery?

If I'm being honest, it's hard to say. All I know is that when I followed the research -- when I let my Curiosity roam free, without prejudice -- all the available evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, led me to conclude that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by flooding my immune system with a super-concentrated dose of cannabinoids.

I'm glad I did.

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