A Very Conservative Campus Discusses Cannabis
With the majority of US states accepting marijuana in one form or another, others, like Arizona, are slow to embrace it. The Inaugural Interdisciplinary Cannabis Symposium at the University of Arizona was developed to educate students and citizens on the plant and bring its benefits to light in a place where not many are willing to talk about it.
No journey gets underway until the proverbial first step is taken and that happened recently at a first-of-its-kind-in-Arizona cannabis symposium on the University of Arizona campus — a full day of discussion on the world’s oldest pharmacopeia that dates back to 2,700 BC, but today is still classified as a Class I drug by the US federal government.
The Inaugural Interdisciplinary Cannabis Symposium (IICS) was an historic first in a very conservative red state that has never before allowed discussion on a university campus of recent evidence-based research on the value of the plant as medicine beginning with some of the building blocks — the endocannabinoid system itself and the promise of cannabinoids as medicine.
More than 300 attendees filled the university’s College of Medicine auditorium to hear seven speakers, including Todd Vanderah, pharmacology professor and department head, discussing the biological foundation of it all.
“A public forum like this is long overdue because the public obviously wants to know more and we haven’t done much in the way of outreach to say what the product really is, how it works, the science behind it… and it’s time to do so,” he said, adding that it is the medical field’s responsibility to provide education and options for those who suffer chronic pain that could be eased by cannabis products. “Understanding the endocannabinoid system (is needed) for understanding cannabinoids and how they would be helpful for things like chronic pain and inflammation. There are over 500 different constituents or chemical components within medical marijuana and we’re only beginning to understand these different types of unique chemicals. We still know little about exactly how CBD, whose structure is similar to THC, does different things, but we’re isolating these compounds and understanding more about their effectiveness. We’re making compounds that don’t cross the blood-brain barrier, but have an effect on the periphery without the psychoactive euphoria.”
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Noting that the human body’s cellular system makes its own endogenous cannabinoids that enzymes then go to work degrading, Vanderah adds, “If you block these enzyme inhibitors, you can actually increase your own cannabinoid levels. There are two types of receptors, CB1 and CB2, that receive and regulate cannabinoids, producing changes within synapses that can affect neuronal communication and aid in pain therapy, decreased inflammation, or reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea. Blocking enzymes will increase endogenous cannabinoids and decrease the production of prostaglandins.”
Cautioning that there is good and bad in every new discovery, further discussion is needed to understand that while many things produce medicinal therapies, they also produce unwanted side effects and we need to understand both the good and bad of cellular endocannabinoids made from the lipids of membranes.
“The greatest thing about all these types of studies is the suggestion that there needs to be a whole lot more work done in these areas,” says Vanderah.
Colleague Thomas Marcotte, a psychiatry professor from the University of California, San Diego Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, and co-author of more than 100 research findings, followed up with a discussion of the promise and challenges of cannabis and cannabinoids as medicine, adding, “Political attitudes are shifting and we’re very much seeing the greening of America in reference to the potential benefits of cannabinoids and human health. It doesn’t matter the sex, age, ethnicity, income level, or urban versus rural residence, pretty much across the entire spectrum, there’s an increase in cannabis use.”
Citing findings of substantial and conclusive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids were of benefit for chronic pain, anxiety disorders, sleep improvement, spasticity, and nausea control, he predicted a new area of research by the National Institute of Health with focus on terpenoids that provide the aroma of cannabis plants. “We’re looking into CBD as a treatment for severe autism and the FDA is looking at things like handheld vaporizers for acute migraines.”
Marcotte’s presentation was in line with that of his center’s director, Igor Grant, who notes that while epilepsy is the current research focus of beneficial CBD, other promising areas include reduction of anxiety, from public speaking to post-traumatic stress disorders. Quoted in cbdoileview.org, he says, “There is some preliminary evidence that CBD may be an antipsychotic agent, potentially useful to those who develop serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia.”
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In the non-psychiatric arena, CBD is being touted as beneficial because it lessens inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. “The truth is that the cannabinoids, not just CBD, but THC and some of the other cannabinoids, will have medical benefit.”
During one of the several question-and-answer sessions with a very involved audience, Iraq war veteran and military policeman Ricardo Pereyda said the public dialogue was a long time coming… too long. “Why are we treating this plant like it’s radioactive?” he asked. “We treat it as though it’s going to jump off the table and kill everybody and that’s not the case. We need to look at this in a rational manner as adults and have a debate based on scientific facts and data, not just ignorant propaganda and rhetoric that’s been spewed for decades.”
Pereyda says the federal government’s scheduling position of marijuana is becoming more and more indefensible as the years go by as more states enact their own medical programs. “The government’s message is not conducive to the reality on the ground. It doesn’t match up with what’s really happening,” he says.
Event coordinator, Dr. Rafael Gruener, says those who attended were thirsty for evidence-based scientific information about what cannabis, in all its forms, can and cannot do.
“The discussions opened up all aspects of cannabis including exposing some unknowns, featuring some critical comments, while sticking to science,” says Gruener. “We know some things, not a lot, but the hidden promise of cannabis as a medicinal in multiple areas of the human condition warrants a concerted effort to push for legislative reform so that these scientists will be able to do their work in the open like research on other drugs being developed, tested, and scientifically evaluated.”
A recording of the daylong event is available via a link at be.arizona…edu/iics.