Cannabis In Medicine: Patient Empowerment



By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
I had the privilege and honor of attending a conference this past week in San Francisco titled, “Cannabis In Medicine.” The symposium brought together all levels of health care workers: Doctors, nurses, researchers and other medical professionals, mostly unfamiliar with marijuana as a medical treatment, gathered in one room to receive straight, sober information. We were treated to the results of data, case studies and clinical trials conducted using cannabis therapy.

Global Ganja Report

This wasn’t for the layperson. Homer, if your idea of college was either barber or clown, subtitles could have helped. One of the goals was to present a summarization of the pharmacological strategies to harness the role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and review the latest developments. If you didn’t know your globus pallidus from your putamen, you might have got lost.
Luckily I have a medical background from the Nineties watching E.R. and St. Elsewhere, stoned on the couch, to draw upon. 
I would like to make it really clear that this conference wasn’t set up for my type; a writer with a floating agenda. This was about presenting the straight lab dope to other pony-tailed professionals who might be curious about the 30-odd years of research that these ganja docs been doing.
My take-away will be dramatically different that those professionals attending, I’m sure. My fellow attendees asked some heavy-duty questions concerning the Neuropathy Crossover and other inquires which was above my TV medical training.
It was really refreshing to hear conversations about cannabis free from politics, puritanical judgment and blatant misconceptions. The issue in the room wasn’t whether cannabis should be legal or not, but did it work? 


Of the 200 medical professionals in the room, it’s pretty safe to say my notes are going to be very different from the others in attendance. My apologies ahead of time for distorting any realities or information that was meant for the educated but that ended up in my smart-ass notebook.
The very first thing I noticed was that most of the talking heads that I’ve seen featured in documentaries, on Bill Maher’s show or on Frontline, are actually in front of me at a podium. Weirdly, it was like meeting celebrities you grew up with. And the same thing was true if you’ve ever met someone famous. They always look taller on TV.
Another cool deal… If you’ve ever attended a dry, boring conference where the speaker is spending 45 minutes going over the amount of rivets needed for quadruple span in a poly-migrated situation, this wasn’t that. Even when the information imparted became technically draining, there was still humor and little quips made throughout.
Not to take away from the message, but it seems when there is a therapy for a disease once believed untreatable, say like cancer, it brightens up a room. 

How Stuff Works

I learned how long in seconds your typical marijuana smoker holds their hit in for before exhaling. And that tobacco is far worse for you than marijuana. But it should be said, that if you are smoking any kind of substance, this is not good for your body.
Except… except, that with pot smoking, the data reports that the study groups that smoked only pot and had never had tobacco in their systems, displayed minor damage to their bodies. In some cases, there were actually signs of improving the subjects’ lung capacities.
What one of the speakers found interesting as a side note was that the continual smoking of tobacco creates constrictions or diminishes the capacity of the lungs overall. But when it comes to those who only used the wacky-tobacky, their lung capacity remained the same or even enlarged.
The noted doctor attributed this to the observation that tokers, unlike tobacco smokers, “for some reason” hold their hits in for an average span of 16 seconds. This ganja aerobics works their respiratory muscles causing the lungs to show growth or near stabilization instead of the shrinkage normally attributed to smoking. But the data’s still out on that to be totally conclusive. 

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Bad information is the enemy of science. A study of potheads was conducted overseas in 2008. The man in charge didn’t have that many controls in place. The more controls, the tighter the data. This guy had used four. That’s four controls as opposed to 600 or so used by the U.S. trials. 
It’s important to question the findings of some studies. What methodology was used? In my opinion, this is especially important if the government was going to base their policies on that data or those findings.
Most of the studies that have taken place had the case subjects smoke marijuana via joints and pipes. Very little research has been done on the effects by vaporizing or edibles.
One of the surprising challenges of collecting data for the lab geeks is dealing with the ol’ placebo. We all know that when testing subjects, a placebo or bogus sample is given alongside with the real thang to ensure it’s just not in their heads. Apparently there are those test subjects who can distinguish the differences between the real thang
like some danky Green Crack and the fake-weed placebo that you get when you buy in the park. Imagine the pot head who thought he was getting weed free for a week and finds out he’s on a swag tour. 
The future applications for cannabis are crazy. It almost defies stoner logic.

Studies have shown that when cannabis is used in treating certain illnesses, activity goes up. That’s right; pot gets you off the couch. Cannabis enables an MS patient who was permanently house-bound to go to her kid’s soccer games. A youngster who suffers from Grand Mal Seizures is partially controlling them with CBD pot and now is able to go to school outside the home. Cannabis can be used for weight control and to stimulate the appetite. 
Because the CBDs in pot and their buddies communicate with the receptors in our bodies, we could have the potential to change the message that’s being sent. Tell your pain that I’m not going to feel you as much. You can choose between I’m not that hungry or I need to eat even if I don’t feel like it.  Don’t get me started on relief from vomiting and nausea.
And a cannabis band-aid worn for 30 days removes skin lesions, some melanoma and other dermatologic ickies.   
It just goes on… Because opiates and cannabis have different receptors; so to speak, they can work together and not step on each other’s toes. That means you can lessen the amount of the heavy shit you have to take and compensate the balance with cannabis. You’re down but not out.
Cannabis is less impacting than the drugs that the pharmacies sell. Cannabis works immediately. You don’t have to wait for the medicine to kick in. From chronic pain to epilepsy to depression to cancer, cannabis has been proven to be beneficial for the patient.


At least that’s what the most recent data is showing. From what I gather, as a layperson and a pothead, marijuana could possibly help almost any disease or ailment that we face. A bit grandiose but I’m making up for lost time. 
It was strange leaving the conference. For an afternoon I listened to some of the greatest minds in science speak at length on how cannabis is being shown to work in ways that were never predicted. I left feeling very positive but that only lasted until I hit the streets. 
What is it about cannabis that the world fears? If I know that cannabis can help millions who suffer from pain, depression, nausea, and other ailments, why doesn’t everyone else know?
Why weren’t there thousands of cameras and reporters covering this event? I mean, if we all could be saved by a plant that we could grow ourselves at a fraction of the cost of our normal health-care… I think I just defined empowerment.
One of the noted doctors ended his talk with this thought. 
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s just a plant. As doctors, this plant will get us back to the roots of medicine.”   
The War on Cannabis is America’s longest and most expensive conflict. Maybe 40 years ago this made sense to someone. We have the largest prison population in the world.
Most of the cancer we encounter is environmental as opposed to genetics. You can get sick from living. 
We could make people feel better and we don’t. 
Is there any greater sin?

Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.