Recognizing the need for science driven cannabis education
''At a time when there is more interest than Cannabis than ever, reliable Cannabis science education is critically needed.''
Many consumers want to ask their physicians about Cannabis – but this is not always as straightforward as it perhaps should be. Physicians too often report having very little actual experience or education about Cannabis. Among physicians and nurses that I have spoken too, all have reported that they received little to no education about the endocannabinoid system during medical or nursing school. Additionally, not all consumers or patients live in places where Cannabis is legal or decriminalized, making it potentially risky for someone to even ask about Cannabis for fear of legal repercussions. If someone happens to live where Cannabis is legal and the physician happens to be Cannabis competent, they may not wish to broach the topic for fear of getting fired, sued, or losing their license to practice medicine. If unable to get information from a physician, consumers typically next turn to Cannabis dispensary employees, however very few dispensary technicians have any background in pharmacology or health care.
The current Cannabis science education deficit can have serious consequences. A very common example involves the little recognized “grapefruit effect” of CBD. Cannabidiol, or CBD, can suppress the activity of the Cytochrome P450 group of enzymes in the liver responsible for metabolizing many compounds, including many common drugs. Suppressing these enzymes results in reduced metabolism of drugs, effectively increasing the concentrations of these drugs in the blood as they are recycled through the body. This effect can potentially mean trouble for individuals taking medications to treat things like blood pressure, cholesterol, organ transplant rejection, or anxiety. In addition, some cancer therapies may interact negatively with CBD. Unfortunately, after visiting most of the Cannabis dispensaries located where I live in Southern Oregon, I quickly discovered that none of the dispensary technicians (“budtenders”) knew about CBD’s potential negative interactions with other medications.
A disconcerting example of misleading Cannabis education that I see in nearly every Cannabis dispensary that I have visited is a poster listing many of the major cannabinoids matched with their supposed “effects”. The result of this gross over-simplification is a perception that someone can easily treat a medical condition if they simply find the right cannabinoid associated with the right effects. Of course, the chart fails to communicate several key points. First, Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds, many of which compete for access to the same chemical receptors in the body, making it difficult to predict what effects might take place, even if the chemical composition of the product is known. Many cannabinoids exhibit conflicting pharmacological behavior. In addition, these charts are typically demonstrating information derived from in vitro cell culture studies and in vivo rodent studies. It is very difficult to understand how the results from these kinds of studies scale up to the human body. That is not to say that the results from these studies cannot be useful – but our interpretations of this kind of information must be handled with skepticism.
These and similar experiences are what have motivated me to dedicate my energy to promote Cannabis education that is supported by science to help ensure that lawmakers, consumers, health care professionals, and producers can make the most informed decisions possible about Cannabis and minimize public health risk. It is my hope that other scientists and science educators will continue to join in this endeavor.
Over the past several years I have had the great opportunity to interface with other scientists and industry professionals to host public seminars and workshops in the United States engaging the public while exploring Cannabis science. In addition, I partnered with ICANNA to help promote Cannabis educational resources internationally. This Fall I joined the board of the recently formed non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Oregon Cannabis Education and Resource Center (OCERC), to help fulfill our mission providing reputable Cannabis science education resources to interested individuals and organizations, locally in Oregon, and beyond.
To learn more about the OCERC or offer support, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.