By Marcella McClure
Dr. Marcella McClure here. No, I am not an MD, but my Ph.D in molecular biology gives me the right to the “doctor” title. I am a retired scientist and professor who has used cannabis for chronic pain and for maintaining eye pressure for more than 25 years.
The good folks at Voices of Monterey Bay asked me to start a column, and I’m happy to oblige. I‘ll use this space to provide information on the medicinal use of cannabis in a safe and responsible manner. There is a lot to the story of the cannabis plant. The more you know, the better your decisions will be regarding the use of medicinal cannabis.
I’ll start by providing basic information on the medicinal ingredients of the cannabis plant and some history of how we got to where we are today in terms of cannabis use. Then we can focus on the use and dosage of these ingredients.
For instance, is cannabidiol (CBD) a miracle drug as claimed? I will also talk about safety issues of CBD-rich products and caveats in the use of CBD. Another important question: Does CBD affect other prescriptions you may be taking?
Do you know what terpenes are? How about the different methods for cannabis ingestion? Can cannabis improve sex? What are the best dispensaries here in the Central Coast? What dosage is safe? What’s the difference between a tincture and a vapor concentrate?
Let’s start with the most basic question. What is cannabis?
You’ll probably laugh and say, well, of course I know what cannabis is, right? But do you really? Do you know, for instance, if there’s a difference between cannabis and hemp?
Yeah. I thought so.
According to the 2017 The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids, a 400-page review of the status of cannabis research commissioned by the National Academy of Science, cannabis is a plant with hundreds of organic compounds, some with medicinal attributes. In contrast, the hemp plant, a descendent of one type of cannabis, has barely any medicinal ingredients. Each cannabis plant has hundreds of medicinal ingredients like phytocannabinoids and terpenes excreted by the same gland. The most studied of the phytocannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the most psychoactive and abundant of the phytocannabinoids. CBD is next most abundant. Different terpenes provide cannabis strains with various aromas and tastes. Scientific data support the role of terpenes as modifiers of the actions of THC and CBD under various conditions.
So in the cannabis plant there are numerous types of chemicals, the phytocannabinoids, in particular THC and CBD, and a variety of terpenes, which work together medicinally. The cannabis plant can be viewed as a multi-compound drug with a variety of medicinal benefits.
History provides irony.
Let’s thank the hippies for what we know of cannabis now, shall we? Although cannabis has been used persistently throughout human history — and stereotypically, it’s been widely believed its only use was to get high — hippies traveled to India to learn about the genetics and ancient uses of cannabis as a medicine. They faithfully collected anecdotal data on the plant’s medicinal uses over many years and tracked the genetics of strains that appeared to help various ailments. These efforts ultimately lead to the recognition of the plant as a medicinal source by scientists, and these data sources served as research guidelines in Holland. Until the last decade, most of the legal research on the medicinal properties of cannabis was conducted in Holland, where it was decriminalized in the 1960s.
Due to the long-term efforts of the hippies, and funding from the Food and Drug Administration, an important scientific discovery was made. In 2007 the British Journal of Pharmacology published a history, “Cannabinoid Pharmacology: the First 66 Years,”of studies which led to what is now called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Ironic, isn’t it? The FDA-funded studies were intended to support cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, and the designation means the cannabis plant has the potential to be abused by humans and isn’t of medical value.
But what the FDA-funded studies discovered is just the opposite. While many studies were inconclusive, the use of cannabis to relieve pain and stop seizures was confirmed. The federal government, which outlawed cannabis in the 1930s, disproved the validity of its own law using our tax dollars to do it. Money well spent.
In my next column, I’ll discuss about the important discovery of the endocannabinoid system and what the research about it reveals about how cannabis works in the human body.
Please feel free to ask me questions and make suggestions for future Cannabis Corner topics. What would you like to know? What I don’t know, I can learn and share. And as an old hippie, before I sign off, I want to leave you with my mantra, save the holy weed from the damn greed.
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