Day One – Overview of Medical Cannabis

Ernesto Cortés, the Executive Director of the Costa Rican Association for Drug Study and Intervention, discussed the human rights of those who use drugs. Do not deserve to be arrested and have their lives destroyed. It is better for both individuals and society as a whole to treat drug abuse as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem.

Hundreds of people arrived on the first day and heard how cannabis is being used abroad. Charlie Brown, member of the Denver City Council in Colorado, talked about the ramifications of medical and recreational legalization in his city and the state as a whole. While there were challenges in setting up regulations for cannabis, the laws have worked out very well. The state has made millions of dollars in taxes, and they are not suffering from legalization-related fears, such as a rise in accidents, teenage use, or crime.

The next speaker, a lawyer named Robert Hoban, discussed how legalization can take away profits from drug cartels and generate tax money for the Costa Rican government. Hoban, Cortes, and Brown then convened for a panel discussion on cannabis regulation. The takeaway was that regulation works to control access and consumption; it ensures patients have medicine while limiting availability to minors.

Dr. Denis Petro, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Review Officer and neurologist from the United States with over 40 years of medical experience provided a remarkably detailed overview of the evidence proving the efficacy of medical cannabis for numerous conditions. First, he pointed out that the highest level of scientific evidence, systemic reviews, has been achieved to justify the use of cannabis for the treatment of nausea associated with chemotherapy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis. He showed a chart from an article in the journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences indicating the surprisingly varied uses of specific cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabichromene (CBC). He also mentioned the United States patent on using CBD as a neuroprotectant and antioxidant, and its value in treating Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, HIV dementia, and brain injuries. Furthermore, he quoted Francis J. Young, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) judge who is famous for stating, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

Zach Klein, a filmmaker from Israel and personal documentarian of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the father of cannabis research and the discoverer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), talked about how cannabis is being used in Israel. The country is a leading example of the successful regulation of medical cannabis, and thousands of patients are using the medicine to treat a wide variety of pharmaceutical-resistant conditions. He showed footage of a Parkinson’s patient completely controlling his tremors with just a couple inhalations of cannabis, and noted amazing success in controlling symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and autism. Furthermore, he showed data on how patients were able to dramatically reduce traditional pharmaceutical pills which were not working well and causing devastating side effects. Overall, Israeli citizens have benefited tremendously from Israel’s medical program.

The next several speakers discussed the use of cannabis extracts to directly treat cancer. While most people are familiar with the benefits of using cannabis to alleviate the pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy, not as many know about the anticancer effects of cannabinoids.

Dr. Cristina Sánchez, a researcher in Spain, discussed her work showing how cannabinoids kill cancer cells in preclinical models. Dr. Sánchez works with Dr. Manuel Guzmán at Complutense University, where their team was among the first to identify the anticancer effects of cannabinoids. For example, they proved that THC can induce apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in brain and breast cancer cells, as well as reduce tumors in animals. Her team has also found the anticancer effects of cannabinoids extend to humans – one study found that THC lowered vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) levels in two patients with glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most aggressive brain tumors. VEGF causes the formation of blood vessels to tumors, a critical step in their development. In a recent National Geographic article, Dr. Guzmán revealed his personal thoughts on whether cannabis would actually fight cancer in humans. “I have a gut feeling that this is real,” he said. There is no doubt that Dr. Sánchez shares his thoughts.

To provide more evidence on the anticancer effectiveness of cannabis extracts in real people, Mara Gordon shared specific data from several brain and breast cancer patients she is working with. Gordon is the proprietor of Aunt Zelda’s, a California-based organization that specializes in high-quality cannabis extracts and very specific dosing protocols. Many of her patients have used cannabis extracts either alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to achieve dramatic success against their cancers. Gordon emphasized the importance of THC and terpenes, non-cannabinoid therapeutic molecules found in cannabis and thousands of other plants, in the treatment of cancers and other diseases. It is important to point out that smoking cannabis has virtually no anticancer effect – only by ingesting cannabis extracts, such as oils or tinctures with higher concentrations of cannabinoids, can direct anticancer effects be achieved.

A panel with Gordon, Sánchez, and two Costa Rican physicians, including Dr. Denis Landaverde (Head of the Medical Oncology Service at México Hospital, a public Costa Rican health facility) and [female oncologist], then convened to answer questions about the use of cannabis extracts for cancer. Overall, it was agreed that whole-plant cannabis extracts, rather than isolated cannabinoids, are needed to achieve success against cancer, and that customized dosing protocols for individual patients achieve the best results. Dr. Landaverde also mentioned a patient of his who was unable to control their cancer with conventional treatment, but achieved success by using cannabis. While more research is desperately needed in this field, it is clear that cannabis extracts are working for many people.

To close off the first day, Stefanie LaRue shared her emotionally powerful story of beating Stage IV metastatic breast cancer with cannabis oil. She had been diagnosed with the disease at age 30, and for eight and a half years managed it with conventional treatments, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle changes. However, when it returned for a third time, she decided that chemotherapy was no longer a viable option for her, and she decided to tackle the cancer solely with cannabis oil. Her dedication paid off, and she is now completely cancer free. Nutrition, supplements, and spiritual practices were also integral to her success.