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Day 17

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Pot Shots

Continuing Medical (Marijuana) Education

by FRED GARDNER

Given the cannabis-free curriculum provided by U.S. medical and nursing schools, "continuing education" is not the apt term, but more than 100 healthcare providers -including 40 MDs- will receive credit for attending a conference on cannabis therapeutics at Santa Barbara Community College April 7-8.

The event was organized by Al Byrne and Mary Lynn Mathre of Patients Out of Time, a Virginia-based advocacy group, with help from David Bearman, MD, and students from Santa Barbara’s NORML chapter led by Loren Vazquez. Donald Abrams, MD, was instrumental in arranging CME credits through UC San Francisco. Continuing education units were arranged by the California Nurses Association for RNs and LVNs; the National Pharmacists Association for pharmacists; and Santa Barbara City College for family therapists and licensed clinical social workers.

George McMahon, Elvy Musikka, and Irv Rosenfeld, who get their cannabis through the federal government’s "compassionate use" program, were videotaped opening their sealed cans to refute a claim made by Mahmoud ElSohly -the only grower licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration- that the cannabis he supplies to patients and researchers is free of sticks and seeds.

ElSohly recently testified in opposition to the granting of a DEA license to Lyle Craker, a botanist at UMass Amherst (and would-be competitor). Rick Doblin, PhD, orchestrated Craker’s application in hopes of breaking the government’s monopoly and making cannabis available to more researchers. Doblin told the Santa Barbara audience that he thought the administrative law judge who heard the arguments is inclined to recommend that Craker be licensed. If the judge’s recommendation is positive, Doblin foresees a public campaign to pressure the DEA Administrator to grant the license.

Three speakers, including Al Byrne, discussed their use of cannabis to cope with post-traumatic stress. "That’s what it is," said Byrne, "-not a disorder but a perfectly logical response to terrifying events." Byrne experienced unforgettable trauma when he was in the Navy -first a training accident in which he was seriously injured and seven men died, then combat in Vietnam.

Christopher Largen and Erin Hildebrandt were sexually molested in childhood. Largen, a writer from Denton, Texas, contrasted the punitive treatment of marijuana users in our society with the leniency shown sexual predators. Hildebrandt, who had been abused by a teacher in elementary school, runs a group called Parents Ending Prohibition based in Lafayette, Oregon. She pointed out the inherent creepiness of making schoolchildren pee in a cup, "even with the door closed or half closed." It breaks down the child’s sense of personal sanctity and provides easy access for the potential predator.

Your correspondent, who usually has an explanation for everything, has no answer to Largen’s question. Why does U.S. law enforcement -so fiercely punitive, in general, with 2.1 million citizens behind bars- release sexual predators so readily? Male supremacy at its most perverse…

In addition to the 100+ healthcare providers who signed up for continuing education credits, more than 150 patients and caregivers attended the conference, which was sponsored by SBCC’s Center for Philosophical Education. "Doctors have at least as much to learn from patients," Bearman observed, "as patients have to learn from doctors."

 

It’s Happening All Over

The Rhode Island Department of Health has begun taking applications from residents who have been approved by doctors to use cannabis. Patients and caregivers can possess up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces under a law recently passed by the state legislature over the governor’s veto.

In Colorado, Shawn Glazer, MD, had authorized cannabis use by more than 300 patients before Parkinson’s disease caused her to stop practicing last year. A surgically implanted nerve stimulator has enabled her to work again, and as of April 7 she resumed seeing patients under the auspices of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THCF). By issuing 45 approvals, Glazer increased the number of legal medical cannabis users in Colorado by five per cent! The medical board of Colorado is making Glazer prove that she hasn’t had any cognitive decline! Glazer, who is sharp as a tack, according to THCF’s Paul Stanford, will be examined by a neurologist and a psychologist who will report to a subcommittee of the medical board. Is this standard operating procedure or a message to other doctors that if you approve cannabis use by your patients, you might get scrutinized?

Colorado law allows physician-approved patients to possess six plants and two ounces of cannabis. The state issues a license for $110. The fee may come down as more patients sign up. State-by-state totals of card-carrying patients as of January, courtesy of the Marijuana Policy Project:

Alaska 137 California 755 (includes caregivers)* Colorado 713 Hawaii 3,042 Maine doesn’t have a registry Montana 169 Nevada 900 Oregon 11,853 Vermont 24 Washington doesn’t have a registry Total: 17,593

In California, doctors associated with the Society of Cannabis Clinicians have written some 90,000 approval letters. The total of authorized users is probably twice that.

Doctors from THCF’s Seattle office have issued 3,000 approvals, according to Stanford, and the University of Washington Medical Center may have issued as many. Stanford estimates the total number of legal cannabis users in the state at around 10,000. As Phil Denney, MD, has observed, a slow but steady and irreversible process is underway -patients telling friends and family members that cannabis really is a safe and effective medicine.

The pro-cannabis doctors’ ranks are growing, too. To date, in California, some 20-25 doctors have specialized in monitoring patients’ cannabis use. By signing up for CME credits in Santa Barbara, another 20-25 evinced a special interest in the field. Perhaps none of them will change the nature of their practice, but all came away with enhanced understanding of the science and better able to discuss the subject with their patients; it’s likely that they’ll issue approvals more confidently in the days ahead.

There was one dramatic intellectual conversion. Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, a pharmacist, had voted against the licensing of dispensaries last summer because he doubted that cannabis had valid medical applications. What he heard at the conference changed his outlook. "There is medical value to cannabis," he declared to a Desert Sun reporter. As a politician he promised to "come up with plan that ensures we have legitimate purveyors of medical marijuana."

Stone’s turnaround, the Desert Sun’s K. Kaufmann projects, "could help expedite a county ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, which could in turn serve as a model for Coachella Valley cities also wrestling with the issue." Stone visited two dispensaries while in Santa Barbara.

Medical-instrument designer Markus Storz, who was displaying his Volcano vaporizer at the conference in Santa Barbara, says some 28,000 have been sold to date. The U.S. leads in consumption -we’re #1 in something!- followed by Spain, Great Britain, Germany, and Canada. Storz has quelched one knock-off attempt with a letter reminding the would-be imitator that he intends to enforce his patent… Santa Barbara City College is on a hill sloping down to the Pacific -is there a better-situated campus in the state? Too bad about those "temporary" buildings plunked down on the lawn.

The Santa Barbara News-Press ran a front-page story April 8 focusing entirely on a brief, "profanity-laced" talk by Montel Williams, who urged his audience to expose politicians who smoke marijuana. Williams said he was "tired of being out here all alone" -as if the room wasn’t full of people who have taken risks to oppose prohibition. The TV host’s talk was a sidebar to the conference and should have been a sidebar in the paper. The managing editor of the News-Press, Harvard man Jerry Roberts, is undoubtedly dismayed by the dumbing down of the American people; and yet when he had a chance to run a serious, informative piece about the field of cannabis therapeutics, he settled for the celebrity shot.

 

* * *

"The Territory Ahead" is a glossy catalogue that Rosie peruses. The latest issue depicts a $69 "High-Altitude Tunic" described thus: "First time in Cuzco? Welcome! At 11,000 feet you’ll find the city both picturesque and breathtaking… literally. Once your altitude sickness sets in, your head will feel the vice-like pinch of your new oxygen-starved existence. Not to worry! Just grab yourself as many cups of cocoa-leaf (sic) tea as possible, and soon you’ll be breathing easy. And that’s how you’ll feel in our breezy High-Altitude Tunic, too. Made of lightweight cotton poplin, it’s soft and cool against sun-kissed skin. Playful embroidery at the notch neck lends a blithely bohemian look. Flattering easy shape with side slits at the low-hip hem. Machine washable. Imported in Wave; White; Coral. Sizes XS-XL."

Rosie analyzes the subtext: "The rich can do as much coke as they want."

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com