Medical Marijuana Meeting

Ann's NOTE: Due to financial considerations, we were unable to send a representative to this year's meeting. We hope to have more funds by next year.

Medical Marijuana Minds Gather in Charlottesville 5/28/04

Charlottesville, Virginia, was home to a gathering of some of the best and the brightest doctors, nurses, and researchers studying medical applications of marijuana for three days last weekend.

Beginning May 20, more than 120 people from across the country, as well as Canada, the Netherlands, Israel and the United Kingdom, met for the Third National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, an event cosponsored by the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Patients Out of Time, the Virginia-based medical marijuana research and advocacy group.

The conference theme was "Cannabis Use Across the Life Span," and it certainly lived up to that billing. Presentations ranged from University of Iowa School of Nursing Dean Mary Dreher discussing marijuana use during pregnancy to researcher

Dr. Ethan Russo elaborating on the uses of cannabis in pediatric medicine to Juan Sanchez-Ramos, director of Movement Disorders at the University of South Florida explicating the neuroprotective effects of cannabis on neurodegenerative disorders, related to aging, such as Parkinsons disease and Alzheimers disease.

"I thought it went very well," said Mary Lynn Mathre, RN, president of Patients Out of Time. "We had more than 120 people, and we had physicians and nurses representing at least 10 different state nursing associations, with plans for them to go back and do something in their respective states," she told DRCNet.

"As usual, the information presented was well-grounded -- we bring the science, but we also bring the patients and family members to put a human face on it," she said.

Indeed, it was by no means all men in white lab coats. Prominent patient advocates present included Valerie Corral, founder of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Santa Cruz, California, federal marijuana patients George McMahon and Irving Rosenfeld, and Jim Miller, husband of now deceased Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and medical marijuana patient Cheryl Miller.

The conference also managed to draw an elected political figure or two. Wisconsin state Rep. Greg Underheim (R) showed, as did Jake Kurtzer, an aide to Florida state Rep. Roger Wishner (D), said Mathre.

"And there were two very, very disappointed people who couldn't get here in time because their legislative sessions ran long, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) and Mississippi state Rep. Eric Fleming," she said.

"In both cases, they were set to come, but the session wouldn't end."

But it was the cutting edge science that drew the rave reviews. Arnold Trebach, 76, is one of the founding fathers of drug reform in the United States.

"I went down there because I thought it would be nice to see old friends," he told DRCNet, "but I learned something from every encounter. I've been at this for 30 years, and I was stunned to see how much I didn't know."

This year was different, said Patients Out of Time volunteer and long-time international cannabis activist Michael Krawitz. "The first two conferences were getting people caught up on the history, and there was a lot of catching up to be done," he told DRCNet.

"This is the first one that puts us on the cutting edge. No matter how much you paid attention in the past, you were learning new things this time," he said.

"This is the future: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam coming from Israel to talk about Dexabinol with its neuroprotective effects, GW Pharmaceutical's Sativex, the Dutch medical cannabis pharmacy sales program a year old and no controversy."

In fact, complained Mathre, the new science was so compelling it cut into the typical schmoozing in the corridors. "Usually we have people meeting and chatting out in the hallways," she said, "but there was so much new going on that people stayed inside, and this time they were very attentive."

And the new science raised hopes of advances in treating a number of chronic illnesses, with presenter after presenter bringing news of exciting research findings.

"Cannabinoids are useful therapeutic agents for movement disorders and have potential as neuroprotective agents to slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases," such as Parkinson's disease and Tourette's syndrome, said Sanchez-Ramos, discussing clinical findings.

Both Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals and Denis Petro, chief of neurology at the Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, reported on findings suggesting that cannabis may not only ease the symptoms of MS but actually limit the progression of the disease.

Petro told the conference that other clinical trials found "evidence of inhibition of disease progression" in MS patients given oral THC, according to an account of the conference provided by Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

If the conference attendees were impressed by the presenters, the feeling was mutual. But presenters and organizers alike realize that they still have a ways to go in terms of public interest and acceptance.

"We are right in the backyard of the University of Virginia and its medical school, but hardly anyone came to the conference," Mathre said. "There is a lack of interest, but there is also still a certain fear or uneasiness about the whole subject."

"The audience was very savvy and accepting," said Dr. Russo. "The public-at-large and greater medical community are other matters. Clinical cannabis has a huge hurdle to surpass in the form of ignorance and prejudice against it.

This will require greater familiarity with positive results from clinical trials with cannabis based medicines, such as the extract Sativex and its demonstrated efficacy and safety."


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