Cannabis has enormous potential to help treat a variety of conditions which currently have no cure, according to two experts in the field who gave an educational seminar to around 200 people at the Lions Centre on Wednesday night.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a U.S. neurologist and cannabis researcher, and Dr. Dustin Sulak, who runs a medical marijuana practice in Maine, discussed the history of the herb as a treatment for various ailments and suggested politics, not science, has prevented it from being more widely used.
Dennie Warren, who successfully campaigned for the legalization of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes in Cayman, also spoke at the event and called for further changes to the law to allow the plant to be grown here.
He said Cayman could better manage the quality and availability of cannabis if it grew it on island rather than being restricted by the laws of exporter countries.
Though the law in Cayman was changed in November last year and an import certificate for cannabis oil has been approved locally, issues remain around the legality of exporting it from the countries that grow the product.
Dr. Russo told the Cayman Compass in an interview that the restriction on exporting cannabis from the U.S. is unfortunate.
“The export ban is a huge problem. We have certain types of cannabis that would be extremely medically useful and that I would love for you to have here, but we have no method by which to export them.
“Additionally, from a business stance in the States, it makes no sense at all because we are basically ceding this aspect of business to other nations.”
Even within the U.S., he said, there are a number of “well intentioned” regulations that restrict the ability of healthcare professionals to use cannabis to its full extent.
Despite those concerns, he said, the health benefits of cannabis are becoming more broadly accepted by the medical community.
He said there is a cannabis-based medicine that is an approved pharmaceutical in 29 countries, while other applications of the plant, including as a potential treatment for certain types of cancer, are going through clinical trials.
The categorization of cannabis as an illegal drug in most countries has prevented more widespread research to date.
He added, “There is a tremendous amount of theoretical knowledge about cannabis and a tremendous amount of animal work that supports that, [and] there have been clinical trials in certain conditions, and there is a great body of anecdotal knowledge about efficacy for a variety of conditions.”
He said the experience in the U.S. has shown that liberalization of cannabis laws has not led to greater abuse.
“It has lost some of its cachet – when something is medicine, it is not as attractive as a recreational drug,” he added.
He said legalizing cannabis oil, rather than legalizing the smoking of the herb, as Cayman has done, is more effective medically and easier to control from a regulatory standpoint.
“People understand this isn’t as severe a problem as they expected.
“Particularly in a regulated market, the chances for abuse are much lower – as people understand this, I think attitudes will change and it will be better for everyone.”