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NEW YORK — The Science of Cannabis Symposium held its first annual meeting on November 15, 2019, at Columbia University in New York City. The conference welcomed both clinicians and legal experts and aimed to provide medical and legal education for healthcare providers who are considering the use of cannabis in their medical practice.

The symposium commenced with a discussion by Jahan Marcu, PhD, editor in chief of the newly established American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine, who highlighted the current state of medical cannabis in the United States.1 Subsequent presentations provided an overview of the endocannabinoid system, the development of cannabis-based treatment modalities, challenges facing cannabis researchers in the United States, and potential liabilities faced by clinicians.

According to a survey conducted at the conference, 59.3% of attendees were currently recommending cannabis or hemp-derived products to patients, while 40.7% of attendees were not. As part of the educational component of the symposium, the conference organizers queried audience members on endocannabinoid-related topics before and after the symposium. Coordinators found that the accuracy of their responses increased by 25% after the day’s sessions.

A cannabis leaf against an orange background.

One such session included a discussion of cannabis pharmacology led by Monica Taing, PharmD, who emphasized the need for public safety measures and promotion of harm reduction practices.2 She detailed the components of the endocannabinoid system and how it is modulated and attenuated by the use of cannabis. Dr Taing also discussed the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic considerations for various cannabinoids and their effect on homeostasis, chronic disease states, dosing, and formulation selection and potential drug-drug interactions.

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Another session included a discussion about how cannabis research and public policy intersect. Margaret Haney, PhD, a Professor of Neurobiology at the Columbia University Medical Center and Director of the Cannabis Research Laboratory, described the conditions for which cannabis has demonstrated clinical efficacy in placebo-controlled studies, as well as the potential risks of recommending cannabis to address these conditions.3 Dr Haney emphasized that rising societal acceptance of cannabis combined with a lack of research on its therapeutic effects may contribute to the spread of misinformation among patients, potentially leading to an expectancy bias.

Finally, Lauren Rudick, an attorney and cofounder of Hiller, PC’s Cannabis Law practice area, outlined the state of medical cannabis programs, concerns surrounding physician privacy, potential conflicts of interest, targeting by law enforcement, and considerations with banking and credit considerations.4

This symposium highlighted the current state of medical cannabis in the United States, including its potential use in clinical practice. Despite the optimism for medical cannabis held by both patients and clinicians, investigators like Dr Haney cautioned that there is a need for further research.

“We have to consider placebo effects because the majority of data in the field is observational…but those are terribly biased data,” Dr Haney said. She went on to add that it is in the best interest of patients to rely less on anecdotal evidence when considering medical cannabis use, and instead focus on studies by independent researchers.

References

1. Marcu J. The state of the nation: cannabis. Presented at The Science of Cannabis Symposium; November 15, 2019; New York, NY. www.medicalcannabis-science-research-risks.com

2. Taing M. The science of the endocannabinoid system. Presented at The Science of Cannabis Symposium; November 15, 2019; New York, NY. www.medicalcannabis-science-research-risks.com

3. Haney M. Published evidence, current research. Presented at The Science of Cannabis Symposium; November 15, 2019; New York, NY. www.medicalcannabis-science-research-risks.com

4. Rudick L. Potential prescriber liabilities. Presented at The Science of Cannabis Symposium; November 15, 2019; New York, NY. www.medicalcannabis-science-research-risks.com