Three Indiana Women Want To Teach Doctors About Medical Cannabis

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Co-founders of CannaMedU, Pamela Trapp, left, Heather Beuke Diers, center, and Amy Nichols, right Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar

Three Central Indiana women have launched a business to educate doctors and other health care providers on a topic about which many in the medical field know very little: cannabis.

The interest behind CannaMedU began after personal experiences led the trio to try CBD oil for themselves or family members. They all sold the same brand and recommended it.

Over time they developed expertise in its use and a desire to learn more about cannabis. Next came hosting gatherings for others interested in the topic.

From their own experiences and comments from people who attended their meetups, they knew that many doctors did not recommend CBD oil or cannabis in general to patients. Those who did could offer little guidance on how to take it.

“We know more about cannabis medicine than many doctors do,” said Heather Diers, one of the three founders of CannaMedU.

Diers, who helps run family business Pro Art Gallery in Greenwood, first started using CBD oil on her dog who had cancer and next recommended it to soothe her elderly mother’s aches and pains. Pam Trapp of Fishers grew interested in holistic health in part to help her autistic son. Amy Nichols, who has had autoimmune issues, had tutored Trapp’s son. She had professional experience in food science that proved helpful as she started to research the science behind cannabis.

Originally the group had planned to offer daylong continuing medical education courses for health care providers in Indiana and the neighboring states. Medical marijuana is legal in Ohio, and Illinois next year plans to join Michigan in legalizing it altogether.

For now, though, they will focus on providing in-house teaching for health care providers in their offices.

The Indiana Health Group, which has more than 40 providers who offer behavioral health care, already has invited CannaMedU to speak with its staff.

A few years ago the group’s president, Dr. Chris Bojrab, started fielding more questions as well as personal testimonies about CBD oil from patients. He dove into the literature himself and last July began offering a CBD product for patients.

He also invited the women of CannaMedU to make a presentation for his staff, impressed by how invested they seemed in the science behind cannabis. The women have taken online education in medical cannabis from outlets such as Green Flower Academy and Healer.com.

“I don’t have a problem with them coming from outside mainstream medicine as long as everybody is playing by the same rules,” Bojrab said. “I really bristle when I hear people saying you can’t apply the rules of regular medicine to these kinds of products; you have to go with your gut. That’s not how we science.”

Like many other doctors, Bojrab said, there was no discussion of cannabis as medicine when he attended medical school. Most medical schools today are just starting to consider whether and how to weave the topic into the curriculum.

After all, until very recently, marijuana was illegal and viewed primarily as a recreational drug, not falling under the purview of the medical profession.

Even as more states move to legalize cannabis, mainstream medicine has not reached a consensus on where, if at all, the plant and its derivatives fit in the pharmaceutical pantheon.

But Diers and her colleagues believe that cannabis has a key role to play in a range of conditions.

Diers — who with Trapp hosts a monthly podcast, Freshemp — points to a complicated and little-understood part of the human body known as the endocannabinoid system to explain how cannabis can help treat so many ills.

This network of receptors, enzymes and other molecules is thought by some to help regulate just about every physiological system in the body. From CBD oil to medical marijuana, ingesting cannabis can, therefore, improve our bodies own ability to regulate itself, Diers said.

“Once you learn that, you have a big aha moment,” she said.

That also can help explain why different strains or parts of cannabis may have lesser or greater effects for many conditions, from anxiety to depression to insomnia.

In his practice, Bojrab has mostly recommended CBD oil for pain, anxiety, and sleep. His patients who have tried it for depression have not found it as useful.

Overall, he said, he has found that just like other medicines, CBD oil works well for some patients and not as well for others.

“We ought to look at it through the same lens that we have looked at our prescription medicine,” he said. “I think these things have real potential, but it is still relatively early.”

While CannaMedU is filling a niche by offering to educate doctors in person about cannabis, it’s not the only source of such information.

Green Flower offers online classes on cannabis, its medical benefits and even how to cook with cannabis. In the five years since the California company began, more than 200,000 people from 65 countries have undergone training, said Max Simon, chief executive officer and co-founder.

Many of those have come from the health care industry because so many of their patients have been asking about cannabis, he said.

“There’s an intense desire to understand what’s happening in cannabis,” he said.