Medical Cannabis As Complementary Healthcare

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Raphael Mechoulam, the chemist recognized worldwide as the grandfather of medical cannabis research, has some valuable advice to the Philippines, whose lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize the use of medicinal marijuana for persons diagnosed with illnesses or conditions that can be alleviated, if not cured, by the controversial plant.

Mechoulam, currently a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, recently met with Socorro L. Reyes to discuss research-based evidence of medical cannabis’ efficacy in specific diseases, and how it is administered in Israel.

‘Fruitful’ meeting

Reyes, Ph.D., is senior policy advisor to Isabela First District Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, the main proponent of the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, or House Bill No. 6157.

Reyes described her meeting with Mechoulam at the Hebrew University as “fruitful,” and presented the  information and insights she gained in a forum on Thursday at Batasang Pambansa, with the Inquirer in attendance.

Mechoulam — best known for his work in isolating and identifying tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in cannabis, as well as cannabidiol (CBD), one of hundreds of cannabinoids or chemical compounds that the human brain also contains — dispensed the following advice, which were culled from his own studies on marijuana since 1960:

Know the constituent elements of cannabis and what they are for: THC is to help stop vomiting due to chemotherapy, post trauma, and also to induce appetite; CBD is meant to relieve depression and anxiety, and so on.

Determine the correct ratio and well-established levels of THC and CBD for specific illnesses.

Conduct clinical trials with human beings for specific cases, such as autoimmune diseases and bone marrow transplants.

The trials must be regulated by the Department of Health, which should also offer training courses on medical cannabis for doctors.

Growing cannabis must be without insecticides, pesticides and other toxic substances.

Mechoulam said that in Israel, medical cannabis is used by some 30,000 patients for pain management in cancer cases, as well as for gastro-intestinal diseases, epilepsy and asthma, among other illnesses.

Reyes quoted Mechoulam as saying that medical cannabis has also been found to be useful in bone marrow transplants and that its use may be expanded to other kinds of transplants.

But the chemist stressed that there should be a clear distinction between medical and recreational marijuana, although it is interesting to note that even as the use of cannabis has been decriminalized in Israel, with low penalties for offenders, there has reportedly been no rise in the use of recreational marijuana.

She also visited two medical cannabis shops, NiaMedic and Tikun Olam, Reyes said in the forum.

NiaMedic, she explained, is a multidisciplinary geriatric health-care clinic which combines medical cannabis treatment with a patient’s conventional care and a unique research platform.

Rigorous research

The clinic — which has attended to 12,000 patients in the past 10 years — focuses on the senior population (65 and above), and specializes in pain management, neurology, psychiatry, orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation.

It conducts rigorous research on each patient’s medical data before referring the patient to the appropriate medical doctor for further examination and prescription of medical cannabis.

Tikun Olam is said to be the first and leading supplier of medical cannabis in Israel, and one of the leading medical cannabis companies worldwide.

Its services include research and development, breeding and cultivation, treatment for special populations, and training and treatment adjustments.

The clinic has conducted research on administering medical cannabis to patients with Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome and colitis.

In summary, Reyes said that medical cannabis in Israel complements alternative healthcare, especially among its aging population.

One of the guests at the forum, Dr. Jacqueline Dominguez, said  she was impressed with the presentation and that the Israel model was worth looking into. She added that her colleagues in Israel work as a team in the accurate assessment of a patient before medical cannabis was prescribed.

Another guest, Chuck Manansala, announced that a group composed of professionals from various fields, including doctors and government consultants, was in the process of opening a medical cannabis research center to help government deal with a comprehensive and holistic approach to the growing acceptance of medical cannabis as a natural substance with numerous health benefits.