If you have done any research on cannabis science, then you likely have come across the name Dr. Ethan Russo. He is a board-certified neurologist who is dedicated to the research and development of plant medicines. He did not come from a family of herbalists. According to Dr. Russo, he had “no familial exposure. When I was a teenager I was interested in Euell Gibbons,1 a plant explorer and herbalist. I always considered herbalism to be a part of medicine. At that time, it was sort of considered old fashioned and folk belief, but it was of definite interest to me.”
Seven years into running his neurology practice, Dr. Russo felt he really had a grasp on the limitations of the medicines that were being used. “There are so many treatments that were unsuccessful or downright intolerable. My philosophy became: there needs to be a better way, and I need to think about broadening the field back into herbal treatments,” Dr. Russo explains. “I knew that I wanted plant medicines to be the focus of my work henceforth.”
Dr. Russo’s work with plants has been extensive over the years. In his neurology practice he worked with herbs such as St. John’s Wort, kava, ginkgo biloba, and ginger. Each of these plants were used extensively in combination with conventional medicines. “I didn’t start out with a concentration on cannabis, but that has now come to the forefront as the premier phytomedicinal. It is certainly the most versatile that we have,” says Dr. Russo.
According to Dr. Russo, deciding what to research comes fairly easy. “Sometimes it comes in the form of what people are requesting, beyond that it’s about identifying holes in our current knowledge. I try to find topics where cannabis may have been underutilized, or it hasn’t yet received the attention that it deserves, or trying to treat conditions where conventional treatment really hasn’t met the mark. There are a lot of those conditions. The most common conditions are probably pain, cancer, and things of that sort.”
Dr. Russo recently released an editorial on cannabis for pain.2 “One of the interesting things about using cannabis for the treatment of pain is that as opposed to morphine that acts directly on the pain, cannabis works differently, and it has a stronger ability to treat the emotional aspect of pain. People may feel the pain is still there, but it does not bother them like it did before and that is extremely important. It certainly can be a big part of how a patient may improve. Without that, the patient will still be miserable in the face of chronic pain, with that they can regain a better perspective on life and be better to function more effectively.”
Unfortunately, we still suffer the obstacles politically in trying to do this research.
Dr. Russo is very busy these days. He is currently in the process of starting a new research and development organization. He tells us, “We are in the midst of fundraising and getting some intellectual property rights protection at this time, so I can’t be very specific. I can say that I am working on a novel method of extraction, and we are developing a couple of diagnostic tests for disorders that do not currently have proper ways of diagnosing them. I am also working on a treatment for a very common condition where current treatment is either toxic or ineffective. We are also working on a line of nutritional products that may fill a niche that has not currently been addressed.”
In addition to nutritional products, “An area we are involved in is still trying to identify and develop different chemovars, or chemical varieties of cannabis that are going to emphasize other components. It’s thinking about the world beyond THC and CBD. What people call the minor cannabinoids, and really they are only called that because people have not done selective breeding up till this time to increase their concentration and figure out how they can be used therapeutically.”
… cannabis works differently, and it has a stronger ability to treat the emotional aspect of pain.
Dr. Russo thinks we have only begun to uncover the potential of cannabis as both a medicinal plant and as a source of nutrition. He tells us, “Unfortunately, we still suffer the obstacles politically in trying to do this research. It is not really different now as it was in the beginning when prohibition was still in full force. There are still many places in this country where people do not have legitimate access and that needs to change. I have been doing this for 24 years, and every day I realize the increasing potential for cannabis-based medicine. It’s never gotten old; I have never gotten bored with it and I think that there are countless opportunities to come.”
1. McPhee, J. “A Forager.” The New Yorker. March 30, 1968
2. Russo, E. Pain Medicine, 20(11). 2019. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnz227
Dr. Salm Live Interview
In case you missed the live video from our friends at Nugtopia, here it is! Jordan Person from Gram Magazine interviews Dr. Salm, a cannabis scientist that lived at an Antarctic Research station for 3 months! Covering terpenes, isolation and more…
Dr. Russo comments in his latest editorial how the medical community has failed to appropriately manage chronic conditions such as pain and other debilitating diseases.
“The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine opined in 2017 that “there is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective: for the treatment of chronic pain in adults.”2
Russo states that we need to face the facts:
– What doctors are currently using (opioids and non-opioids) is not effective in managing patients’ symptoms, and the lack of willingness tof many medical professionals to consider other options leaves the patients suffering.
– There is no longitudinal data that shows the efficacy of using opioids long term for chronic noncancer pain, and there is not much being developed in the drug market that aims to make any difference in how we currently treat patients.
– Whether anyone likes it or not, increasingly millions of people around the globe are utilizing cannabis to treat their pain, and observational studies and surveys repeatedly demonstrate that pain is the top medical indication for cannabis usage, in the range of 70% of all patients.5
– No medication is deemed commercially successful unless the patient reports clinical improvements and perceives that they are improving due to the drug.
– There truly is no way to take an objective measurement of pain in the clinical field.
In order for anything in the medical/ biotechnology field to be taken seriously, there needs to be a randomized, double-blind placebo study with results that can be easily replicated and that is why cannabis has not been taken seriously for its therapeutic benefits. Due to the schedule 1 nature it makes it extremely difficult for researchers to do double-blind placebo studies. There is so much red tape on the subject that we are left with anecdotal evidence from patients along with the few clinical trials that are available using Sativex, the synthetic version of a 1:1 THC CBD oral mucosal spray.
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