Martha Rosenthal’s life has been about education. After earning her master’s degree in neuropharmacology from Brown University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, Dr. Rosenthal joined Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) as one of the founding faculty and never looked back. Currently in her 22nd year with the university as Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology, Dr. Rosenthal teaches classes on drugs, human sexuality, physiology, and neuroscience. A fascination with medical cannabis as a substance and potential medicine led her to be one of the innovators in the development and oversight of FGCU’s cannabis-focused study program, which prepares and coaches future industry professionals for entrance into the thriving world of cannabis business, science, cultivation, and more.
When she’s not teaching, Martha is writing textbooks on drugs and researching their applications, participating in Ted Talks and podcasts, and being an all-around inspiration. We had the pleasure of sitting down with this vibrant educator and entrepreneur to learn more about what drives her and her work in the cannabis space, and what the future has in store.
How would you describe yourself and what you’re doing?
I am a professor of neuroscience and physiology at FGCU, where I’m one of the founding faculty. I’ve been teaching about drugs for 25 years and published my latest textbook about drugs in 2018. I am the Director of Education and Research for the Cannabis Education, Research, and Workforce initiative (CREW) at FGCU, and I’m overseeing the creation of a multidisciplinary focus of study in cannabis, a professional certificate program in cannabis, and a number of research projects.
How did you get involved with the cannabis industry?
Cannabis has always particularly interested me—not only for its physiological effects, but for its history and social policies. The fact that it is a schedule I drug despite fitting none of the criteria has made me wave my arms in the air in frustration. My life has been dedicated to education, and I love that I have the opportunity to educate so many people about this fascinating substance. I’m honored to be one of the many people committed to getting the word out, so we can best serve not only individuals’ physical and psychological health, but also help to influence laws and policies regarding medical marijuana in Florida and across the nation.
What can you tell us about your project?
The CREW began last fall, when Professor Sam Walch and I team-taught a course about cannabis at FGCU. Apparently, it was the first undergraduate course on cannabis in Florida and we were interviewed by local news. Once the word was out, the floodgates opened, and we were inundated by those in the industry saying they wanted to hire our students! We realized that this was bigger than a single course, and proposed the Cannabis Research, Education, and Workforce initiative. We had the support of our Dean, Provost, and President, and we were off! It’s been a whirlwind, and every day we build on our program.
CREW has quite a few projects going on! We are creating a cannabis focus of study, and students can get a B.A. in Integrated Studies with a focus in cannabis. We have courses in botany, law, physiology and pharmacology, pop culture, and many others, all related to cannabis. FGCU is also offering a multidisciplinary professional certificate in cannabis through our continuing education department. Our first workshop is May 6-10 at FGCU. Our presenters are experts in cannabis law, accounting, business, medicine, growth and extraction techniques, advocacy, and other cannabis topics. There are still a few seats left for this workshop, and we hope to have another workshop over the first 2 weekends in August. We also have 2 research surveys in the works—one for medical marijuana patients, and one for physicians—and I’m also working with a physician to analyze some of his data. In the coming years, we’ll expand our cannabis research here at FGCU. Finally, Sam Walch is working with our students to get them internships and jobs in the cannabis industry.
What makes you so passionate about cannabis education?
The endocannabinoid system is the most fascinating, complex, ubiquitous biological system I’ve ever studied! It regulates so many functions in the body and helps maintain balance and homeostasis. I love that we have only known about the endocannabinoid system for a couple of decades, yet it has such important, widespread effects. It’s exciting that there’s still so much to learn about it. Add the fact that cannabinoids are so safe and have such potential therapeutic benefits makes it all especially exciting.
What are your future ambitions?
I’m going to keep on getting the word out about this fascinating substance, and how it impacts our bodies, our minds, and our society.
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Turmeric is a root vegetable commonly used as a spice in various Indian and other cultures’ dishes. Turmeric is in the zingiberaceae family, as is ginger. The turmeric plant is native to the southeastern region of Asia and commonly harvested in places like India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. It is responsible for curry’s signature orange color, and its vibrant pigment will give essentially any meal an orange hue.
Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and curcumin has been shown through research to offer anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic benefits. The scientific name for the turmeric plant is Curcuma Longa, and likely where the name curcumin comes from. When people are talking about the health benefits of turmeric, they are referencing curcumin so you may hear the two names used interchangeably. Curcumin is part of a group called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most active and the most beneficial for health. Flavonoids are another substance found in various plants and give these plants their color. Curcumin is a flavonoid and is responsible for providing that bright orange color to turmeric. In addition to providing aesthetic value, flavonoids are also strong antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.
The Journal of Biological Chemistry published a study done by Sanjaya Singh and Bharat B. Aggarwal of the Cytokine Research Laboratory at the world-renowned cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson. The study found that curcumin suppressed NF-κB, a protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory responses. In other words, turmeric shuts off the body’s inflammatory response. Anti-inflammatories can be beneficial for many different ailments, including chronic pain and digestive disorders. A lot of CBD companies even put curcumin in their products because of its benefits. It is believed to be a synergistic pair with complementary therapeutic properties. The thought is that the two plant medicines are powerful on their own; as a combination, they can deliver even more anti-inflammatory and medicinal benefits.
Many people simply add turmeric to their dishes as a way to easily incorporate it into their daily routine. It is pretty mild in flavor and can be added to many dishes without changing the overall taste too drastically. Some say that turmeric isn’t strong enough on its own to receive the anti-inflammatory properties that curcumin provides, and therefore recommend a curcumin supplement. Research varies on that, so in the end it is just up to personal preference and your doctor’s approval. Curcumin supplements come most available in capsules. Pregnant women can safely use turmeric as an addition to their food, but should avoid taking high-dosage supplements. Those who are interested in supplementing with curcumin products should talk with their doctor first.
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did another study in 2007 exploring curcumin for cancer treatment. The study found that curcumin inhibits ovarian cancer growth and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). It does this by targeting and manipulating the NF-κB pathway, the same protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory response. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The nuclear factor NF-κB pathway has long been considered a prototypical proinflammatory signaling pathway, largely based on the role of NF-κB in the expression of proinflammatory genes including cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules.”
The trend with curcumin seems to be it’s ability to control inflammatory responses in the body. It does this by multiple pathways, but a commonly researched one is the NF-κB protein complex. Because this pathway is able to be manipulated by curcumin to encourage anti-inflammatory expressions, its potential for successfully treating various ailments is there.
Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms
When many think of plant medicine, specifically those plants with psychoactive effects, they think of “magic mushrooms,” or fungi containing psilocybin and psilocin that can cause hallucinations depending on the dosage consumed. In many states, there are active efforts to decriminalize these otherwise scheduled substances, lowering penalties for their use and possession. But what value do psilocybin-containing mushrooms offer? New research suggests a range of therapeutic and psychological value ranging from the treatment of substance abuse to anxiety and depression management.
What are Magic Mushrooms?
Magic Mushroom use dates back to 10,000 BCE and references continue throughout the era. Their modern popularity began when the term “magic mushroom” was coined by two etnomycologists who learned of a Harvard study on local doctors in Mexico using these substances, noting the substance’s ability to affect the nervous system. These findings were eventually published in Life magazine in 1957, and the term became the universal reference for psychoactive fungi and truffles, specifically those containing high concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin.
Psilocybin & Psilocin: The “Magic” in Magic Mushrooms
Psilocybin and psilocin are part of a family of psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms. Psilocin is pharmacologically active, and psilocybin is converted into psilocin when consumed or activated. Similar in structure to serotonin, there are more than 50 species of mushrooms and a variety of truffles that produce both the precursor, psilocybin, and the psychoactive compound, psilocin. Unlike LSD, magic mushrooms do not affect dopamine receptors, solely targeting serotonin sites.
How are Magic Mushrooms used?
Magic mushrooms are often used for recreational, therapeutic and medicinal reasons. “Effects range from mild feelings of relaxation, giddiness, euphoria, visual enhancement (seeing colors brighter), visual disturbances (moving surfaces, waves), to delusions, altered perception of real events, images and faces, or real hallucinations.” Recreationally, this is often known as “tripping.” As an alternative health option, these fungi are being used for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma, as well as psychological disorders such as substance abuse disorders, and science is beginning to back the potential for these applications.
Research on Mushrooms
Evaluations of currently available scientific studies suggest a growing number of therapeutic benefits and treatment options. “In the past few years, a growing number of studies using human volunteers have begun to explore the possible therapeutic benefits of drugs such as psilocybin…looking at psilocybin and other hallucinogens to treat a number of otherwise intractable psychiatric disorders, including chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency.”
Magic mushrooms have been respected as a “safe & natural healing sacrament for millennia throughout Mexico, Central America and the world,” and are known to be beneficial for depression, recidivism (the tendency to repeat past transgressions), and encourages openness, creativity, as well as personal and spiritual growth. UCLA and NYC have done studies on the applications of magic mushrooms in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety and other studies have backed up the use of psilocybin and psilocin in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression (especially in cases of terminal conditions like cancer as well as treatment-resistant depression), and reducing depression and anxiety overall.
Best way for people to consume?
When it comes to the consumption of mushrooms, advice on dosage is about as specific as it was with cannabis under prohibition. Consumers must purchase on the black market and are subject to whatever may be available.
“Recreational doses range from 1–5 grams of dry mushrooms depending on the species and individual strength of the specimens… After ingestion, the psilocybin is enzymatically converted to psilocin. Absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4–6 hours.”
My recommendation as someone who has used magic mushrooms both for recreational and therapeutic purposes, is to grind the mushrooms into a fine powder and either encapsulate them in small increments and/or combine with lemon juice. Capsules will allow you to titrate your dosage as needed with a recognizable increment, while lemon juice will expedite onset time.
The Legality of Magic Mushrooms
In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, the Drug Policy Alliance states that “Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known.” With that being said, local efforts such as Decriminalize Nature – Oakland and Decriminalize Denver have pushed for and successfully passed initiatives and legislation to reduce penalties and make enforcement a low priority, as was done in the early days of cannabis activism. This has spurred multiple local and international efforts to “Decriminalize Nature,” efforts that we learn more about in this month’s feature.