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Josh Crossney

Quality + Education + Cannabis

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GRAM spoke with Josh Crossney, the founder of Cannabis Science Conference, one of the leading cannabis conferences in the U.S. brings together medical, analytical science, and cultivation experts. More on that in a minute.

A career in staffing and recruiting for some of the biggest biological labs across the U.S. gave Josh an in-depth understanding of the importance of quality control and testing. That is what drove him into the medical cannabis industry in 2014. “It really was kind of alarming to me that at the time there were no requirements or quality control testing for cannabis.” 

“I connected with some people who were using cannabis as medicine out in California and a couple people who were treating children with cannabis,” he says. “Everything, just about, that comes in contact with humans—from food to beauty products to even water and wastewater—has quality control standards or testing,” he says.

A passion for changing that was one of the things that drew Josh into the industry. Educating people about medical cannabis was another. “I realized there wasn’t a lot—really any—platforms at the time, that were really catering and creating a space for the world’s leading researchers and medical professionals and cultivation experts to come together and share their information with other like-minded people,” he says. In October 2016, Josh launched the first Cannabis Science Convention in Portland, Oregon. 

It really was kind of alarming to me that at the time there were no requirements or quality control testing for cannabis.

That first show drew about 800 attendees and 75 vendors. By 2019 the event was pulling in close to 3,500 people and almost 200 vendors. Last year, he launched the inaugural Cannabis Science Convention East at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland. 

“It really was a full circle moment for me when we were able to say ‘Hey, it’s been a few years. The East Coast has really developed when you look at states like Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York that have implemented medical cannabis programs since the time we launched the (Oregon) show.’” The move paid off, attracting over 2,000 attendees and about 110 vendors.

Josh is a voice in the cannabis industry for the LGBTQ community, and he regularly speaks about the importance of diversity and inclusion. “More so than most industries that I’ve been a part of, the cannabis industry, and the folks and the colleagues I’ve worked with are very accepting and open to all types of people,” Josh says.

He states that the cannabis community and LGBTQ community might have more in common than you would think. “A lot of people don’t realize how many intersections there are between the LGBTQ community and the struggle that we went through in the U.S. and globally, also with the cannabis community. These are both two communities that have been unfairly marginalized and stigmatized by society.” 

Josh said that both are human rights issues that have gained traction on a state-by-state basis. He also pointed out that when California implemented medical cannabis in 1996, it was “largely due to the advocacy, leaders, and pioneers who were pushing for this as an option for the HIV and AIDS communities.”

“There are a lot of crossovers that people don’t realize. Cannabis has been used and accepted as a medicine in society for far, far longer than it has been stigmatized as one.” 

A serious car accident in the winter of 2009 triggered Josh’s firsthand experience using cannabis as medicine. Returning home during a snowstorm from a sleigh-riding excursion, the car he was riding in crashed into the back of a state snowplow. 

More than a decade later, he still suffers from back and shoulder pain as a result. “I use cannabis as an alternative to the opiates that everyone gets prescribed when you have injuries like that,” he said. It also helps him with PTSD from the accident. “As a passenger, it was very intense. For me, it can be challenging to be a passenger in cars at times. Cannabis really does help me deal with that.” 

Josh also finds relief for his anxiety. “There’s not a lot of pharmaceutical options other than benzos, which really are just as bad as opiates; they really turn you into a shell of yourself. So I just found that cannabis, for me, was a much better, safer alternative that actually worked a lot better than prescription drugs.”

Knowing firsthand the benefits, Josh has big goals “to educate the masses and let people know this is an option.” He has his own Maryland-based 501(c)3 non-profit called jCanna—focused on advancing cannabis science and specifically cannabis quality control testing and extraction processes and standards. “Everything that I do, everything that I touch in this industry really is, at the core, trying to drive more normalization of this plant, acceptance of this plant.”

“We’re having to dig out of 50 plus years of misinformation and propaganda. It’s not a new conversation. Prohibition and reefer madness was really something that was based on racism and greed and the need and want to monopolize the American industry, like pharmaceutical and paper. A lot of people don’t realize the first draft of the Constitution was drawn up on hemp paper.” 

However, Josh doesn’t see cannabis advocacy as a blanket label and acknowledges people disagree. “I’m definitely all for adult use and recreational use, and this being legalized and normalized federally,” he said. “But I also am a major proponent of medical, and I would hate to see the government say, ‘Well, we’re gonna go ahead and legalize this for recreational use, but we’re not gonna call this a medicine.’ 

“If that was the case and this was regulated like alcohol, how would the 10-month-old babies, the 2-year-old children, the people who are using this as a medicine, how would they have access to this if it was regulated like alcohol, and it was a 21-or-over situation without any option for them? Yes, legalizing and normalizing this plant federally but also maintaining the medical term, and that this is a medicine.” 

We really feel that knowledge is power and empowered patients can make the best decisions about their cannabis care.

As a board member of the California based CannaKids, Josh cares deeply about pediatric cannabis use. “If this is legal in your state for an adult to use a medical condition, I think that it should not be any more stigmatized for a pediatric patient going through the same condition to have this as an option.” 

This brings him back to the importance of quality control and testing in the cannabis industry. “If you’re treating a sick pediatric cancer patient who’s going through chemo and radiation with a highly compromised immune system, contaminated cannabis with mold, heavy metals, or solvents can really negatively affect their health.” It’s not just about contamination, but knowing exactly what is in the medicine and how strong it is. “That is important when you are talking about trying to target and treat conditions. We just want this natural plant to be as natural as possible” he says. 

In fact, Josh has a quality control dream. “I would love to see this standardized and have quality control required and standardized all over the country and get it to a point where you can send a cannabis sample to five different labs and get the same result. The problem right now is if you sent a cannabis sample to five different labs, there’s not standardization. They’re using different types of instrumentation, different processes. Any of these factors can change the results of your certificate of quality.”

Josh is constantly busy travelling, speaking, and expanding the Cannabis Science Convention. 

“We’re continuing to grow the shows. We’re on the East Coast and the West Coast. We have been dabbling with the idea of a Midwest show at some point. We’re also really strongly looking at international markets. We’d love to, potentially, do a show in Germany where cannabis is just starting to develop.” 

“This year, one of the new things is in addition to our analytical science, medical cannabis, and cultivations tracks, we’ve also launched a whole 2-day hemp/CBD track.” 

Adding the hemp/CBD track is just one way Josh is continuing to educate medical professionals and patients. He is also involving the academic community by shining a light on their contributions to the cannabis science through developments in the curriculum at Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, and Northern Michigan University, and the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. 

“We really feel that knowledge is power and empowered patients can make the best decisions about their cannabis care.”

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Turmeric

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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.

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Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms

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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.

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Ginkgo Biloba

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Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree; its roots originate in China. The ginkgo biloba tree is also sometimes known as the maidenhair tree or the Japanese silver apricot, and it produces a foul-smelling fruit commonly harvested for its seeds known as “ginkgo nuts”. Ginkgo nuts are popularly used in Asian cuisine. 

The ginkgo biloba tree’s fan-shaped leaves are used to make ginkgo biloba extract, a supplement traditionally used in Chinese medicine, but has since garnered the attention of cultures worldwide. The supplement comes in liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets. The leaves can also be dried to make tea. The type of ginkgo biloba extract supplement someone takes is all a matter of personal preference, and depends on the user’s already existing regimen. If you do not already drink tea, a ginkgo biloba tea may not implement easily into your lifestyle, thus a greater chance for inconsistency or erratic results. But if you take vitamins or other supplements regularly, after a doctor’s approval you can easily incorporate an additional capsule or tablet into your daily routine. 

The 16th-century Compendium of Materia Medica or Ben Cao Gang Mu is revered as the most comprehensive text ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. This text reveals that ginkgo biloba seeds were used as a topical extract for antimicrobial purposes on the skin. Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses the leaves for tea and attributes it to soothing coughs and activating blood circulation, as well as other benefits like respiratory and digestive ailments. 

A common use for ginkgo biloba is to preserve memory and prevent cognitive decline. Dr. Hiroko Dodge of Oregon State University at Corvallis and his research team followed 118 people for three years aged 85 years and older, in good health, and showing no signs of dementia or memory loss at the beginning of the study. Half took ginkgo biloba and half took a placebo over three years. The patients taking it regularly had a 70% lower risk of developing dementia. According to the study, the other variables included considered “basic demographic variables including age, sex, years of education, and living arrangement (living alone vs living with someone).” 

The National Center for Biotechnology and Information published a study exploring ginkgo as a potential remedy for anxiety and, “The authors reported a significant improvement in psychopathological symptoms. Response rates were 44% in the high-dose group, 31% in the low-dose group, and 22% with placebo. Additionally, the percentages of clinically significant responses were 81%, 67%, and 38% for the high-dose, the low-dose, and the placebo groups, respectively.”2

A 2008 study reinforced the idea behind Traditional Chinese Medicine that ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation. The study shows ginkgo biloba extract to improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease. The study notes, “GBE (ginkgo biloba extract) treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in maximal diastolic peak velocity (MDPV), maximal systolic peak velocity (MSPV) and diastolic time velocity integral (DTVI) compared with controls.”3 In other words, ginkgo biloba extract is a great contender as a treatment to improve blood flow. 

Like cannabis and other medicinal plants, ginkgo has terpenes and flavonoids. Both of these compounds have therapeutic properties, and can provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well as being packed with antioxidants. Anti-inflammatory effects can serve many different ailments, especially relieving pain of various kinds. Antioxidants are thought to protect our bodies from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause harm to the body. Terpenes are also responsible for giving plants their unique and flavorful smell. Flavonoids are the compounds that give plants their vibrant and diverse colors, and are the largest group of phytonutrients. There are approximately 6,00 different types of flavonoids. 

A few years back, the National Toxicology Program released a detailed report on ginkgo biloba extract. It dissects the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of ginkgo biloba using rodent test subjects. The report made its rounds as proof that ginkgo biloba causes cancer, because the rodents developed cancer at high-rates over two year periods. Per the American Botanical Council, “Adjusted for bodyweight, dosage levels given to the animals were up to 55 to 108 times higher than levels of ginkgo normally ingested by human beings taking ginkgo supplements.” Many people have been using this report to warn against the supplement, but Bill J. Gurley, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences, Little Rock said, “Almost anything will create cancer in rats and mice when it’s fed to them at high doses for two years.” The American Botanical Council also claims the ginkgo biloba extract used in the rodent experiment was of lesser quality, and not meeting European standards. 

Though this seemingly negative research on ginkgo can be explained, it is still important to discuss any kind of supplement addition with your doctor, especially if you are on other supplements or pharmaceutical prescriptions.

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