To the Editor of Nature
On September 27 journalist Martin A. Lee and I received the following note from a distinguished member of the International Cannabinoid Research Society:
Subject: What does that make you? Chopped Liver?
See attached Owens-2015-Nature, if you haven’t already: “the ICRS meeting has been closed to all media since its inception…”
I have been reporting on ICRS meetings since 1998 (although there were years I was unable to attend). In 1999, in Synapse, the UCSF internal weekly, I broke the story about GW Pharmaceuticals’ plan —revealed in ICRS presentations— to market a plant extract rich in cannabidiol. In 2003, at the urging of Tod Mikuriya, MD, I helped launch a tabloid journal in which California physicians could publish their clinical findings and observations, and stay abreast of the advancing science. Our publication (circulation 20,000) is called O’Shaughnessy’s, in honor of the Irish-born, Scottish-educated physician, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, who observed colleagues in Calcutta using cannabis tinctures beneficially and published a paper on the subject in a British medical journal in 1843. Mikuriya’s business plan was simple: doctors buy O’Shaughnessy’s and give it free to patients by way of thanks, because what doctors know about cannabis as medicine has been learned mainly from patients.
Half the front page of our first issue was devoted to a story about the ICRS. In 2004 we ran a front-page story about an ICRS rump session at which Sanofi-Aventis described plans for a cannabinoid-antagonist drug, the ill-fated Rimonabant. Our story was slugged “Danger! Danger! Danger!” and quoted a California doctor, Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD, warning that you can’t block the CB1 receptor without serious adverse effects. If Sanofi’s rechercheurs had heeded us, they would have saved three-quarters of a billion Euros! In 2005 our front-page was devoted to Dr. Donald Tashkin’s astonishing finding, announced at the ICRS meeting, that smoking cannabis does not increase one’s risk of lung cancer —in fact it seems to provide a slight protective effect. This story was buried in NIDA Notes and to this day has been under-publicized. I could go on but it’s hard to write while patting one’s self on the back.
It’s not just me and associate editor Martin Lee who have been marginalized. Dr. Mikuriya, who died in 2007, and doctors in the group he organized, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, have learned a great deal about cannabis as medicine, and they deserve to be taken seriously. The media image of the “potdoc” is negative —and quick-buck artists do exist at one end of the spectrum. But at the other end are serious specialists conversant with the endocannabinoid system, delivery systems, dosing, etc., who help patients formulate treatment plans and can help bring doctors new to the field up to speed. I hope you publish this letter to steer Nature readers to O’Shaughnessy’s coverage of ICRS meetings and the broader medical marijuana movement.