By all counts, the first Puyallup Tribal Medical Marijuana Symposium was a great success. Attracting a nice-sized crowd to the EQC Showroom that Saturday morning, March 4, attendees learned about the healing powers of cannabis and how tribal members can use this plant as medicine to alleviate a host of illnesses.
The forum was hosted by Puyallup Chairman Bill Sterud and Tribal Council, members present being David Bean, Tim Reynon and Annette Bryan. The guest panel consisted of Dr. Alan Shelton, MD, Medical Director at Puyallup Tribal Health Authority; Dr. Michelle Sexton, ND, Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy; Dr. Paul Reilly, ND, Salish Cancer Center; Dr. Aaron Stancik, PhD, Medicine Creek Analytics; and Kyle Shelton, Lab Assistant at Medicine Creek Analytics.
After the Puyallup Veterans posted the colors, Chairman Sterud welcomed everyone. “Today is an exciting day,” he said. “We’re going to talk about medical cannabis, and as far as I know this is the first medical cannabis meeting in Indian Country anywhere. We want people to be made aware of any potential health benefits of cannabis. We’re just trying to help people who want to use this as a medicine and as another vehicle to help us out in our lives.”
Elder David Duenas offered his welcoming song “Come As You Are,” and Culture Director Connie McCloud gave a beautiful opening prayer. Then Dr. Shelton stepped forth to introduce the first guest speaker.
“It’s really special that the Tribe wants to do something in the arena of medical cannabis. I’m excited to be part of it,” he said. “There’ such a beautiful potential with this plant – it’s a gift from the creator and how can we use it in a good way?”
He said most of what he knows about cannabis he has learned through direct contact with his patients who use it for a variety of ailments.
“I have a patient with cancer who uses a cannabis oil to help him sleep and with anxiety. I have a patient with neuropathy, pain in the legs, who uses a cannabis cream. I have a patient who’s trying to drink less who uses cannabis to help him with that. I have a patient with glaucoma who’s successfully decreasing the pressure in his eyes by using cannabis. I have a patient who’s trying to use less opiates. In the states where cannabis has been legalized, deaths from opioid or pain medication overdose has decreased 25 percent. This is something we need to be exploring and learning more about.”
He then introduced keynote speaker Dr. Michelle Sexton, Medical Research Director at the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. Her clinical practice, research and teaching focus is on the medical use of cannabis across a range of conditions and age groups. Dr. Sexton will be helping the Tribe in cannabis research and as a consultant to work directly with Tribal patients and clients. “This is an exciting development that the Tribe is moving forward with,” Dr. Shelton said.
Dr. Sexton’s address focused on the medical therapeutic uses of marijuana. A self-described “lover of all plants and plant medicine,” Dr. Sexton helped shed some light on how cannabis in particular works in the human body.
“It turns out that plants and humans share biochemistry together,” she said. “The plant cannabis is making compounds that are bioactive with a specific system in our body called the endocannabinoid system. This is where the scientific agenda has been – to learn about this system inside the body.” Understanding our body’s built-in system to process cannabis helps researchers understand why and how cannabis can be a medicine. She said that the endocannabinoid system involves numerous aspects of the human body and can impact associated disorders like anorexia or weight gain; sleeping and regulating daily cycles of sleep and awake; relaxing and decreasing anxiety; the necessary function of clearing the mind of all that comes at us on a daily basis (forgetting); and more.
“What we’re trying to do here today is view through a different lens,” she said. “The previous lens that we viewed cannabis through was maybe something like this: that cannabis will kill your brain cells or cause cancer or that it’s a gateway drug – that it’s an illicit drug. But because of the scientific research that has happened, we have a new lens through which to look at cannabis.”
She also addressed the effects of cannabis on young, developing minds and whether it’s safe for adolescents to imbibe. She revealed that the developing brain continues until we are in our 20s, with the adolescent period being critical as a time of making differentiations in one’s mind though experiencing life and learning about oneself.
“We’re a little bit worried that using cannabis in this critical period may interfere with memory consolidation – consolidating the memories of the experiences they’re having,” she said. “So use in adolescents really may not be a good thing and I think we’ll see a lot more coming out about this” as research continues.
Dr. Sexton also addressed the use of vape pens for concentrates, stating that they can give too much of a dose and much more than needed for pain relief. “I typically don’t recommend use of vape pens for medical patients,” she said.
She closed with talking about Thunderbird. “The one thing that jumped out at me and where I want to make an analogy is that the Thunderbird can be thought of as something very powerful that can heal or destroy. This is a really good analogy for cannabis and to remember that we need to approach cannabis with respect. We need to teach our children how to respect this plant – maybe even ritualize its use and initiate them into its use so that they don’t take the high dose forms that might effect their development into their 20s and 30s and how their brain finishes its development.”
5,000 YEARS OF MEDICINE
Next up, Salish Cancer Center’s naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist Paul Reilly talked about how marijuana for medicine is not a new discovery, but rather goes back 5,000 years.
“This is not something new,” he said. “What’s new are some of the legal restrictions that have been placed over marijuana.”
Going back to the origins of what is known about marijuana, Dr. Reilly said the first reference to it was circa 2900 BC – 5000 years ago humans were aware of cannabis and using it medicinally. By 2700 BC it was listed in the first herbal textbook known to mankind and by 1500 BC it was considered one of the 50 primary herbs used for treating medical conditions along with herbs like ginseng. Its use began in the Himalayas and spread to China, India and the Silk Road to the Middle East and up to Russia. “It was mentioned in the bible. In Exodus they talked about using a paste with what’s been thought to be marijuana. It was used in Egyptian medical texts and in Persian,” he said.
Things started out well when marijuana came to the “New World” and continued to be used for hemp and as a medicinal herb. “It was actually part of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, which is the legal encyclopedia of drugs in the U.S. and updated every year. Marijuana was listed from 1850 until the 1930s.” Then the tide turned, thanks to snake oil salesmen making questionable concoctions with cannabis and sullying its name, coupled with the end of liquor prohibition.
“After prohibition in the U.S. there was this entire machinery in the government that suddenly didn’t have a job keeping people from drinking and they needed to find something,” Dr. Reilly said. “So they decided to make marijuana their next cause.”
In 1937 a marijuana tax was instituted at $100 an ounce, the equivalent today of $2,000 showing that the feds really didn’t want people using it recreationally. By 1942 cannabis was taken out of the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and by 1970 was outlawed as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal usefulness and prison time for possessing it.
With the advent of AIDS and savvy activists demanding better passage of drug laws and research for people with HIV/AIDS, California became the first state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana law and the rest followed.
“The summary is that marijuana really does have a lot of promising and historically documented uses that we can and should be taking advantage of. It isn’t perfect – it doesn’t cure every person or condition or every time. The art of medicine is finding the right solution for the right patient.”
As the final speaker, Dr. Aaron Stancik spoke of work happening at Medicine Creek Analytics, thanking the Tribal Council for their “bravery,” as he called it, in presenting a public forum such as this one on cannabis.
“This is where we need to keep an open mind,” he said. “There’s been over 70-plus years of prohibition, which has been propaganda, misinformation and politicized.”
The Tribe recruited Stancik from CannaSafe Analytics in Pullman, a forerunner in the field and the first ISO 17025 accredited cannabis lab in the nation and certified with the WSLCB in 2014. Stancik, described as the “ambassador of cannabis science,” has been involved in the cannabis industry since 2012 when I-502 was first passed by Washington state voters. having been involved since its infancy dedicating his education and career to cannabis science.
Projecting a magnified image of a mature marijuana plant on the big screen, Dr. Stancik explained the cannabis flower and its “crystals” called trichomes that hold the flower’s power. He also discussed other parts of this miraculous plant, and how Medicine Creek Analytics works with I-502 growers to test for potentially harmful elements like pesticides.
Chairman Sterud closed the symposium with these thoughts: “This is an international thing that’s taking place as far as using cannabis as medicine and I want to thank the Tribal Council for taking this on full-force. There’s medicine out there that we’ll be making available for our people at our store in Fife, Commencement Bay Cannabis. It’s a new world and we’re right in the front of it with medical cannabis.”