Dispatch: International Association of Cannabinoid Medicines Conference

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BERLIN – Accepting the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicines’ (IACM) award for major contributions to cannabinoid basic research at a gala dinner during the association’s tenth conference on cannabis and cannabinoids in medicine, Dr. Ken Mackie commented on the exceptionally close ties in the field between basic science, clinical science, and patient care. And at IACM 2019, all three spheres were well represented.

For the meeting’s 500 participants, it was an opportunity to rub shoulders with luminaries in cannabinoid science, including Mackie, Dr. Ethan Russo, Dr. Daniele Piomelli, and Dr. Roger Pertwee. As well as rising stars like Dr. Ziva Cooper of UCLA, who presented her work investigating the synergistic effects of cannabis and opioids. One of the authors of the 2017 National Academies of Sciences’ report on cannabis, Cooper was the recipient of the IACM’s Young Researcher Award.


It was also the place where you could find Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly of the University of Mississippi, who presides over the research cannabis supply monopoly, and Dr. Sue Sisley, who took on the Drug Enforcement Administration to challenge that monopoly, in the same room.

Addressing untapped potential in cannabis pharmacology, Dr. Ethan Russo described potential roles for cannabinoids and terpenes in conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and acne to endometriosis. Russo also shared his vision for neurology as a preventative and therapeutic rather than a merely diagnostic specialty, based on a regimen of cannabis extract supplements together with aerobic activity, education, and an anti-inflammatory, pre- and pro-biotic diet.

Citing aging as the major risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases, Dr. Javier Fernández-Ruiz of Spain discussed some cannabinoids’ ability to preserve, rescue, repair and/or replace neuronal cells, and outlined various potential targets for novel neuroprotection- and neurorepair-based therapies. And Dr. José Alexandre S. Crippa presented a review of studies on the therapeutic potential of CBD in neuropsychiatry, many coming from his native Brazil.

Results of another randomized controlled trial evaluating three different cannabinoid formulations from Bedrocan for treating chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia were presented by Dr. Albert Dahan of Denmark, which showed the efficacy of THC but not CBD in producing pain relief.

From Canada, findings from observational studies were presented by Dr. Mark Ware of Canopy Growth on medical cannabis use for pain, and on the substitution of cannabis for opioids by Dr. Philippe Lucas of Tilray.

Dr. Kirsten Muller-Vahl of Germany presented her work demonstrating for the first time the direct involvement of the endocannabinoid system in the pathophysiology of Tourette syndrome, as well as the utility of a specific endocannabinoid modulator for reducing tics and the urge to tic in adults.

Cutaneous cannabinoid signaling in the maintenance of skin homeostasis was discussed by Dr. Attila Oláh of Hungary, and Dr. Vincent Maida of Canada presented results using a proprietary cannabinoid-based formulation for healing of intractable chronic wounds.

In the clinical realm, Dr. Bonni Goldstein presented her courageous work treating severely ill children, and the advantages of whole plant extracts for treating refractory pediatric epilepsy.

The program included a panel of patients from Spain, the United States, Mexico, Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who spoke candidly and emotionally about discovering cannabis, learning how to titrate, and how they manage medication in their daily lives, often at great personal risk.

Throughout the three-day meeting, it was emphasized that cannabis is not a miracle drug, that it doesn’t work for everyone, and that more robust research is needed. Slowly but surely, as the professionals at the IACM meeting demonstrated, that research is emerging.

And yet, as Dr. Goldstein stated, particularly with children, we can’t wait twenty or thirty years for clinical results. Or as one of the patients on the panel observed, sometimes it’s better to just take a gift of nature without knowing everything.