Exclusive: Interview with Martin Lee, founding member of Project CBD

WisdomCBD_Martin Lee_ProjectCBD

“We do find very well respected scientists, Nobel laureates getting involved in the field because the endocannabinoid system pertains to so many different medical conditions.”

Wisdom CBD: [00:00:00] How did you identify CBD as a passion for yourself? 


Martin Lee, Co-founder of Project CBD
[00:00:07] Martin Lee: [00:00:07] I learned about CBD 16 years ago or so, as a journalist covering the medical cannabis story in California.  Medical cannabis became legal in 1996 in the state of California, but there was a lot of pushback still from law enforcement at various levels, certainly federal law enforcement.  State law enforcement was somewhat equivocal. Sometimes local law enforcement in California was brutal depending on where in the state it was.


“I began to research what science, if any, there was to validate the claims that patients were making of the success they were having with cannabis for many different conditions.”


In the context of writing about what was transpiring and why there was these waves of repression even though the state had legalized cannabis for therapeutic use – Why was this still happening? That was the initial focus that I was pursuing as a journalist, but as part of that effort, I began to research what science, if any, there was to validate the claims that patients were making of the success they were having with cannabis for many different conditions.


“…these are very straight scientists who are getting together and talking about what’s going on in the brain, receptors, molecular pathways, how different components of the plant work.”


[00:01:20] I just looked into it more.  It was the logical thing with people saying cannabis helps them and it seems to be very clear that that’s the case. What’s going on here? What do scientists have to say about this? I began looking into the science and started to cover some science conferences as a journalist. These are not conferences where people are smoking weed in the hallways, these are very straight scientists who are getting together and talking about what’s going on in the brain, receptors, molecular pathways, how different components of the plant work. Talking about synthetic equivalents of components of cannabis and what they do, in terms of targeting various conditions that they’ve induced in animals and it’s quite interesting. 


[00:02:15] And frankly its mind blowing, what the scientists were reporting.  Hundreds of scientists have come to these things from around the world, including Nobel Laureates.  These are serious scientists.


[00:02:41] They were talking less about cannabis itself and more about the brain.  And what studying the plant led him to discover about the human brain and the body, its so-called endocannabinoid system, and this was quite amazing to hear that the scientists report on different experiments involving CBD in particular. Usually studying the CBD as an isolated molecule, targeting an animal, a condition that’s induced in animals. CBD seemed to help with a wide range of conditions and the reports were really quite stunning.  But in California ,where people weren’t using CBD because it wasn’t part of the medical marijuana experience in the 2000’s, it was really only serendipitously that, what we refer to as, CBD-rich cannabis plants were rediscovered in Northern California. And this was first noted in 2009 after some of the labs emerged to test strains. The beginnings of the Cannabis industry coming up from the underground.


[00:03:52] And as a result of those labs working we were able to identify a plant with a notable amount of CBD, not just THC. It was a great interest to our small group, and formed Project CBD.  Because once we had access to these plants.  And once they were cloned and distributed  to anybody who wanted them, we were giving them away. We wanted to see what would happen when people started to use medical cannabis that included a good amount of CBD.  We never felt that there’s anything wrong with THC rich cannabis.  It’s a wonderful medicine. It gets you high, and a lot of people like that. Some people don’t.  For those that don’t like getting high, we thought the CBD option here would be very important.  And that it would lead to a strong increase in the number of people who are interested in medical cannabis because it still was so much stigmatized.


“The counterargument was always, well,  this is just a front for people that want to get high, or these are just stoners claiming they’re sick, you know that kind of thing.  Once CBD comes along you can’t say that  anymore, you don’t use it to get high or certainly not to get as high as you would otherwise.”


[00:04:57] The counterargument was always, well,  this is just a front for people that want to get high, or these are just stoners claiming they’re sick, you know that kind of thing.  Once CBD comes along you can’t say that  anymore, you don’t use it to get high or certainly not to get as high as you would otherwise.


[00:05:23] The story unfolds there.  It’s very exciting time 2009-2010 when it first started in Northern California. Spread from there ultimately.  A few years later, the parents of Charlotte in Colorado, they saw a TV program about what was happening in California with CBD and they tried to get some.  They were able to get some in Colorado and the rest is history. It became CNN national news and it really became a tipping point I think for people being interested in CBD.  And seeing cannabis in somewhat of a different light.  Already things were moving and shifting in a pro cannabis direction.  When CBD emerged, it really accentuated the pro cannabis shift. Dot dot dot, ten years later the door has flown off the door jambs when it comes to CBD.  There’s a CBD craze going on, and culturally, it’s  established a foothold.  It’s showing a lot of appeal, in many different ways, to the point where now Kim Kardashian is having her baby shower CBD themed.


“…And also presents an opportunity for people to really engage with cannabis therapeutics and  learn how to integrate these very important tools into their lives.”


[00:08:12] This is an opportunity to force the government to change the way it conducts policy,  CBD is forcing them to do that.  And also presents an opportunity for people to really engage with cannabis therapeutics and  learn how to integrate these very important tools into their lives. 


[00:08:43] Unfortunately a lot of states are still very restricted.  There Is only access to just CBD products.   It really needs to be a broad spectrum of products available to people, whether they have THC, CBD or a mixture.


[00:08:59] It’s important because all these things have medicinal attributes. CBD really does work better with some amount of THC in there as well.  We’ve learned that very consistently from people.  Scientifically it’s validated, the combination is synergistic and has more potency than either one individually.  


[00:09:25] I mean there has been for example very interesting research on cancer cells and CBD and THC.   CBD and THC  will kill cancer cells in a Petri dish or will kill it in an animal study or in a cell line study and that’s very interesting and very exciting.  But what they also find both THC and CBD have these anti-cancer properties when they are tested individually, but when the put those two together, not the whole plant, just those two together, you get it moving in a broad response where 1+1 =5.


[00:10:39] Wisdom CBD: [00:10:39] Have you spoken with Dede Mieri out in Israel and his research lab? 


“There are many different components in the plant.  Not just the cannabinoids themselves, but also the flavonoids, terpenoids, many components of the plant that have important values for human health.”


It’s great that in Israel they have a more encouraging environment certainly on the clinical research side.


[00:11:08] Martin Lee: [00:11:08] I’ve not visited him directly, I’ve not been to Israel, but I have heard him speak. I am familiar with his work.  Cannabis was described by Raphael Mechoulam who is considered the granddaddy or dean of the whole cannabis science research community.  He described cannabis as a medicinal treasure trove. He wasn’t just referring to THC and CBD.  There are many different components in the plant.  Not just the cannabinoids themselves, but also the flavonoids, terpenoids, many components of the plant that have important values for human health.  


[00:12:09] What scientists tend to do is they tend to hone in on one compound and test it in various ways.  And you can get some interesting information from that kind of approach.  It doesn’t necessarily translate into something practical and pragmatic.  Because the Cannabis as a plant really works as an ensemble effect.  The Entourage effect is the going phrase, but it is interesting to hone in on individual particular components. Some of these are very tiny amounts of the plant and it is not clear what it means to pluck it out and reproduce it.  Just to hold on that one tiny component and tease out its medicinal properties 


[00:13:27] What’s important is what one can access.  People are talking about not just THC and CBD, but also now CBG, Cannabigerol.  Now we are going to be able to access that because there are CBG rich plants that are going to be grown out. So that will become part of the mix.


“If they’re approaching this in terms of  therapeutic value, not so much preventative or for general wellness, but are  dealing with a disease, coping with a disease, hopefully treating a disease successfully.”


[00:14:04] When you hone in on the particulars and  the individual components, you sort of distract attention from what the real issue is initially with medical cannabis.  If they’re approaching this in terms of  therapeutic value, not so much preventative or for general wellness, but are dealing with a disease, coping with a disease, hopefully treating a disease successfully.


[00:14:39] Then the key question, for people at the outset is, “How do you manage psychoactivity? How do you deal with the intoxicating effect of cannabis?” Well, for some people that’s not a problem, they can handle that very easily. They enjoy it. 


[00:14:56] When you get to a certain point, a certain amount of THC, the intoxicating agent of cannabis. it gets to be unpleasant for people. Instead of anxiety relieving, it can induce anxiety.  It’s a  matter of dosage.


[00:15:14] Fortunately,  you know, for most people to get high you don’t need a really high dose. 10 milligrams is more than adequate.   If you’re dealing with, lets’ say a  tumor that needs to be shrunk, or gotten rid of, it might be you need a stronger dose, or higher dose of THC, you might need a concentrate.  It could be something, if you’re not used to it,  very unnerving, very unpleasant. Something that might not encourage a person to continue the therapy if you just slam them with a high dose of THC concentrate.  So by adding CBD to the mix, it allows for one to adjust the level of intoxication, or level of psychoactivity iff one prefers not to get high at all, as some people do, or at least think they do.   A lot of newbies are coming into this whole scene.  Many people are looking to cannabis to help their health, that were not part of the cannabis scene before.  Largely the result of CBD catalyzing the already existing momentum.


[00:16:29] The key challenge at the outset is how you manage psychoactivity with the understanding that if you’re in a place, if you’re in a state where you can access medical cannabis, not just THC, then you have the option of  a broader spectrum of medical options. Which is I think a good thing.  It could be confusing to people, but it also has ultimately better to have more  options.  Then it’s a question of how a person can start using cannabis in a way that doesn’t get them too high if they don’t want to be high. Living a lifestyle that doesn’t allow for any kind of impairment.  That’s what CBD offers, the possibility of managing psychoactivity.  


[00:17:21] I think within the CBD industry it has been promoted, somewhat misleadingly, as CBD doesn’t get you high or it’s not psychoactive.  It’s amazing a lot of health benefits and a lot of different ways, and it tempers THC’s psychoactivity.  The idea being that the more THC you can use with your CBD, probably the better it will be for you. So you don’t want to get too high and you want the THC to be effective.  You want the dose of THC low.   CBD is part of it.  It can really be a great  combination medicinally.  


[00:18:06] The studies we’ve looked at that show that when given a dose of THC that’s not sufficient for therapeutic value most, It’s not intoxicating, it’s just too low, when you add CBD to that low dose of THC, in some situations it will potentiate the effect of THC to make it an effective therapeutic dose without getting a person high.


[00:19:05] Wisdom CBD: [00:19:05] How is Project CBD initiating conversations around policy in in places other than California?


[00:19:18] Martin Lee: [00:19:18] We are not a big organization, so we have to pick and choose what we do.  Our program director was at the FDA public hearings, sharing our point of view on what should be done.  Also we’ve collected data for part of a research survey from thousands of patients, who describe their experience with CBD.  We ask survey participants to, wherever they are, just tell us what happened.  Some of us the comments are very powerful and we’ve sent a lot of that to the FDA.


[00:20:19] We’re going to release a statement about cannabis and the  Green New Deal. The Green New Deal has gotten some attention as a proposal for radical priority shift in general policy. We think cannabis  potentially could be very important part of that.  So that’s another idea we engage more on a federal level.


[00:20:44] Our Focus really has been in California, but  we do speak in other states, so we’re a national organization.  And that will be increasingly reflected on our website.  It had been a little more California focused, now if anything it’s more international. 


[00:21:04] So yeah different ways we will engage on that level.  The most important, in terms of what we’re doing, is focusing on the ground, what’s going on with patients, what’s going on with doctors, what’s going on with scientists, and try to share the information between all these different groups. It’s very exciting, actually. 


[00:21:23] Wisdom CBD: [00:21:23] There’s so much new information and it’s such a new field that it’s it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. 


“For example, we’re finding in a lot of situations, lower doses of cannabis work better than higher doses therapeutically.”


[00:21:33] Martin Lee: [00:21:33] It’s not like physics or something that you can hardly even wrap your head around some mathematical concepts. The way cannabis works is a little bit different from the way we typically expect medicine and pharmaceuticals to work.  For example, we’re finding in a lot of situations, lower doses of cannabis work better than higher doses therapeutically.   And that’d kind of an inversion of how we typically think of a pharmaceutical painkiller right?


[00:22:17] You got a pain? Take a painkiller.  If it doesn’t kill the pain enough, take more.  But with cannabis you very quickly reach a point where, the more you take the less effective it becomes as a painkiller.  In terms of CBD and THC, the amounts, clinically, that works for pain optimally, have been pretty well charted with Sativex by GW Pharmaceuticals.  They arrived at like 21 milligrams,  50:50, 1:1, CBD/THC mix, that was optimal to neuropathic pain.  When the patients in this study were given 42 milligrams, twice the dose, it also helped pain, but not as effective.  When it was doubled again to like 84 milligrams, it didn’t work. So, you know, that’s interesting, you know, and it’s sort of not the way we think about medicine.


[00:23:10] So we need to kind of reexamine our own assumptions and educate and share information as we collectively try to figure out how to best use these very promising tools. 


[00:23:23] Wisdom CBD: [00:23:23] One of the most promising things that I’ve read on CBD is its ability to help reduce opioid dependency.


[00:23:35]Martin Lee: [00:23:35] Yes. Obviously a very compelling issue right now that’s going on with opiate addiction and opiate overdose.   


[00:23:53] CBD and THC in different ways are helpful.  One of the very intriguing things about CBD in terms of opiate addiction and addiction in genera is that, based on studies with animals, they determined that CBD helped prevent relapse.  It can help  prevent relapse by the way it  affects memory.


[00:24:28] In some very visceral, almost deeply biological level, it breaks the memory link, between the addicted cues.  One goes into rehab and comes out and goes back to the same exact situation that you were in when you’re addicted to whatever you’re addicted to.  You sit in  the same chair, at the same desk with the same people around you.


[00:24:53] It’s very very difficult, all the cues are telling you to go back and have that experience again.  The animal studies found that CBD breaks the cue induced craving.


[00:25:14] And if that’s applied to humans, and we get anecdotal reports that it is, that would be very significant in terms of helping relapse. That would be just be one example, of course CBD and THC also have their own painkilling properties. And if you’re dealing with pain it’s what led into an addiction.   You have to deal with the pain also, you can’t just take a person off the thing that’s helping them cope with pain, something has to be accommodated.


“There’s many different aspects of this that are very promising in terms of cannabis therapy as a medicine for opiate addiction.”


[00:25:43] There’s many different aspects of this that are very promising in terms of cannabis therapy as a medicine for opiate addiction.  It seems when combined with opiates, cannabis lowers the necessary dose of the opiates for pain killing effects. So if you’re getting relief at a certain level of opiate use, if you combine it with cannabis, you should be able lower the opiates and get the same pain-killing effects. Of course, that will be  very important for limiting the number, reducing the number of overdose deaths. 


[00:26:21] So in many ways. I think that this should be taken seriously and unfortunately, there is still a lot of ‘Reefer Madness’ baggage in this culture and it’s difficult for some people to wrap their mind around the idea that a drug that they were taught was bad, actually can be an exceptional medicine even for drug addiction, which is quite ironic.


[00:27:09] Wisdom CBD: [00:27:09] One last question Martin.  Medical schools are super slow to integrate this type of understanding of the endocannabinoid system into their curricula. Is there any movement in California to create curricula around this?  


[00:27:38] I’ve heard some discussion about curricula for doctor’s or physicians, whether in training or continuing medical education.


[00:28:07] Martin Lee: [00:28:07] At many universities and colleges in the United States, there’s very interesting research going on, focusing on individual isolated cannabinoids or synthetic versions thereof, targeting different aspects of the endocannabinoid system.  This is happening in universities, but it’s not happening in the medical schools.  It’s happening in the biology and chemistry departments, in the neuroscience departments, not the neurology departments. It’s a strange bifurcation.  You do have an increasing number of universities and colleges – you’d  be surprised by some of the leading ones, for example, Indiana University, a really powerful group of scientists there.


[00:29:13] It’s beginning to happen a little bit, but it’s not entering into the medical school curriculum.  In terms of medical cannabis, the flower top, that’s what doctors need to know about, because that’s what’s out there that’s available for people. Yes, a greater knowledge of the endocannabinoid system and pharmaceuticals  might be developed in the future although it’s been pretty slow to develop in that regard. It’s not so much about cannabinoids, it’s more about cannabis that isn’t really crossing the line into academia.  And it should, because to graduate from medical school and not have at least a rudimentary understanding of the endocannabinoid system is totally shocking.  It’s just inconceivable how that situation could be considered okay.  It’s not.


“One learns a lot about human health studying the endocannabinoid system.”


[00:30:14] One learns a lot about human health studying the endocannabinoid system.  One of the gifts of cannabis is that it has opened the door to understanding human health in very profound ways because cannabis opened the door understanding the endocannabinoid system. Studying cannabis led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system.  And this is really a huge, huge, huge development for medical science, even though it still bears the stigma little bit of you know, ‘reefer madness’. , The fact that a Nobel Prize has not been given yet to Mechoulam is crazy.  But increasingly the boundaries are breaking down.  We do find very well respected scientists, Nobel laureates getting involved in the field because the endocannabinoid system pertains to so many different medical conditions. 


[00:31:15] Wisdom CBD: [00:31:15] All right, excellent conversation Martin.  I greatly appreciate you making the time, really wonderful speaking with you. 


[00:31:27] Martin Lee: [00:31:27] Take it easy.


Martin A. Lee is the co-founder and director of Project CBD and the author of several books, including Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana–Medical, Recreational and Scientific, which received the American Botanical Council’s James A. Duke Award for Excellence in Botanical Literature. Named by High Times as one of the 100 most influential people in cannabis, he is the 2016 winner of the Emerald Cup’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Lee is also co-founder of the media watch group FAIR(Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) and the author of Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD–The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond.

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