About David Dawson
David is a medical cannabis researcher and educator. Currently involved in endocannabinoid research, caring for patients, and as Chief Science Officer for Fair Trade Cannabis, Medivault, and Balanced Bio. He is also the author of Medical Cannabis: The Definitive Guide and the novel Pummeled to Death by Hamburger: The Tales of a Man’s Lifetime on the Fringes of the Medical Cannabis Industry.
David, you’ve been researching cannabis for a number of years now. When did this begin?
The history of scientific discovery is abundant with what are sometimes considered to be serendipitous coincidences, and it might be claimed that I stumbled into my niche in the cannabis industry somewhat serendipitously. However, to paraphrase an idea first espoused by Louis Pasteur, even when some scientists attempt to claim that they just got lucky, it is apparent that serendipity only favors the prepared mind.
Even with this premise, I believe I am still able to advance the claim that I got lucky through serendipitous circumstances related to my not-so-fortuitous genetics, coupled with a lifetime of quality educational and developmental events. These genetic and environmental circumstances fortuitously combined to provide me the good fortune of being able to integrate decades of scientific and technological knowledge to the field of biomolecular psychology. Allow me to explain.
I am a 58-year-old male with a form of muscular dystrophy. This is an extremely painful condition, and a treatment protocol for this ailment was established in the late 1930s and early 1940s which physicians still are bureaucratically mandated to follow today. That treatment protocol for what is termed “chronic pain” consists of prescribing the patient an increasingly strong series of powerful opiates. My father was an anesthesiologist, so I was conditioned as a child to adhere to medical protocols, and as a result throughout my adult life I was prescribed and ingested increasing amounts of Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Codeine, and Fentanyl, finally ending up being prescribed 500 mg of Morphine three times a day. This is an obscenely nasty amount, and opiates do very, very nasty things to your body. They weaken the immune system, are addictive, individuals develop a tolerance to them, and they damage the liver and kidneys. Opiates are also extremely easy to overdose on and make it difficult to concentrate. For nearly eight decades physicians have been bureaucratically mandated give them out to patients like candy at Halloween. Addiction is a major aspect of health psychology, and according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 4.7 million Americans have bureaucratically sanctioned addictions to these prescription painkillers (Torres, 2013).
In August of 2004, my bureaucratically sanctioned opiate addiction caused me to suffer a stroke which resulted in the loss of the use of my left arm. That was also the last day I walked, and I was placed into a Hospice facility where my doctors hovered around my deathbed essentially saying, “We’ve done everything we can for him, we followed our protocol of treating his pain by addicting him to opiates for his entire adult life.”
At that time, I wasn’t particularly interested in dying, so I started researching alternatives. One of the alternatives I researched was medicinal cannabis. I hadn’t consumed any cannabis since college, and unlike Bill Clinton, in college I inhaled deeply and frequently. At that time, I became aware that there was, in addition to the usual effects of smoking cannabis, a reduction in my pain. I was eventually able to obtain a supply of medicinal grade cannabis from a friend from Colorado. It worked. It took me a couple of weeks to wean myself off the morphine, and the cannabis took care of any pain issues I was experiencing, and I haven’t touched a pharmaceutical medication since the year 2010.
Serendipitously, my bachelor’s degree, obtained in 1981, happened to be heavily focused on the study of molecular biology. Also, fortuitously, during my bachelor’s studies, I was trained in what was in the early 1980’s cutting-edge medical technology known as microdialysis. Microdialysis is a minimally-invasive sampling technique used for continuous measurement of free, unbound endogenous molecule concentrations in the extracellular fluid of virtually any vertebrate tissue. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree, I continued my academic pursuits, obtaining a Master’s degree in Science Education from the University of Iowa and secured a position teaching organic chemistry and biochemistry at a small private college in Duluth, Minnesota. As a lark, during a summer hiatus, I accepted a position in the casino industry. My job responsibilities included training casino employees in the skills necessary to be effective managers. Sometimes life decisions are based on economics, and this position paid me three times more than I made teaching at the college level, and I never went back.
I worked in the casino industry for 18 years; the entire time addicted to administratively sanctioned opiates. The opiate crisis has been in the news a lot lately, and it has been quite common to place blame for it on the prescribing doctors and to condemn them for their ignorance (Harrison, 2016). While it is beneficial to a person’s self-esteem to claim the prescribing physicians were not smart enough to understand they were poisoning their patients slowly, it turns out these physicians have been bureaucratically mandated to addict chronic pain patients to opiates since the late 1930’s. As gratifying as it might have been to my self-esteem for me to place blame on physicians for synergizing the opiate crisis in this country, attributing it to physicians is wrong because they had been conditioned to believe the benefits of opiates outweigh the risks. The underlying point is doctors have been mandated by bureaucracies which make their medical decisions for them to follow a protocol that was established before Adolf Hitler overran Europe. There is a fundamental error in attributing to physicians the ability to research alternatives to addicting patients to opiates in that the bureaucratic system which oversees their behavior essentially demands they do so and punishes them economically if they refuse.
Serendipity and good fortune are often cited as key factors in making scientific innovations. However, to quote Louis Pasteur directly; “In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind” (Lecture 1854). My little “death experience” coupled with my understanding of molecular biology and microdialysis sampling techniques allowed me to collaborate with a CORE laboratory in Indiana and begin research based on utilizing microdialysis sampling techniques to numerically measure the basal levels of a healthy vertebrate’s endocannabinoid system. By extracting and determining basal levels of the endocannabinoids Anandamide, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), Oleamide, Virodhamine (O-arachidonoyl ethanolamine), N-arachidonoyl dopamine (NADA) and Lysophosphatidylinositol from the extracellular spaces of the brain, a measure of receptor function as well as the overall health and balance of a vertebrate’s physiology and psychology can be determined. With the development of microdialysis sampling techniques, basal levels of the endocannabinoids can be measured from a simple extraction of the Cerebral Spinal Fluid collected from the Cisterna Magna (Buczynski & Parsons, 2010). By extracting and establishing the appropriate balance of these molecules in healthy test subjects, comparisons can be made with the ratios in ailing individuals and a therapeutic strategy of phytocannabinoid supplementation should be able to be devised (Fraga et al. 2016). This is the paradigm the science the supplementation of endocannabinoids with memetic phytocannabinoid equivalents is based on. Basal endocannabinoid comparisons that have been made between healthy individuals and individuals suffering from a variety of psychological afflictions are numerous. These include addiction disorders, chronic pain, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia nervosa, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, bulimia, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), depression, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders and sexual dysfunction.
The potential studies in endocannabinoid research are diverse, amazing, falsifiable, and easy to design. Given the likelihood the Donald Trump administration will continue to reinforce the ban on research of phytocannabinoids and given the fact that the endocannabinoids act on various brain receptors in the same way, an argument could be made that research of the endocannabinoids could be considered the most compelling area of study for a biomolecular psychologist to pursue.
With it being difficult to provide evidence of the medical benefits of cannabis, it’s fair to say that from a personal experience, switching from opiates to medical cannabis had a huge impact.
There were times when I was on the opiates when I couldn’t engage in a coherent conversation. The stroke certainly caused some damage to my brain, but this damage was mitigated through my ingestion of cannabinoid molecules. It’s interesting to note that that the United States owns the patent for using the cannabinoid molecules to treat damage caused by strokes, so I guess I owe them some money.
You have been researching endocannabinoids in great detail. Have you used this as a loophole to research deeper?
This is an interestingly phrased question, and you are on the right track. Researching the endocannabinoids allows me to research the phytocannabinoids because they are essentially the same molecule in the sense that both the endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids act on the receptors in the same ways. The only difference is one is produced by the vertebrate body, and one is produced by the cannabis plant. This difference becomes extremely important when you begin to discuss legalities. In 1971, President Richard Nixon, in the midst of the Watergate Scandal, declared war on cannabis and banned research on the phytocannabinoids. I realized early on that the best method of getting around this nonsense was to research the endocannabinoids. This can be accomplished without worrying because it is basic research on the molecules the human body produces naturally, but those are also essentially the same molecules that the cannabis plant produces naturally. Those molecules are called phytocannabinoids. Don’t ask me about how two totally disparate species evolved such a perfectly symbiotic relationship because the whole idea simply baffles me.
What is the biggest discovery you have come across so far?
This is a paradigm in its infancy, so scientific discoveries are being made all over the world quite frequently. All the same, I think what is most important thing from a medical standpoint is that we have the technology in place to numerically measure the balance of the human endocannabinoid system. This data is currently being compiled for the purpose of designing protocols for treating various endocannabinoid deficiencies through supplementation of the appropriate phytocannabinoid equivalents.
We briefly discussed the current status of both CBD research and legalities within the United States, Canada, Europe, and Israel. Who is leading the race?
If this was a horserace, the promoters wouldn’t be putting up barriers designed to impede progress. That being said, I don’t think it could be argued that the leader in endocannabinoid research is Israel, and they are way out in front. England is next, with the rest of Europe running close. Canada is on the outside about to make a run but could fade due to lack of interest. The United States horse is trotting along, and the Jockey from his mount is explaining to the spectators that the United States wins at everything.
But scientific discovery is a process, not a race. Scientific discoveries in endocannabinoid and phytocannabinoid research occur through systematically compiling and analyzing the results of studies from scientists throughout the world, and some highly significant studies are coming from the United States despite the bureaucratic barriers imposed. In the same way all the cannabinoids work together to aid humanity in achieving a sense of well-being, the scientists studying these cannabinoids work together across national boundaries with the common goal of increasing humanity’s knowledge of itself.
You have been following the cannabis industry for quite some time now. How was cannabis perceived before Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs in 1972?
The history of cannabis in the United States is an interesting topic. I tend to relate the war on drugs to the history of the Viet Nam War. Before 1972 it was a police action. In 1972 Nixon declared a full-blown war on the cannabis plant, demanding it be eliminated from the earth entirely and banned research on the phytocannabinoid molecules. He was able to bully some countries into joining this war, but without realizing it, the President of the United States had declared war on the molecules the human body produces naturally. The DEA was established in 1973 as the military unit designated to engage the enemy which consists of a plant and the molecules it contains. It was the duty of the soldiers conscripted to that unit to ensure that no research occurred on the cannabinoid molecules in the United States unless the experiments were designed to prove these molecules were dangerous to humans. I realize it seems ridiculous for a government to outlaw research on the molecules the human body produces naturally, but this is exactly what occurred.
With law changes throughout the States and Canada, after billions of dollars and more than four decades, it appears that the plant is winning. Europe is behind, however, we see progress. Do you feel the momentum will continue on a global scale?
The plant is winning the war for several reasons, and all can be related to the history of other wars in which America has been recently engaged. For example, the war on cannabis relates to the Viet Nam War in that in the American soldiers had no idea what they were fighting for in Viet Nam. The soldiers fighting for the plant appear to inherently understand that what they are fighting for is the right to maintain a symbiotic relationship with a species that humanity has been friends with for more than ten thousand years.
Probably the greatest weapon this plant has in its arsenal is science, and much like science can be credited with winning World War II, the science will enable the plant to prevail in this war. Another massive weapon the plant has is money. The financial power this plant has behind it is incredible. And that’s from all facets of this industry. Even insurance companies are beginning to recognize how much money they can save with patients medicating with cannabis rather than prescription meds because these extremely expensive meds end up costing insurance companies more money for additional meds to treat the side effects of the original prescriptions. Even in America, insurance companies are beginning to come down on the side of the plant because such a position benefits them financially. Finally, one of the biggest problems Hitler had in winning WW II was lack of fuel oil to keep the war machine running. Cannabis does not have that problem.
You’re right in the middle of launching www.fairtradecannabis.net, www.medivault.net, and www.balancedbio.com – what is your approach to business with these new ventures?
The many years that I have been involved in the cannabis industry, both personally and professionally, have provided me with unique early exposure to some of the most innovative business developments available.
Such has been the case with three exceptional new entries into the marketplace which I enthusiastically endorse.
Medivault, for example, has positioned itself as a global healthcare provider for the millions of people who are either unable to obtain basic healthcare benefits, or who suffer from the numerous everyday ailments which could be successfully managed with medical marijuana.
Fair Trade Cannabis, on the other hand, has been designed to provide a platform for cannabis businesses to offer goods and services in a fair and equitable environment, much like an “Angie’s List” for this bourgeoning new industry.
And balanced bio has emerged as a leading provider of some of the highest quality Colorado sourced CBD Oil formulations on the market today.
What these companies have in common is an uncompromising dedication to working synergistically within the cannabis community for the benefit of society at large, much like terpenes and cannabinoids work together to produce the powerful entourage effect.
While commerce in most other industries is primarily focused on profitability and the bottom line, a unique characteristic of those who choose to pursue this path is their genuine commitment to social responsibility.
Our goal and vision with these enterprises is to set a standard of excellence based upon our shared desire to ethically educate, medicate, and liberate our world.
FTC, Fair Trade Cannabis is a Community of Cannabis Industry Professionals. We are a self-organized network of people with common agenda, cause, and interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information, and other resources. Our Virtual “jurisdictional communities” consist of participants in an online e-commerce website www.FairtradeCannabis.net. The site provides vetted business goods and services and “group rates,” from other Members seeking a level field.
Our “communities’” opportunity has been an evolution over the past 40 years of technology and society. The PC, the Internet (cloud) and the now ubiquitous cell phones, all contribute to our present situation. So, today’s catalyst in unifying the jurisdictions, everywhere, is an e-commerce cell phone based site.
Fairtrade is a noun, which, by definition means “trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries.” The emerging Cannabis Markets are global and yet confined to “legal jurisdictions.” The Fair Trade Cannabis’ tagline is “It’s an Idea, The Spirit of Cannabis and a Notion of Fairness.” To us, FTC is all about treating everyone fairly. That Notion includes the plant, the environment, the employees, the community and the environment.
Fair trade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Fair Trade supports farmers and craftspeople around the world, who are socially and economically marginalized. These producers often face steep hurdles in finding, banking, markets and customers for their goods.
MediVault ® intends to be a leader in advancing the interests of the independent physician and patient. This direction continues today. Our service offerings include mechanisms to strengthen the position of independent physicians through programs such as the patient-centered medical home and care coordination to our clinical integration program, which provides insight into affordable healthcare cost and quality issues for our participating patients. Additionally, MediVault® physicians receive the benefit of professionally reviewed payor contracts and fee negotiation services typically not available to small to mid-sized medical practices.
MediVault® believes that demands in the Medical Cannabis healthcare industry are increasingly creating a fundamental realignment of financial incentives between the physician and patient. This realignment changes the focus of healthcare from a Payor mandated structure to a patient choice, fee-for-service environment and to one where patient access to and choice of physicians becomes unlimited. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, the financial risk of providing healthcare services within premium limits is increasingly falling on the physician and other healthcare providers, rather than the third-party payors. The acceptance of this financial risk has created the need for physicians to become more aware of the business aspects of medicine. The integration of quality of care issues with cost, utilization, and outcomes has required the physician to add “business” to the “art and science” of the practice of medicine.
During the last several years, various organizations have been created to address the business needs of medical service providers. Many of these organizations, however, lack physician leadership, physician commitment of medical service providers, or physician governance. Individual physicians and small physician groups do not have the administrative capacity, the risk management expertise or the capital to invest in sophisticated information systems necessary to manage to change medical trends. Individual physicians have traditionally been at a disadvantage in accessing enrollees and have been forced to choose between (a) independently contracting or (b) abandoning individual practice to join a larger entity such as a multi-specialty physician group, an employed staff model, a hospital or other entity. These alternatives can limit the physician’s access to the patient populations or reduce the physician’s ability to remain independent.
The Company’s strategy is to take advantage of these changes in the healthcare delivery system by (i) creating a company that is not HMO/PPO controlled; (ii) collecting encounter data by using current encounter information and disseminating utilization information back to physicians for the purpose of aiding in the reengineering of the medical cannabis healthcare delivery system; (iii) integrating physicians into cannabis healthcare delivery networks that provide a comprehensive range of healthcare services, thereby providing a single source of access to local networks; (v) effectively managing the cost of providing care; (vi) reducing for physicians some of the administrative responsibilities and economic risks of providing managed care services, and (vii) creating care coordination opportunities within a patient centered medical home and world wide web global environment.
My relationship with the founders of balanced bio began years ago when we collaborated on research of microdialysis sampling techniques to measure the basal levels of a healthy vertebrate’s endocannabinoid system. At that time, they were primarily focused on the development of synthetic single molecule therapies aimed at assisting big pharma in the development of prescription drugs. Ultimately, they decided to switch teams and join the movement to create a safer, more natural alternative. And that is how balanced bio began.
Although the medicinal cannabis industry has made great strides in providing access to patients in need, bureaucratic roadblocks still exist, denying this medicine to the public at large. To offer legal relief to patients with symptoms ranging from anxiety to inflammation and pain, balanced bio offers one of the highest organic concentrations, per dose, of CBD oil on the market today. Their CO2 extraction method, although expensive, offers the safest, most efficient method available to yield high-quality cannabinoids, terpenoids, and essential oils for the safest alternative and the purest product. While other CBD companies have demonized the THC molecule and removed it from their products, balanced bio recognizes the importance of THC to ensure that consumers experience the full entourage effect.
In addition, the carrier agent used is vital to the efficacy of the end product. For example, many CBD Oil products contain glycerin, flavors, and artificial sweeteners. In contrast, balanced bio’s concentrated formulations use only organic coconut and hemp seed oils. This ensures the optimal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids, thereby eliminating deficiencies in the endocannabinoid system.
Whole plant, full spectrum, and 3rd party tested, the balanced bio line of CBD Oil products is expected to be the most trusted brand for consumers interested in an option to naturally medicate and cure.
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