It’s been more than two decades since California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, and during that time, there’s been a massive shift in America’s attitude toward the plant. Support for legalization is at an all-time high: according to the most recent data from Pew Research Center, 67 percent of Americans now believe cannabis should be legal, a number that has more than doubled since California’s historic vote. Seniors are using cannabis in record numbers, the government is relaxing its restrictions on research, and even conservative states like Texas have introduced medical cannabis programs.
One thing hasn’t changed, though: most doctors are still reluctant to prescribe it.
This presents obvious problems for patients, but even within the medical community itself, many believe that more doctors should be prescribing medical cannabis. There are a number of theories for why this hasn’t been the case — including the ingrained stigma still left over from the War on Drugs — but one of the most commonly-cited reasons is that doctors simply don’t know enough about the plant to recommend it. However, today a number of medical professionals are seeking to change that.
Dr. Mary Clifton is one of them. A longtime internist in New York, she’s the author of numerous books on CBD and cannabis. She’s also a medical advisor and cannabis expert for a number of companies, including Veriheal and Boomer Naturals. Her most important role, however, may be as a cannabis educator — for the last several years, she’s been on a one-woman crusade to “educate, normalize, and legalize,” as she puts it.
Today, we’re proud to announce that Dr. Clifton is joining the cannabisMD team as a medical expert and editor. We recently caught up with her to discuss her background, her work, and her hopes for the future of medical cannabis:
Dr. Mary Clifton: I’ve practiced internal medicine for almost 25 years. I became interested in cannabis after I provided bedside hospice care at the time of my brother’s death and at the time of a dear friend‘s death. The difference in the dying process with cannabis was so significant that I realized I needed to learn more and figure out how I could help others with these powerful formulations.
Dr. Clifton: I didn’t feel like there was a good place to go to find well-researched, well-referenced data that was easy to understand and presented in a fun way. My work helps to make it easy for people to know how do use cannabinoid formulations safely and effectively.
Dr. Clifton: I’m not tired of any questions at this point. I really enjoy working in this community and helping people find the products that they need to feel their best.
Dr. Clifton: I think the biggest reason most doctors have a limited knowledge base is because of cannabis prohibition. Because of that prohibition, there’s been restricted access to good research for the majority of doctors in the United States. That’s slowly changing, but nevertheless, people prefer to specialize in their area of interest. Learning about new systems and products takes time away from their already-busy practice. The use of cannabis as an everyday product with a high level of acceptance is coming, but it’s going to take a lot of time.
Dr. Clifton: New data emerges all the time, but I think the strongest information surrounds use of the medications and formulations for anxiety and insomnia. Of course, pain also responds very well to cannabinoid therapy.
On the other hand, we have more limited data on the use of cannabis for vasomotor instability surrounding menopause or the management of osteoporosis.
Dr. Clifton: We don’t have big, expensive multi-center trials, but we do have elegant small trials and 4,000 years of medical experience with these therapies. All signs point to CBD’s benefits for pain, anxiety, insomnia, and many other conditions.
The research on CBD and seizures in particular is reassuring and exciting. There are some excellent randomized controlled trials, and we’ve already seen the first CBD-derived drug approved for the treatment of rare seizure disorders.
CBD is a very powerful formulation and we are just beginning to uncover its value for many conditions.
Dr. Clifton: My licensure prohibits the use of medical cannabis. I think ideal dosages continue to be mostly a matter of starting at a low serving size — we have to say “serving size” rather than “dosage” to meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for a product like CBD) — and increasing the serving size while monitoring outcomes over 2-3 weeks.
Dr. Clifton: I’m considering a contribution to an infused cookbook, but my work is heavily focused on the development of a broad, comprehensive video library. I’m especially interested in expanding my content on metabolism and mood disorders, and those videos are in production now.