Martin Lee: Educating the Public About Medical Cannabis

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Martin Lee is co-founder and director of the California-based Project CBD, a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion and publication of cannabis-focused research — particularly investigations into the medicinal applications of cannabidiol (CBD) and other components of the cannabis plant. Martin has worked as an award-winning investigative journalist, covering the development of medical cannabis for years in the pages of O’Shaughnessy’s. He also authored Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana, and before that, Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD. He received the Pope Foundation Journalism Award award for his investigative journalism in 1994.

Martin recently joined Ganjapreneur podcast host Shango Los for a discussion about how the conversation around cannabis — particularly CBD and the plant’s apparent myriad medicinal uses — has been slowly evolving in mainstream media and the overall American society.

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Shango Los: Hi there and welcome to the podcast, I am your host Shango Los. The podcast gives us an opportunity to speak directly to entrepreneurs, cannabis growers, product developers and cannabis medicine researchers, all focused on making the most of cannabis normalization. As your host, I do my best to bring you original cannabis industry ideas that will ignite your own entrepreneurial spark and give you actual information to improve your business strategy and improve your health and the health of cannabis patients everywhere.

Today, my guest is Martin Lee. Martin Lee is co-founder and director of Project CBD, a California based non profit dedicated to promoting and publicizing research into the medical uses of cannabidiol and the other components of the cannabis plant. He is author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana. Martin also co-authored his first book, Acid Dreams, the CIA, LSD and the 60’s Rebellion in 1985. As a journalist, Martin covered the medical cannabis movement for years in the pages of O’Shaughnessy’s and he was awarded the pope foundation award for investigative journalism in 1994.

Thanks for being on the show Martin.

Martin Lee: My pleasure.

Shango Los: So Martin, well many of our audience folk are familiar with the basics CBD and the endo-cannabinoid system, it’s barely been discussed prior to the last four or five years when it began to gain a wider media attention. What about the American zeitgeist has prevented CBD to be popular until just now?

Martin Lee: Well it’s interesting. When we first launched Project CBD six years ago, we had a sense that it could be a real game changer for the medical marijuana situation, that it could help to liberate cannabis from the confines of the drug abuse paradigm. I think events have born us out on that but it really took the CNN broadcast in the summer of 2013 which showed the dramatic outcomes for children with pediatric epilepsy when they were administered CBD rich oil. That was a tipping point.

I think the zeitgeist was ready for that and we’ve been in the midst of long standing pro-cannabis cultural shift but I think CBD has accentuated that shift quite dramatically and really changed parameters of the game so to speak. I think the zeitgeist was being prepared for awhile and people are ready for this I think because there was great dissatification prevalent for the typical medical options, corporate medical options, big pharma and so forth. So it’s not surprising to us that CBD sort of triggered a popular upsurge of interest and I think that will continue. We see a big surge of newcomers so to speak into the medical marijuana milieu who are looking for cannabis products, cannabis remedies that don’t necessarily get them high because many people don’t enjoy the cannabis high and those that don’t can now benefit therapeutically from certain cannabis strains, certain cannabis products because CBD is not psychoactive the way THC is. It can neutralize or at least lessen the psycho-activity of THC so it means that all those people who for one reason or other were not inclined to reach for cannabis as an option therapeutically now can do so.

I think that bodes well for the future in terms of the medical marijuana situation.

Shango Los: You know that’s a really good point Martin. When you start allowing people to find out a new way to heal themselves, that in and of itself will change people’s expectations. Up to just a few years ago, people were only thinking about cannabis as an intoxicant only and the fact that CBD is not psychoactive and actually you know we’ve seen all the images now of it healing children, which really gets to people’s hearts.

Were you involved at all with Sanjay Gupta coming to this realization with CBD or were you watching it like the rest of us and seeing an opportunity now to do more outreach for education?

Martin Lee: Well at Project CBD we knew several months ahead of time that that program was coming because we were in touch with the doctor who was guiding little Charlotte and her family in terms of the cannabis therapeutic approach that they were pursuing so we knew that was coming, we expected it but there’s no way one could really be prepared for the onslaught that happened afterwards.

That really dramatically changed the conversation, the national conversation about cannabis. I mean prior to that show, that public conversations, the public discourse was still bogged down in questions like well does medical marijuana really work? Is it just a front for stoners? It’s just an excuse for people to get high, that sort of thing. What kind of damage will it do to my child’s brain if they’re exposed? Those were the key questions that were being discussed, let’s say before CBD if we could put it that way.

Now the key question is not does it work but how we can best use cannabis therapeutically for maximum benefit. Not what harm will it do my child but how can I access CBD rich oil to save my child’s life so there’s been a dramatic change there and I say that this shift has been long in coming. It did take that national television broadcast to function as a tipping point but you know a lot had been happening before that to lay the ground work to make that tipping point possible.

Shango Los: It’s a shame that you know it had to be sick children that was necessary to bring that to the forefront but at the same time we’re all grateful that it has played out as it has because now CBD is increased in awareness and everyone has got an opportunity to participate and seek out the medicine. You know we had Dr. Ethan Russo on the program discussing endo-cannabinoid deficiency last year and his ideas were very clear yet because he is a scientist, he speaks in a language that is a bit unfamiliar to most lay people. For yourself as both a journalist and a CBD evangelist, what do you see as some of the challenges of translating the benefits of the detailed CBD molecule to the general public so that they can learn en masse?

Martin Lee: Well the endo-cannabinoid system is quite fascinating as an intellectual area, a scientific area but it’s true. It’s difficult for non-scientists to understand sometimes what scientists are talking about. Scientists tend to talk to each other. It’s kind of like a hermetically sealed environment and I think that’s one of the roles that Project CBD had always envisioned for itself is to translate the science so that it’s accessible to the medical marijuana community, the public at large and I’m not including doctors and physicians in that who are not necessarily steeped in this science but how can we sum up the endo-cannabinoid system. If you want to talk about the particulars, we would think of three components.

There are receptors in the brain that respond pharmacologically to compounds in cannabis. The receptors in the brain and throughout the body. There are also androgynous compounds that are marijuana like molecules that our own brain, our body creates. They’re similar in effect to the compounds in the plant but exist naturally in all mammals. Actually in all animals but for insects. Then there are also enzymes in the body that help to create these androgynous compounds and help to break them down. It modulates the levels of our own cannaboids and Dr. Ethan Ruso has made a very important contribution with this notion of endo-cannabinoid deficiency. That if we are lacking or we have low levels for one reason or another. Maybe it’s genetics, maybe it’s the wear and tear of stress throughout one’s life that our levels of our own marijuana like molecules become depleted and then we become very vulnerable to all sorts of diseases because the endo-cannaboid system has a neuroprotective function. It literally protects cells against degeneration.

I know we’re kind of getting into science speak but I just think of the endo-cannaboid system as the fulcrum of health and as we live out our years and accumulate stress because stress wears down the endo-cannabinoid system. People as they get older tend to get sick. While it’s not simply a matter of depleted endo-cannabinoids, there are other factors obviously at play. This is very very important physiological system because it regulates pretty much all the other systems. You know when we were taking high school biology we were taught about that we had a skeletal system, an immune system, a reproductive system, hormonal, et cetera et cetera but we never were taught that we had an endo-cannaboid system because we didn’t know about this scientifically until really the 1990’s and still it’s not even taught in medicals schools which is quite shocking because it’s so fundamental to health.

Shango Los: Sure is. Yeah.

Martin Lee: I think of it as like the dowel of health, the endo-cannabinoids. It’s the balance point. If you have a healthy balanced endo-cannabinoid system you will be a healthy human being.

Shango Los: It always reminds me a lot of the term tutonify in oriental medicine where it’s not that you’re pumping something up or you’re not that your depleting it is that you’re looking for a balance in the middle where all of the systems can run effectively and the endo-cannabinoid system seems to be that tantivying system that helps all the other systems click along.

Martin Lee: Yes there’s actually the phrase endo-cannaboid tone but what’s interesting when we speak about the cannabis plant and what’s all important here is the whole plant and how it interacts with our own physiology and how it interacts with the endo-cannabinoid system. The cannabis plant is a very unusual plant. It’s what called an herbal adaptogen and one of the features of that it has a way of balancing one’s system so that it basically can calm the hyper, it can energize the sluggish. It has a way of balancing both excess and deficiency so the same strain, literally the same remedy can have different effects for different people depending on what their condition is and what their imbalance is and that’s one of the beauties and the magic of whole plant cannabis.

Shango Los: Thank you for that explanation Martin. It’s very insightful to realize that the same plant can effect two people differently. It certainly makes it more challenging to recommend strains to friends but it sure makes a lot more sense with how our bodies interact with it. It’s time for us to take a short break. We’ll be right back. You are listening to the pod cast.

Welcome back. You are listening to the pod cost. I am your host, Shango Los and our guest this week is Martin Lee, author of the book Smoke Signals and founder of Project CBD. So Martin, before the break we were talking about endo-cannabinoid deficiency and the powers of cannabidiol and cannabidiol is just one of the cannabinoids in cannabis. Most of the plant remains unresearched but as a researcher I’m sure that you’re starting to get ideas of what else we might uncover in the plant.

Can you tell us a little bit about the yet unresearched aspects of the plant that we’re looking forward to?

Martin Lee: There’s a whole world there, it’s a very good questions and it’s a fascinating area. If we just focus on the cannabinoids in particular, there is about a hundred different cannabinoids of which CBD and THC are the most well known and well studies. There are others. One that’s coming up now on the radar is THCV, it’s kind of a variation on THC. THCV has the opposite effect in some ways for THC in that it, well THC stimulates the munchies, THCV has the opposite effect, it kind of mitigates appetite. It’s beginning to be looked at as something possibly for metabolic syndrome and obesity. We have to keep in mind that cannabis isn’t just cannabinoids in the plant. There are flavanoids, there are terpenes and all these different components of the plant have specific medical attributes but when you combine them all together they create what scientists call the entourage effect or ensemble effect so that the therapeutic impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of the parts.

Just looking at the terpenes for example, these are the essential oils that give the plant its smell. CBD and THC have no smell. We all know that cannabis has a very very potent smell and each strain has it’s own unique smell and there’s something about that that’s very important. The smell that resonates for the patient is probably the one that works for best for them, the one that will resonate with their own physiology but there is for example a terpene called betacaraethylene. There’s actually a terpene called betacaraethylene that’s very prominent in many different cannabis strains and betacaraethylen is unique among terpenes in the plant in that it’s the one and only one that we know of that actually binds directly to one of the cannabinoid receptors. There’s two known receptor systems.

CB1 receptor systems are primarily in the brain and central nervous nervous system. It mediates psycho-activity and many other things but the CB2 receptor, very very important. It’s prominent in immune cells and the peripheral nervous system and metabolic tissue and this betacaraethylene terpene binds directly to the CB2 receptor which modulates inflammation and inflammation underlies so many different conditions that it’s very important if you have substance that will actually turn down inflammation and if it hits that CB2 receptor, that’s what it will do. It modulates inflammation and so then I think that something in the future we’re likely to see in cannabis products, is something with a little extra betacaraethylene added to it and betacaraethylene incidentally is available in many different herbs, not just cannabis. It’s very prominent in echinacea for example. Echinacea is betacaraethylene rich so that’s one of the reasons why as an herb echinacean is know for something that’s good for the immune system. It’s actually in many other herbs, black pepper for example.

So that’s just one aspect of what’s possible with scientific research into cannabis. Looking at all the different aspects of the plant and we can modulate by looking at all different aspects of the plant and what’s in it. We can kind of tailor made by looking at all different aspects of the plant and different components in it, we can tailor different products to suit specific therapeutic needs and that’s very exciting.

Shango Los: Do you think that with the help of technology we now have been able to tease apart all the different components of the cannabis plant that we know what is there and no it’s just a matter of going through and researching the different aspects or are we still at a point where there are components of the plants that we have not even identified yet and so we’re still unpacking the plant to know what’s even there?

Martin Lee: Well I think the latter is true, that we still, there’s a lot mystery to the plant. One very exciting area of technology is a gene sequencing of the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant has been gene sequenced so has the human being and I think one area that’s going to be gaining more prominence in the future is matching what we know about the cannabinoids in the plant based on the gene sequencing and figuring out how that relates to human beings. There are conditions such as epilepsy for example where scientists now can sequence the genes of an epileptic patient and find out what genes have what’s called polymorphisms, or mutations in the gene. They’re finding out now for example why it is that CBD rich oil works better for certain children with pediatric epilepsy and why it has no effect on others. Why it doesn’t seem to help others because they can see what’s happening in the child in terms of what genes are mutated.

For Dravet syndrome for example and Doose, another epileptic condition, pediatric, that’s very very damaging for a child, they respond very very well to CBD rich oil. For some other people or some other children, CBD might not be their molecule. It might THC or THCA, THC in it’s acid form which is non-psychoactive by the way. That’s how it actually appears in the plant. For the plant to get you high, you have to heat it. This is a fascinating area where we’re just at the beginning of, we’re in threshold I think of major discoveries that will match the specific components of the plant to what is happening specifically with people and their conditions.

Shango Los: One of the questions that I get all the time is what ratio of CBD to THC works for particular conditions. For example, something that’s a two to one tends to work out really well with folks with Parkinson’s but that would actually make many children lethargic in dealing with their seizures. When you are explaining CBD to THC ratios to people so that they can really grok it, what do you tell them?

Martin Lee: Well I think it’s best not think of the ratios in terms of matching it to a particular condition. What’s important is to match the ratio to a person and at Project CBD we do a lot of workshops, staff training at medical marijuana dispensaries and we always tell the budtenders, as they’re called, the people who are dealing directly with the patients, they’re job given the fact that they really don’t have medical training is not to cure an illness or a disease but simply to help a patient find a comfortable entry point into cannabis therapeutics.

For people who are naive with respect to cannabis, maybe senior citizens, maybe young children, likely a good starting ratio for them would be something that would be CBD dominant with very little THC. It won’t be psychoactive like THC, it won’t get them high or stoned and it’s kind of an easy way for people to start with cannabis therapeutics and for some people that might be the perfect ending places as well. For others who are comfortable with THC because one’s sensitivity to THC is all important here. To what extent one likes to get high, they might start on a ratio that’s one to one, equal parts CBD to THC which may have ultimately a greater therapeutic impact because CBD and THC synergize, they potentate each other, they make each other more a stronger for different therapeutic applications and that’s been show in many different scientific experiments.

Really it’s a matter of what’s the right way for a person to use cannabis in terms of the ratio, not so much what is the perfect ratio for a condition. I’m not sure if we’ll ever find the perfect ratio for a condition because ultimately we’re not treating conditions, we’re treating human beings.

Shango Los: I think that this is a good time for us to plug the great section on your website that talks about conditions. We were speaking in the first segment about how Project CBD seeks to educate folks and make it easier for them to learn about CBD and early on I was continually encouraging people to go to the website and look up the different THC and cannabis related scientific research that has gone on and sometimes people get to the website and I would just lose them. But then I found the section at When you click on conditions, it lists all the different, well not all the different conditions but many of the popular ailments that people are trying to find relief from and when you click on the particular ailment, you’ve done the research work for them at and it just automatically brings you all of the most recent scientific research on that particular ailment. If you’re listening and you have an ailment and you kind of want to get right to learning, that’s a great place to go so thank you for having that on your site Martin.

Martin Lee: Well we listed fifty different conditions and actually there’s more that could be listed but the requirement for being listed on the website is that has to be some scientific research. I think anecdotal research and reports is very important and very relevant. The cut off for us is there has to be some science there. I should emphasize that most of the scientific research with respect to CBD and cannabinoids and cannabis is focused on individual components of the plant and that is not involving actual whole plant material. It involves individual components of the plant and it’s generally given to animals as pre-clinical research so it’s test tubes, petri dishes, maybe human cell lines but there’s not a lot of clinical data because of prohibition has prohibited clinical research by and large involving cannabis.

That’s important to keep in mind with the provides of that what a single molecule does to the human brain, whether it be CBD, THC or anything else, is different from what the whole plant does. We draw a very important distinction between CBD and CBD-rich cannabis and ultimately Project CBD advocates for whole plant cannabis therapeutics so we coined the phrase I should say my colleague Fred Gardener coined the phrase CBD-rich very early on when the first strains that had a lot of CBD in them were re-discovered in northern California in 2009. Rather than calling it high-CBD we wanted to get away from the connotation of high so we called it CBD-rich.

Shango Los: Right on. That makes a lot of sense. It’s time for us to take another short break. We’ll be right back. You are listening to the pod cast.

Welcome back. You are listening to the pod cast. I am your host Shango Los and our guest this week is Martin Lee, author of the book Smoke Signals and founder of Project CBD. Martin, in the fist segment we were talking about your early days O’Shaughnessy’s, the intense cannabis journal the covers the science behind cannabis and 2010 you and your partner that are at O’Shaughnessy’s, Fred Gardener, decided to launch Project CBD. Your role as a journalist on the cannabis beat for O’Shaughnessy’s and being an educator using O’Shaughnessy’s as the vehicle sounds to me as very similar to your now role as a global educator with Project CBD. What was the opportunity that you and Fred saw that caused you to want to take the step from simply reporting the news in O’Shaughnessy’s to doing outreach to educate folks?

Martin Lee: Well it is true that O’Shaughnessy’s gave birth to Project CBD in 2010 and I’m very thankful for that and Fred Gardener is currently the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s and recently came out with a monumental fantastic issue that anyone who is interested in this area whether as an entrepreneur, a patient or a doctor should get a hold of it. It is a massive issue with phenomenal information, cutting edge science and you can go to to find that. In the spirit of O’Shaughnessy’s both Project CBD and O’Shaughnessy’s have tried to speak to the layperson, speak without the heavy scientific jargon to make those concepts that we learn about from the scientists, make them accessible to many people. We decided that once we realize that CBD rich strain were available CBD medicine would become available as a result for medical marijuana patients, we felt that is just warranted it’s own special focus and that’s why we launched Project CBD. Project CBD does have an international audience. We get inquiries from all over the world. I think there was one month we got inquiries from over a hundred and fifty different countries and typically people are seeking information and there is a lot of confusion out there for various reasons.

Often times people contact us and say are they looking for CBD, they want CBD, the medical part of the plant, not the THC, not the recreational part and we have to tell them you know THC is very medical. They work best together and you don’t want just CBD alone, you need THC and CBD together to get the best therapeutic effect. That’s one of the many misconceptions that we try to debunk and so our role as educators has evolved as the whole situation has evolved. Initially it was all about letting people know that there was more to the plant than just THC, that there was more to cannabis therapeutics than just getting high. These days there is a lot more going on now and we focus on really the nuts and bolts of what patients need to do, what they need to know when they’re seeking out CBD rich products, what they need to look for to determine if it’s a good quality product and what they need to talk to their physicians about because physicians tend to be poorly educated.

What they need to do basically to pursue a cannabis therapeutic regimen.

Shango Los: You know we’re down to our last two minutes but I wanted to make sure that we talked about your book, Smoke Signals, which has opened the door to cannabis therapeutics to so many people and those are both patients and pharmaceutical executives both. With normalization expanding, do you think there’s still going to be a place for citizen science and cannabis breeding and healing techniques or do you foresee that cannabis is going to become the domain of pharmaceutical companies who have access to the advanced technology to outpace neighborhood herbalists.

Martin Lee: It’s going to be very interesting how all this unfolds. You remember, cannabis therapeutics has been with us really since before the written word. You know cannabis has a been a friend of humanity since long ago. This is not going to go away. The whole plant cannabis as a therapy will not disappear no matter what but it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out legally, how the regulatory regime gets imposed. I think it’s very very important that in addition to whatever will happen with Big Pharma and there’s no doubt that CBD as an isolate will become available as an approved just as THC already is in the form of Marinol, a schedule three drug right now. CBD which is not yet legal federally, is not legal in all fifty states in that regard I think one day will become so with a prescription just like THC is.

The problem is it’s the arrogance of Big Pharma. It’s the sense that they feel that their way is the best way when in fact when we look at the studies that have been done coming from Israel recently comparing actually the therapeutic efficacy of single molecule CBD, meaning the Big Pharma way, and whole plant CBD-rich oil, without going into all the details because we don’t have time, the conclusion is very very clear that CBD-rich oil, whole plant CBD is more efficacious and better for patients than CBD as a single molecule and there’s many reasons. I can explain that, that’s a whole other show. Maybe we’ll talk about that some other time.

Shango Los: That’s great and that is a show that we will want all of the legislators in the states where they are passing CBD-only laws, we’ll want them to hear that to realize that whole plant medicine and taking advantage of the entourage effect is the best way to go. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for being on the show Martin.

Martin Lee: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

Shango Los: You can find out more about Martin Lee and Project CBD at their website. You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur podcast in the podcast section at and in the apple iTunes store. On the Ganjapreneur.come website you can find the latest cannabis news, product reviews, and cannabis jobs updated daily along with transcriptions of this podcast. You can also download the app in iTunes and Google Play. You can also find this show on the I Heart Radio Network app, bringing the Ganjapreneur podcast to sixty million mobile devices. Do you have a company that wants to reach our national audience of cannabis enthusiasts? Email to find out how. Thanks to Brasco for producing our show, I am your host Shango Los.