This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now online at a store near you.
Michele Ross, Ph.D.
Executive Director | IMPACT Network | Denver, Colorado
There’s a common misconception that cannabis research is nearly impossible in the United States due to the federal government’s erroneous and deceitful stance that marijuana is a dangerous, highly addictive drug with no medical benefits.
Neuroscientist Michele Ross is living proof of the government’s lies and she also contradicts the perception of marijuana research.
“If you have private funding, you can do almost any research you want in the United States,” says Ross, executive director of IMPACT Network, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that recently launched the largest study ever into the medical efficacy of cannabis for women.
“As an independent research institute, we’re able to do research that sometimes you can’t do at a college campus or a university,” she says, “because they have restrictions on using cannabis that doesn’t come from the federal government.”
Not only are certain illnesses underserved in traditional medicine, but with some diseases, there is no published research on any cannabinoid therapy.
“It’s not even about analyzing the research,” Ross says. “The research simply doesn’t exist.”
This creates fertile ground for scientific studies. Even a relatively small amount of information might provide some direction and a tremendous amount of help for those suffering from an illness.
Ross and her husband started IMPACT in 2013 with the goal of bridging knowledge from traditional medicine to applications in cannabinoid therapy for women with illnesses such as breast cancer, endometriosis, pelvic pain and autoimmune disorders, among others. To accomplish its mission, IMPACT partnered with Strainprint Technologies in August to launch the WMEDS Study (Women’s Health and Marijuana Efficacy Data Set Study). The ongoing project aims to fill in the gaps in cannabis research with critical data. The data could be published in scientific journals, used to apply for grants or even spur legislative change. Eventually it could lead to much-needed clinical trials.
“Our thinking is that it doesn’t make sense that there are thousands of women using these products and yet, when someone goes to their doctor and says they should try cannabis for this, the doctor laughs at them because there’s nothing published anywhere,” says Ross, who credits her own health to medical marijuana.
“Without cannabis, I’m very, very ill,” she says.
Based on the extensive list of ailments she’s had — endometriosis, blood clots, a heart attack, collapsed lungs, brain damage and nerve damage, among others — most people expect her to be taking a battalion of pharmaceuticals. Miraculously, she’s not on any.
“I was written off by the medical community,” she says. “They told me I would be disabled: ‘Get used to not being a scientist. Your life will never be the same.’”
Since Ross has been able to dial in her cannabis regimen, she’s gone from being confined to a wheelchair to regaining a sense of normalcy.
“I’m never going to run marathons again,” she says. “That’s not in my future, but I’m able to not only function, but do more than I ever did in my career, thanks to cannabis.”
Despite her research background, Ross faced the same challenge as many patients when it comes to using cannabis for medicinal purposes: there’s little information available about finding the right products, dosing, possible drug interactions, etc.
“It was very frustrating because I’m a scientist,” she says. “If I can’t experiment on myself, how hard is it for everyone else?”
The process was particularly tough for Ross, because her body cannot effectively process high doses of THC. It took a great deal of experimenting to find the “magic formula.”
“It’s important to realize every person is so different,” she says. “And there is a reason for it; it’s just that science hasn’t caught up to those reasons.”
Ross grew up in New Jersey and became interested in drug addiction treatment at a young age.
“Instead of becoming a doctor, I decided to become a scientist,” she says.
She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
“I wasn’t always a cannabis consumer, so if you’d told me 15 years ago that I’d be leading a cannabis nonprofit for women, I would have laughed in your face.”
Even now, with cannabis gaining mainstream recognition across the U.S., there’s a stigma that follows her career choice. Colleagues often view her as a drug dealer.
Even though her business is “100% by the book,” she says “perceptions are shaped by laws.”
But as laws evolve, it’s vital that people have a resource for getting good, reliable information. Too many patients rely on budtenders, complete strangers or online forums to access medical information. When it comes to so-called cannabis consultants, people “are not sure if they’re talking to a real expert or a charlatan,” Ross says. Plus, medical doctors may not understand medical cannabis — some, even in Colorado, don’t know the difference between THC and CBD — and they’re also restricted in what they can say by medical boards.
“The reality is that if you walk into a dispensary anywhere in the country and ask for something that helps you go to sleep, you may get five different products,” Ross says. “They’re not giving bad information because they’re rude; it’s just that they don’t know any better. It’s like asking your Target cashier to be your pharmacist.”[contextly_auto_sidebar]