Twenty years ago, the notion that hundreds of doctors, nurses,
patients, lawyers, and curious citizens would gather in a drab
conference room to see scientists present research papers and hear
physicians discuss the therapeutic benefits of marijuana was little
more than a stoner’s fantasy. But in 2006, 10 years after
Californians started a national trend by voting to allow sick
people to smoke, eat, or otherwise imbibe marijuana to ease their
pains, this notion is a reality — and it’s happening this April
here in Santa Barbara. Starting with a reception on Thursday, April
6 and continuing for two full days, the Fourth National Clinical
Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics — a series of lectures,
discussions, and social soirées — will be taking over S.B. City
College. The conference, staged every other year since 2000, is a
chance for doctors, nurses, and everyone else to find out about the
latest clinical studies on medicinal cannabis from around the world
and listen to experiential reports on marijuana’s triumphs and
tribulations as a treatment. All the while, the healthcare
professionals who attend will gain official credits for their
continuing educations, exactly as they get credits for attending
professional conferences on lung cancer or heart disease. The
simple fact that an accredited conference exists and is endorsed by
UC San Francisco and recognized by the American Medical Association
is hard-and-fast evidence that medical marijuana is no longer a med
school joke, but a worthy, valuable, scientifically proven
treatment. And for some, as conference-goers will learn, marijuana
is the only thing that works. Co-organizer Dr. David Bearman, a
longtime physician in S.B. County whose background is in drug-abuse
treatment and prevention, said that the conference is intended “to
put a human face on the fact that this is actually beneficial for
people.” He hopes to combat the oft-reported notion, repeated
continually by the mass media, that the medical marijuana “is a
bunch of old hippies sitting around and saying, ‘Wow dude, this is
good stuff.’ The point in fact is that there are a lot of people
for whom this issue is very serious.” But strides for medical
marijuana aside, the landmark event is even more, according to
Bearman. He’s been to plenty of conferences in his three-plus
decades of being a doctor, and he explained, “What’s unique about
this conference is the combination of researchers, patients,
patient advocates, and clinicians. That is a rarity, and it
provides for an exciting mix of ideas.” Who’s Behind It The
conference’s dynamic nature shouldn’t be surprising considering the
multi-pronged organization behind it, Patients Out of Time (POT).
Run by registered nurse/author Mary Lynn Mathre and Al Byrne — a
former Naval officer who’s been an expert on the medicine and
politics of cannabis ever since one of his parents smoked the drug
for relief in the 1960s — POT primarily advocates for medical
marijuana among healthcare professionals. But the group also works
to inform the public on the topic, a task fitting for Byrne, who
worked in the upper echelon of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML, the primary force for full
marijuana legalization in the U.S.) in the ’80s and early ’90s.
Thirdly — and perhaps most significantly — Patients Out of Time
represent five of the seven patients (two remain anonymous) who
currently receive medical marijuana grown and legally provided by
the United States government. One such patient, Elvy Mussika, is
the organization’s national spokesperson, while the other
four — Corrine Millet, Barbara Douglass, George McMahon, and Irv
Rosenfeld — serve on POT’s board of directors (all but Millet will
attend the conference). One of Patients Out of Time’s advisors is
Alice O’Leary, whose late partner Robert Randall unwittingly
instigated the modern medical marijuana movement when he
successfully persuaded the government to provide for him legal
marijuana to battle his glaucoma in 1976. Randall’s success briefly
opened the floodgates for more legally marijuana-smoking patients,
but more importantly, it put medicinal cannabis — which had been
the number-two prescribed drug at the turn of the century before
its politically and economically motivated prohibition in
1937 — back on the radar screen. Randall died in 2001, but his
memory lives large and will be celebrated on Friday, April 7, at a
tribute/benefit dinner — complete with auction and band — for
Patients Out of Time. What to Expect? In addition to the tribute,
the conference welcomes presenters from Israel, the United Kingdom,
Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and three California medical
schools. “That should bring us national attention,” promised
Bearman. After Thursday night’s kickoff, Friday begins with opening
remarks by Bearman and Mayor Marty Blum, whose local celebrity
status will be outshined by guests Montel Williams, the talk-show
host who uses marijuana to fight his multiple sclerosis, and Joan
Dangerfield, the wife of comedian Rodney, who used marijuana as
well. Subsequent talks include Cannabis: Synthetic vs. Natural,
Efficacy of Smoked Cannabis on Human Experimental Pain, and Federal
Patients: Are They Healthy?, among others. Saturday moves forward
at much the same scientific pace and will feature talks on Cannabis
Use and Pregnancy, AIDS and Cannabis, and Cannabis and Mental
Health. “There will be researchers talking about both animal and
clinical research that clearly documents with double-blind studies
that this is effective,” explained Bearman. “And there will be
patients who have found that nothing else works but cannabis.” As
you can tell, the topics range from heavy duty science to more
approachable topics that everyday people are curious about, which
is the main point. At the end of these three days, Bearman hopes
that they will have confronted the “Hitlerian notion that if you
tell a big enough lie often enough, people will believe it. Our
position is that if you tell the truth in clear, plain English,
people will get it. And frankly, they already have.” Surely, this
conference will only help more.

4·1·1 To sign up for the conference, call Patients Out of Time
at (434) 263-4484 or visit $155 general; $255
nurses and healthcare professionals; $335 physicians; benefit
dinner $80. (UCSF is designating 15.75 AMA PRA category 1 credits,
which include 6.5 credits toward pain management.)


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