The red tape tying up clinical medical cannabis research in the United States is stifling progress that could be made in the field, says well-known Colorado medical cannabis doctor and advocate Alan Shackelford. Because of that, he's begun conducting research in Israel, where he says the climate is much more favorable to the work.
"I went to Israel because I was frustrated," Shackelford told the Washington Post last week. "Israel is the one place in the world that combines the scientific expertise, world-class universities and scientists. It's so exciting."
There are roughly 20,000 medical cannabis patients in Israel, and the country has been open to clinical trials to back anecdotal evidence that the plant helps patients.
Dr. Alan Shackelford testifies before a state legislative committee.
We've spoken with Shackelford several times in the past about his frustrations with the stigma that stymies cannabis research in this country, and how a lack of clinical research makes it more difficult to get post-traumatic stress disorder and other diagnoses added to the list of qualifying conditions for the Colorado medical cannabis program. "We need to make it easier for our legitimate, amazing medical scientists to study this plant. I'm passionate about that," he told us in an August 2012 interview. "If marijuana has no medical benefit, why does Health and Human Services have a patent on it and substances found in it for medical purposes? I think that needs to come out, and people need to know that."
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Recently named chief science officer for One World Cannabis, a publicly traded research firm, Shackleford has been given the green light to head up studies on the efficacy of cannabis for patients with severe pain, seizures, cancer, migraines and PTSD. Elsewhere in Israel, clinical trials are being conducted on Crohn's patients and children with major seizure disorders.
Shackelford will conduct research using high-CBD strains, including the Israeli-bred "Rafael," a strain that isn't likely to be available outside of that country anytime soon: Laws in that country forbid the export of medical cannabis, and getting permission to sell the plant or drugs made from the it will be an uphill battle. Michael Dor, senior medical adviser for the Israeli Health Ministry, says government officials are protective of such developments, which they see as "worth a lot of money."
What can be exported, however, is knowledge gained from research like Shackelford's. In fact, Dor says, Canada and Jamaica have already based medical cannabis policies on Israeli research.