Science Cafe discusses medical cannabis

DANIEL TAK / AGGIE
DANIEL TAK / AGGIE

UC Davis professor explains process of cannabis research.

On Oct. 14, Professor Don Land held a discussion titled “Reefer Sanity: The Modern Science of Medicinal Cannabis” at G Street WunderBar. Every table in front of the stage was filled even before the event was scheduled to start. By 5:30 p.m., when the discussion began, people were standing along the back of the room and lining the bar.

Davis Science Cafe began as an opportunity for professors to share their work and has flourished into a forum that caters to an audience of varying professional minds.

Organic chemistry professor Jared Shaw started Science Cafe three years ago as a monthly event with the support of the UC Davis Department of Chemistry. During the first event in November 2012, professor Matt Augustine spoke about the relationship between wine, medical imaging and airport security.

Ridge Tolbooth, a self-described science enthusiast, has been coming to the events every month for the last year and a half. He recalls that the largest crowd was for a lactation lecture from Professor Bruce German in June 2014. Shaw credits the crowd of about 90 to the professor’s appearance on Insight radio.

“Students will show up when they are connected to the professor but that circle only comes once,” Tolbooth said. “University regulars and non-university people come for the entertainment.”

The lecture quickly became a discussion about varying topics as crowd members were eager to ask their cannabis-related questions.

Land discussed a study on the frequency of tumors in three groups: one that did not smoke, one that smoked cigarettes and one that smoked cannabis. The group with the most tumor growth was the one that smoked cigarettes, while those who smoked cannabis and those who did not smoke at all were closer in number to each other. Land attributes these results to the idea that some cancers shrink in reaction to cannabis.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cannabis appeared to kill cancer cells in a laboratory setting but has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an effective cancer treatment in humans.

Cannabis has 85 chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, which include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

In a mouse trial, analyzed by the NCI, CBD was shown to kill breast cancer cells and minimally affect normal cells. NCI stated that cannabinoids have the potential to decrease the quantity and growth of tumors.

Most plants grown for recreational use contain a higher content of THC than CBD. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis. Although CBD is non-psychoactive, it may have some medicinal purposes, according to Land.

Land also expressed the difficulty of gaining FDA approval of potential clinical trials due to the varying chemical makeup of the cannabis plant. The current federal and state cannabis laws also pose a problem for his research. Cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which falls under the heaviest federal government regulations.

“I can’t do any testing on campus or carry cannabis on campus,” Land said. “I can send DNA across state lines but not cannabis itself.”

However, Land states that there are currently trials trying to obtain FDA approval.

Cheryl Demharter, a French professor and regular at the Science Cafe, expressed curiosity for any new type of scientific medical discoveries.

“As long as you have an open mind and are willing to learn, then you will have the openness and spirit to learn so much more,” Demharter said.

For future event information, Shaw recommends checking www.capscicomm.org or joining Davis Science Cafe on Facebook. Davis Science Cafe is held on the second Wednesday of every month.