Dubbed the ‘father of the legal cannabis industry’, Steve DeAngelo is a trailblazer of legalisation and a world-leading expert on cannabis for medical and wellbeing purposes. Here, he tells Sarah Sinclair how the plant saved his life and why he believes it can save the planet.
“I’d probably be dead without cannabis,” admits DeAngelo, on Zoom from his home in California.
Having watched six of his mother’s siblings succumb to alcohol dependency, the 62-year-old really does credit the plant with saving his life.
“I come from a family with a history of alcoholism. There were seven siblings and six of them died prematurely,” he continues.
“As a young man, I saw myself heading down that same path and I really credit cannabis with helping me stay healthy and find a productive lifestyle.”
But, he adds: “That’s just the beginning of the relationship.”
DeAngelo’s first experience of cannabis is one which will resonate with many; smoking a joint in a friend’s bedroom as a 13-year-old boy.
Walking home through the same park he passed through every day, he had what he now describes as his first “spiritual experience”.
“I’d never really noticed much about what was going on in that park, until that day,” he says.
“I started noticing the light filtering down through the leaves and the way that the light was casting shadows on the path. The way that my foot was stepping on dry leaves underneath. The sun on the back of my neck . The gurgling of a creek in the background. There was one moment where all of those things came together and I felt like I was connected to this whole web of nature.
“I knew when I came out of that park that cannabis was going to be in my life forever,” he adds.
But growing up under heavy prohibition in the early 70s, DeAngelo was also aware that his enlightening discovery was illegal.
“Cannabis helped us be the people we really wanted to be”
An early advocate
Raised by parents who were active in the civil rights movement and already skipping school to attend anti-war protests, DeAngelo was never going to keep his head down and subject himself to a life of consuming in the shadows.
“If I saw an injustice, it was very natural for me to stand up and try to do something about it,” he says.
“I didn’t know anything about the medical effects of cannabis or the endocannabinoid system – which hadn’t even been discovered yet – at the time.
“What me and my friends knew was that cannabis helped us be the people that we really wanted to be. It taught us a new set of lessons, a new set of ideals at a time when we were profoundly disillusioned with what we saw going on in the world around us.”
DeAngelo eventually dropped out of school completely to join the Youth International Party – also known as the Yippies – and went onto become the lead organiser of the annual Fourth of July Smoke-In in Washington DC, carrying the position for a decade.
He later opened what would be known as a legendary D.C. counter-cultural gathering place that became known as a refuge for local cannabis and peace activists during the Reagan-Bush era, and played a pivotal role in the passage of Initiative 59, Washington D.C.’s medical cannabis law in 1998.
From a belief that cannabis use should be wellness centric, DeAngelo co-founded the California dispensary, Harborside in 2006 [he stepped down from his position as Chairman Emeritus in January 2021]. With over 300,000 patients now registered, Harbourside was one of the first in the nation to support comprehensive cannabis education for seniors, veterans, and families with severely ill children.
Overcoming multiple attempts by the US Department of Justice to close the dispensary down, he remained at the forefront of the cannabis reform movement and made history on January 1, 2018, with the first legal cannabis sale in California’s first moments of legal recreational use.
The ‘overlooked wellness benefits’
But DeAngelo continues to believe that all cannabis consumption is rooted in wellness and dividing it into recreational and medical categories fails to capture the true essence of why people use it.
“I look at cannabis as this multi-purpose wellness tool, and I define wellness very broadly,” he explains.
“It includes things like Alzheimer’s, cancer, epilepsy and all of the very grave diseases that we know cannabis is effective for.
“It also includes chronic conditions that can make people’s lives miserable, from depression, anxiety and insomnia to Crohn’s disease.”
He continues: “But then there’s a whole range of effects that have been written off as just ‘getting high’ – I like to think of them as the overlooked wellness benefits of cannabis.
“That includes the ability of cannabis to extend your sense of patience, its ability to wake up your sense of play, to spark creativity, to bring you closer to nature, to turn an argument into a discussion or a walk through the park into a spiritual experience.
“I use cannabis for a wide variety of purposes. Sometimes it’s for a medical issue – I am 62-years-old, I frequently wake up in the morning with aches and pains – but it also gives me a sense of energy and helps me maintain my equilibrium.”
“Cannabis is going to be recognised as the biggest medical breakthrough of our time”
DeAngelo, literally, wrote the book on taking the wellness approach to cannabis. Originally published in 2015, The Cannabis Manifesto: A New Paradigm for Wellness, is an account of his personal journey with cannabis, outlining numerous solid arguments for legalisation while presenting research-backed benefits of the plant.
“What the ancient textbooks tell us is that cannabis has been used for millennia for almost every medical condition that you can imagine,” he says.
“When I started surfacing that history and talking about it, people wrote me off as a crazy hippie, but now we have the science to show that it is actually true.
“The endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in the human body. It is present in all of our organs, all of our connective tissue. This is the scientific medical explanation of why cannabis is effective for such a wide range of seemingly unrelated conditions. In a sane world, this discovery should have ended the debate.”
He adds: “I’m convinced that when this history is written, the rediscovery of the therapeutic properties of cannabis is going to be recognised as the greatest medical breakthrough of all time.”
“Cannabis is a resource that the world can no longer afford to do without”
How hemp can save the world
The power and potential of cannabis doesn’t stop with its wellness properties though. DeAngelo advocates that an ethical cannabis and hemp industry can tackle many of the major challenges facing modern society, from reviving the economy, to saving the planet.
“I believe that hemp – and cannabis more generally – can and will be one of the major forces that saves this world,” he says.
“Anything that you can make out of petroleum, out of cotton, out of trees, you can make out of hemp. When done at scale it’s no more expensive than those more destructive methods and it’s incredibly healing for the planet. We sequester 20 tonnes of atmospheric carbon for every hectare of hemp that we harvest. The rise of hempcrete [a relatively new composite material made from wet-mixing hemp shiv with a binder] as a building material will revolutionise the way that we build our structures all around the world.
“The reality is that cannabis is a resource that the world can no longer afford to do without.”
Cannabis is now legal, both for medical purposes and adult-use, in 15 states across the US and with Biden in the White House, DeAngelo expects to see complete legalisation – either federally or by individual state – within the next four years.
On the one hand the nation is leading the way but on the other, 40,000 US citizens are still locked up for cannabis offences now legal in most states. Once cannabis had been legalised in California, a natural progression for DeAngelo was seeking justice for those still serving extreme sentences for what are often relatively minor crimes.
Founded in 2019, The Last Prisoner Project has a simple but – as DeAngelo admits – “extraordinarily ambitious” mission, to release every single prisoner currently imprisoned for cannabis related offences.
Working with a number of organisations as part of broader social justice effort, the non-profit has played a part in the mass releases of hundreds of prisoners, as well as being directly responsible for the freedom of others.
Success stories so far include that of Donte Westmoreland, 25, who was serving an eight year sentence in the state of Kansas for possession of one pound of cannabis and in December 2020, 71-year-old Richard DeLisi – the longest serving non-violent prisoner in the US. DeLisi had been sentenced to 90 years in 1988 for conspiracy to distribute cannabis. He was home with his family in time for Christmas.
This is not an issue that’s confined to the US. Albert Tió, one of the leaders of the Spanish movement for the regulation of cannabis was recently sentenced to five years for a cannabis intervention at his Barcelona club and is in the process of taking his case to the European Court of Justice.
“That said to me that it’s time for us to take the Last Prisoner Project to Europe and the rest of the world,” says DeAngelo.
“Our mission is to make sure that every single cannabis prisoner on this planet is released, and we’re not going to stop until we accomplish that goal, no matter how many years or how many generations it takes us to do that.
“I don’t start something without assuming I am going to complete it. We are certainly not going to leave our fallen soldiers on the field of battle.”
“It’s time for activists in the UK to take things into their own hands”
Change is coming
Turning our gaze to the landscape in the UK, where despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in 2018, barriers to access show little sign of shifting, is it time to take a leaf out of DeAngelo’s book?
“It’s time for activists in the UK to take things into their own hands,” he says.
“It’s an outrageous situation where you have thousands of people who are suffering, in some cases dying, needlessly, when we know there is a medicine that can help.
“There are people in the UK who grow great cannabis and it’s time for those growers to get that medicine into the hands of the people who need it.”
And what if they fear finding themselves in the very same position as those DeAngelo is currently seeking justice for?
He is undeterred.
“Are 12 jurors going to stand up and convict somebody who was growing cannabis and giving it away to a child with epilepsy, or a patient with brain cancer? I think that’s a risk worth taking.”
He adds: “I grew up under very heavy prohibition, I know what that means, but everyone who is part of the movement in the UK is on the winning side of history.
“One day the prohibition of cannabis is going to be looked upon as a bizarre time in human history, when we willingly divorced ourselves from the most valuable plant on the planet.
“Change is coming and we will win this one, I promise.”
CBGA may be ‘more potent’ than CBD against seizures in Dravet syndrome
Dr Lyndsey Anderson said there is more to explore when it comes to creating more treatment options for Dravet syndrome.
Scientists say they have found the ‘Mother of all cannabinoids’ which may help to reduce seizures in Dravet syndrome.
A new study on mice from the University of Sydney found that three acidic cannabinoids found in cannabis reduced seizures in Dravet syndrome, an intractable form of childhood epilepsy.
The three cannabinoids are cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), cannabidivarinic acid (CBDVA), cannabigerovarinic acid (CBGVA). All three but CBGA in particular “may contribute to the effects of cannabis-based products in childhood epilepsy” noted the researchers and were found to potentially have ‘anticonvulsant properties.”
The study marks the first time that three acidic cannabinoids were found to potentially help reduce seizures for Dravet syndrome.
Speaking with Cannabis Health News, the lead author of the study, Dr Lyndsey Anderson, said: “We found that CBGA exhibited both anticonvulsant and pro-convulsant effects. CBGA was more potent than CBD against febrile seizures in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome. We also found that a combination of CBGA and clobazam was more effective than either treatment alone. Additionally, we found that CBGA was anticonvulsant in the maximal electroshock acute seizure model, a model for generalized tonic-clonic seizures.”
She added: “CBGA did, however, present some proconvulsant effects. The frequency of spontaneous seizures in the mouse model of Dravet syndrome was increased with a high dose of CBGA. Also, CBGA was proconvulsant in the 6-Hz acute seizure model, a model of focal, psychomotor seizures.”
Although CBGA shows promise, Dr Anderson also stressed that it needs more research before it can replace CBD. She cautioned that Dravet syndrome patients may still need to proceed with caution.
“Artisanal cannabis-based products are believed to reduce seizures in Dravet syndrome patients,” she said. “As these oils contain rare cannabinoids like CBGA, it is possible CBGA then contributes to the anticonvulsant effects of these artisanal cannabis oils. However, there were proconvulsant effects observed with CBGA, suggesting that Dravet syndrome patients may need to proceed with caution. The proconvulsant liability of CBGA would need to be addressed before it replaced CBD as an anticonvulsant.”
What is CBGA?
Sometimes referred to as ‘the mother of all cannabinoids,’ CBGA is the precursor molecule to many different cannabinioids including CBD and THC. It is thought to help some diseases such as colon cancer, metabolic disease and cardiovascular disease. It is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid much like CBD.
Dr Anderson explains that more research is needed to explain how the three cannabinoids work together.
“We don’t know how they work together yet,” she said. “We found that CBGA, CBDVA and CBGVA were all individually anticonvulsant against thermally induced seizures in the mouse model of Dravet syndrome. We did not investigate whether a combination of these three cannabinoids would result in a greater anticonvulsant effect than either cannabinoid alone. Future work will definitely explore this possibility.”
CBGA future research
This isn’t the end of the research into CBGA for Dravet Syndrome. Dr Anderson said there is more to explore when it comes to creating more treatment options for Dravet syndrome.
She said: “Next on the horizon for this research is to explore whether the anticonvulsant properties of CBDVA and CBGVA translate to other seizure types including spontaneous seizures in the mouse model of Dravet syndrome. Additionally, we have extensively interrogated the anticonvulsant potential of individual cannabinoids and identified ten with anticonvulsant properties.”
“We are now interested in investigating what happens when we combine these anticonvulsant properties. It remains an open possibility that greater anticonvulsant effects are achieved when the cannabinoids are administered in combination.”
New York regulators vote to allow home grow for medical cannabis patients
The new regulations would allow medical cannabis patients and carers in the state a safe, cost-effective way to access their medication
The proposed regulations would allow medical cannabis patients and carers in New York to grow up to six plants, indoors or outdoors, for therapeutic use.
New York cannabis regulators voted unanimously for the proposed regulations which would not only allow qualified patients to grow their own plants.
According to a slide from the Cannabis Control Board presentation, patients would be allowed six plants each but carers with more than one patient, can “cultivate 1 additional cannabis plant for each subsequent patient.”
The new regulations would impose a duty on patients to ensure no one under the age of 21 can access the plants or any products cultivated from them.
Landlords would also have the option to prohibit their tenants from growing cannabis on their property if they chose. The products must not be processed using anything other than alcohol.
The regulations will now have a 60-day public commentary period before review.
Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board (CCB) said: “We are proud to present those proposed regulations. The home cultivation of medical cannabis will provide certified patients with a cost-effective means of obtaining cannabis through personal cultivation while creating a set of standards governing the conduct and activities relating to the personal cultivation of cannabis.”
In a press release, the CCB also gave an update on the expungement of cannabis convictions. “Approximately 203,000 cannabis-related charges are presently being suppressed from criminal background searches and are in process of being expunged, adding to the approximately 198,000 records that were expunged as part of the first round of cannabis expungement following legislation enacted in 2019.”
New York recreational market
Earlier this year, New York. It would become the 16th US state to legalise recreational cannabis creating thousands of jobs and tax revenue. The bill was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in March.
The law would allow for possession of up to three ounces of marijuana for personal use. It would allow licensed dispensaries to sell cannabis products to those over 21.
Neighbouring states who have already legalised marijuana, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, meant that New York citizens were leaving to access cannabis losing tax revenue in the process.
It is expected that home grow for recreational users will follow the proposed regulations for medical cannabis patients but only after the new market is established.
CiiTECH announces new CPD-accredited training course
It aims to support and encourage UK pharmacists, physicians and nurses.
Cannabis healthcare company CiiTECH has been awarded CPD accreditation for its academy course, which aims to support and encourage UK pharmacists, physicians and nurses.
CiiTECH’s Cannabis Science and Therapeutics course has had tremendous success after launching the course earlier this year.
The new and innovative course offers an interactive digital platform with a 12 chapter syllabus comprising of medical cannabis, CBD knowledge and information, specifically catered for healthcare professionals in the UK.
Industry experts in the UK could potentially face serious challenges if the trainers in question who are both recommending, and dispensing information are not up to the required standards in the field.
People currently working in the industry, such as pharmacy professionals will feel more secure and confident after taking the course. With such an array of knowledge from the experts, they are better able to recommend, treat and understand benefits and causes of their patients.
Besides all the learning and comprehensive information, simple FAQ questions by patients can be simply downloaded to have at hand as an ongoing reference.
The CBD industry is an extremely fast growing market, people are becoming more and more aware of benefits and common usage. It’s said that by 2025 the market in the UK only will be worth over £3 billion.
This means that clinics and pharmacies must be sourcing trustworthy information to their customers.
This course is aimed at filling an education gap in the market, by covering several points in intricate detail, from plant history to dosing, and patient care. A lot of occupations in the UK require an on going learning process each year, with positive results overtime, leading to a greater service in the industry.
“Through years of experience serving UK customers with our portfolio of CBD brands it was abundantly clear that the level of misinformation was enormous and confusing for everyone involved,” says Clifton Flack, CEO and founder of CiiTECH.
“Formal education is always important but with little to no existence in the UK we could not see a better way to help lead the industry than to establish our own online academy and give healthcare professionals the opportunity to not only learn about cannabis therapeutics but to earn further education points at the same time.”
Flack adds: “With the rise in UK cannabis prescriptions and CiiTECH’s long awaited move into the THC medical cannabis arena, now is the time to increase professional education and it is exactly why we have embarked on this education journey. CiiTECH is fast becoming the UK’s one stop shop for all your cannabis needs; research, education, consumer brands.”
CiiTECH collaborated with Medical Cannabis Mentor to produce the course and prepare it for CPD certification.
Joe Dolce, founder and CEO of Medical Cannabis Mentor, comments: “The course synthesises the most up-to-date scientific research and clinical guidelines in an engaging format to help professionals make informed treatment decisions.”
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