While marijuana and any derivative of a cannabis plant that contains any percentage of THC—the component of the plant that gets the user high—is illegal in Idaho, the medical benefits of the cannabis plants—hemp and marijuana—can still be shared. This year’s Sun Valley Wellness Festival and Conference will present Dr. David Hepburn, a medical cannabis expert who will share the stigmas and polarization surrounding the plant alongside “scientific validity, truth backed by facts, and real-world medical applications” the cannabis plants contain, according to the festival website.

    A retired general practitioner, Hepburn became a medical cannabis advocate because of his patients.

    “I learned with them,” Hepburn said in an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express last month.

    From British Columbia, Canada, Hepburn grew up in the Church of Latter-day Saints and considers himself a “very conservative individual.” But in the early 2000s, after medical cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2001, Hepburn began hearing from patients that their chronic pain and the nausea from chemotherapy treatments had been diminished after using medical cannabis. He had already seen the power of leaf medicine while doing medical volunteer work on a remote island in the South Pacific, Tanna, and was curious about the medical properties of cannabis.

    One patient of his, an artist who hadn’t been able to paint for two years due to myopathy—a disease of the muscle in which the muscle fibers do not function properly—from her neck to her arms, had begun using cannabis and was eventually able to restore mobility without pain to her hands and continue her passion for painting.

    In another personal anecdote, Hepburn recalled a 90-year-old who had been on heavy narcotics for years for pain relief.

    “I remember her pointing her finger at me and saying, ‘Dr. Hepburn, this stuff really works,’’’ referring to medical cannabis, he said.

    “They weren’t out to get high, they were out to get help,” Hepburn noted.

    After many years of research, Hepburn now advocates that medical cannabis—whether that be a cannabidiol (CBD oil) or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana—be used to treat neuropathic, central nervous system and peripheral nervous system pain. CBD and THC are both components of hemp and marijuana plants that have been found to have medical benefits, along with other compounds found in the plants.

    Hepburn will be presenting at the Sun Valley Wellness Festival on “Hits and Myths” of medical cannabis. He will also participate in a panel discussion about CBD with two other speakers.

    Hepburn received his medical degree from the University of Ottawa in 1986 and served as a doctor during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He was also the doctor to the 1996 Olympic Games and served as medical director of the 1994 Commonwealth Games in gymnastics. He serves as a member of several cannabis-related boards, including the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines. He is also the medical adviser for Plena, a company founded in 2017 that produces premium seed-to-wholesale production of medical cannabis. Hepburn also works to develop medical regulatory policy for nations legalizing medical cannabis, and helped Peru navigate those waters last year.

    Part of the appeal of cannabis, Hepburn said, is its “tremendous safety profile” (though he is strongly against its use for youths).

    Many medical journals and entities around the world are coming to the same conclusions about the medical benefits of cannabis. In January 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report titled “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research,” in which they came to nearly 100 conclusions after studying and considering more than 10,000 scientific abstracts and studies.

    The report states that the committee found “evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms.” Specifically for adults with multiple-sclerosis-related muscle spasms, there was “substantial evidence” that the use of certain cannabinoid-based medications improved their reported symptoms. They also found that in adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, there was “conclusive evidence that certain oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing and treating those ailments.” The report also indicated that more research needs to be done to determine its risks and benefits short- and long-term for adults.

    In January, the World Health Organization wrote a letter to the United Nations to recommend that cannabis and cannabis resin be removed from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the document by which the United States based its Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which regulates the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances, including marijuana.

    For more information on Hepburn’s presentation and to purchase tickets, visit sunvalleywellness.org.

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