BY MARIE LODI
The legalization and cultural acceptance of cannabis in mainstream society has undoubtedly grown significantly in recent years, and it’s worth acknowledging how a certain group of proponents have played a major part in helping us get there—medical professionals. Many cannabis-friendly physicians have recognized the medicinal and therapeutic wonders of the plant for a large part of their careers, and in the process, they’ve witnessed firsthand the industry’s progressions.
So, what might spur a physician to work with cannabis in the first place, especially years ago, before the big, green boom really started happening? In the first installment of our two-part exploration of the complex intersection of medicine and weed, Dr. Genester Wilson-King and Dr. Jeanette Jacknin discuss their fascinating career trajectories, and what convinced them to believe in cannabis when much of the stigma was still attached to it.
Dr. Genester Wilson-King is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“Health and wellness are two different things,” Dr. Wilson-King explains. “Health is primarily the absence of disease; wellness is when your spirit, your soul, and your body are balanced and you are thriving. In my practice, I assess where my patients are on the health and wellness spectrum and help my patients get to where they want to be on it. So, combining my practice with cannabis was not difficult at all; it just fell right into place.”
Dr. Wilson-King says she was never the type of physician who simply wrote a prescription for every patient who came into her office. “Certainly, there are conditions and illnesses in which a pharmaceutical [drug] is an important aspect of your healing, but the more we learn about nutrition and lifestyle behavior, we realize the body can take care of its basic needs, if given the proper tools.”
In 2014, Dr. Wilson-King attended the first-ever cannabis conference, which was held in Miami. “They talked about cultivation, extraction, processing, and dispensing, but nobody talked about the medical uses, and the name of the conference was ‘The Medical Uses of Cannabis,’” she recalls. Dr. Wilson-King discussed this disconnect with the event’s organizer, who ended up asking her to speak at the following conference. “I dove deep into the science of medicinal cannabis,” she says. Dr. Wilson-King began attending conferences on medical cannabis, spending time in cannabis clinicians’ offices, and reading reliable resources and books. She joined the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and became an active participant almost immediately. Her growing exploration of medicine and cannabis’ intersection led to her becoming an expert witness in cannabis-related court cases and is now a co-vice president of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians; she’s also on the Executive Board of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation.
Dr. Wilson-King says that one of the biggest positives about cannabis that she’s seen is how it truly is an important, impactful natural substance for the human body. “The endocannabinoid system is all over the body and that's why cannabis is so effective for so many conditions and in so many ways,” she explains. “Cannabis can help gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, depression, stress-related symptoms, and help patients tolerate cancer chemo and radiation therapy.”
Still, she makes sure to point out that cannabis is not a panacea. “Eat ‘real’ whole food, food with nutritional value. Your lifestyle behavior should consist of regular exercise, good mental and emotional habits, laughing and showing love daily, and avoiding stress whenever possible. Use supplements as needed, checking with your physician first, and avoid pharmaceuticals as much as possible.“ But she is not completely against prescription drug use. “There are very appropriate times to use them, just not for every symptom you have. But I find that cannabis fits well into managing people's conditions without having to resort to pharmaceuticals.”
Dr. Wilson-King says her main passion is cannabis use for women, primarily gynecological and obstetrical conditions, as per her specialty as an OB/GYN. “Cannabis helps with dysmenorrhea, PMS, perimenopause, and menopause symptoms, which is quite exciting,” she says. While she does not advocate cannabis use during pregnancy, she believes that women should not be penalized in any way for doing so. “People should not be criminalized for cannabis possession. We need to really abolish all that, expunge the records of those who've been arrested for nonviolent crimes involving the possession of cannabis, and women should not be threatened with the loss of their children, or criminalized just because they used cannabis during pregnancy,” Dr. Wilson-King says.
Ultimately, Dr. Wilson-King hopes that every adult who wants access to lab-tested, quality cannabis can get it. “Cannabis can help with the main symptoms necessary for improved quality of life - sleep, anxiety, stress, and chronic pain - and relief of those symptoms improves the quality of life for anyone who suffers from them,” she says. With respect to pregnant women, she believes in educating women about the use of cannabis in pregnancy and breastfeeding, which will allow them to make informed decisions about cannabis use.
Dr. Jeanette Jacknin is a board-certified dermatologist, national speaker, and consultant, with expertise in holistic dermatology, natural cosmeceuticals, and topical hemp and cannabinoids for beauty and health. She is also the author of Smart Medicine for Your Skin,published by Penguin Putnam in 2001.
Two decades ago, Dr. Jacknin began practicing integrative dermatology, and in the past 10 years, she’s been researching new ideas for natural skin care. Her interest in cannabis was sparked by an injury: She’d broken her ankle and knee, and she was looking for something to help the pain. “I had a girlfriend who had neuritis, and she had been using topical CBD for her pain. She said, ‘Well, why don't you just try it on your ankle and if it helps, why don't you become the first dermatologist to talk about topical cannabinoids and skin care?’ I was shocked that it worked better than the 2% lidocaine patch I was using on my ankle,” Dr. Jacknin says.
She started researching studies that focused on CBD and skin, which led her to speak about it at international conferences. “It was exciting for me to be at the beginning of a whole new industry, all that energy and excitement of something new,” she says. Dr. Jacknin speaks of the benefits cannabis has given to patients with serious skin disorders. “Patients have used CBD tinctures on psoriasis and eczema, and it's really helped them clear up difficult spots,” she says. “It gives them big relief, and they don't have the side effects of biologics, which are not only expensive, but have a lot of potential side effects.”
Dr. Jacknin hopes that there will be more science and research studies released so people can get personalized medicine for their specific problems. “Of course, if it's legalized on a federal level, it just makes things easier.”