Cannabis Science Conference (CSC) Fall will be taking place in Providence, Rhode Island September 20-22nd. CSC Fall features several exciting tracks: analytical science, cultivation, medical cannabis, and psychedelics. With expert speakers coming in from around the country, we thought it was a great opportunity to introduce some of them and get a sneak peek into their presentations. Let’s meet Amanda Reiman, PhD, Chief Knowledge Officer at New Frontier Data, an analytics company serving the legal cannabis industry. Dr. Reiman has been studying the relationship between cannabis, people, and society for more than 20 years. She earned her PhD in social welfare from UC Berkeley, and conducted one of the first studies of medical cannabis patients. Dr. Reiman will be presenting a talk titled “Patient Profiles: Characteristics of a Large Sample of Medical Cannabis Patients” in the medical track on Thursday, September 21st. Here, Dr. Reiman shares her background in medical cannabis, some of her research efforts, and a preview of her upcoming talk.
Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with medical cannabis studies?
Dr. Amanda Reiman: Absolutely. I'm from the Midwest originally, and then in 2002, I moved to Oakland, California to begin the PhD program at UC Berkeley. I was not very aware of what was happening in the medical cannabis renaissance in the Bay Area. We didn't really hear that much about it outside of California. So, when I moved to Oakland, I was immediately struck by the cannabis dispensaries that were operating in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. And being someone that also was using medical cannabis for arthritis and other spinal issues, I immediately hooked into that system and started to visit dispensaries.
From a social welfare perspective, what was interesting was that dispensaries back in that time were really operating as community health service providers. So, it wasn't all about walking in, finding the flashy products, paying, and leaving. It was really about getting your health needs met, your social needs, your physical needs, and your mental health needs. A lot of folks may not know, but the early dispensary movement was really born out of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco in the 1980s and 1990s and the LGBTQ+ community was responsible for getting this whole thing going. So, if you live in a state where you have access to medical cannabis, that is the community that you have to thank because they were really responsible for the early models of community health care. That was largely because the federal government was not responsive to the needs of this community, so they took it upon themselves to meet their own needs. That included having social spaces where people could come, where they could congregate, where they could have fun together, where they could talk to doctors, they could talk to lawyers, they could talk to peers, and cannabis was available because it helped so many of the symptoms that people were dealing with. So, this was the model that I observed in the early 2000s. And, again, from a social work perspective, we're very used to seeing health care look very different. We're very used to kind of authoritarian, top down, where you go in, you talk to a doctor, you don't talk to anyone else, and then you leave. This was really the antithesis of that, and I saw the benefits that it was bringing to the community.
I also knew that because we live in a capitalist society and because cannabis legalization was on the horizon even then, that this may be a fleeting model—one that we weren't going to see 10 or 20 years from now. As a researcher, really, the best way to make sure that people know this ever happened is to write about it. So, I decided to do my doctoral dissertation on how medical cannabis dispensaries were operating as health service providers, and that was in 2005. At that time, I had 130 patients that were in my sample. I went to dispensaries. I conducted surveys inside the dispensary. And just to give you a sense of how little we knew back then, 130 was the largest sample of medical cannabis patients on record in 2005. So, we really knew very little about why people were using cannabis as medicine, how they were using it as medicine, and how it was benefiting their lives, including their ability to reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol, other drugs, and prescription drugs. This really was what started my interest in how society was interacting with the law, and therefore, how consumers were interacting with the law, and how they were using cannabis as medicine. Back then, I could count the number of cannabis researchers on one hand, there was no federal money for it. It was not a viable career path, and there were only a few of us that had decided it was important enough to spend our time and effort studying.
What are you most looking forward to at Cannabis Science Conference Fall 2023?
Dr. Reiman: Well, one thing is I've never been to Providence, Rhode Island but I am considering a move to Vermont. So, I figured it would be a good opportunity for me to kind of check out what's going on in that part of the country. But also, I love science, and I'm so thrilled to see how this has grown as a discipline of cannabis science. And like I said, there was a time when it was just a few of us and we'd get together a few times a year at different conferences and talk about how the federal government wouldn't let us do anything, and what a pain in the butt it was. And, yes, that conversation still continues today. But the number of people, especially younger researchers, that have come up in this time when being a cannabis scientist is absolutely a viable research path, and we're starting to see more cannabis research institutes at places including UC Berkeley, my alma mater, that's really exciting to me. So, I love to meet the young researchers, I love to hear what they're working on, and I really love to hear how the science has progressed, from just being able to do some survey studies to actually setting up clinical trials and really getting into the depths of how the plant can benefit people.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming presentation at CSC Fall titled “Patient Profiles: Characteristics of a Large Sample of Medical Cannabis Patients”?
Dr. Reiman: Absolutely. So, I go back to that 130 original sample that I had back in 2005, and now at New Frontier Data, we have a string of medical cannabis recommendation clinics under CMed Data, which is Canna Care Docs and Relaxed Clarity. I'm just so thrilled to have the opportunity to have data on hundreds of thousands of patients, which is something that I've always wanted, right? I think that, even though the research has really come a long way in terms of cannabinoid science, there's still a lot missing when we're looking at the human side, right? Who are these people? What are their motivations? How is their use of cannabis impacting their use of other things? Who are they in terms of their medical history, in terms of their family medical history? What kind of conditions are they coming into the doctor's office for? I think there's really a need to better understand this population, and not just looking at regional samples or state samples, but looking at a very large, very robust national sample of data that is not retrospectively collected and asking patients about their prior experience, but is really coming from that conversation with the doctor and that intake form when they go into the doctor's office. So, I think it's a great jumping off point for investigating new things.
My hope is that during this presentation that people who are listening to it get their minds going and thinking about all kinds of different ways they can dive deeper into this data—looking at people with different conditions, different demographics, regional differences, or differences in family history. So, my hope is that I'm laying the groundwork for a whole bunch of other researchers to get inspired and to partner and look deeper into some of these data points.
Stay tuned for more with Dr. Amanda Reiman with our live video conference coverage taking place September 21-22, 2023 or join us in person to hear her talk as well as many others at the Cannabis Science Conference Fall in Providence, RI. Register today with code EARLYBIRD to save 30%: https://bit.ly/3pIBuJp!