03/11/20 Ethan Russo

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Ethan Russo

Dr. Ethan Russo, leading cannabis scientist just back from New Zealand discussion of studies including Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes + Norma Sapp cannabis reform pioneer in Oklahoma.

Audio file



MARCH 11, 2020

DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection and the liars who support the drug war which empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason to existence to tens of thousands of violent U.S. gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High and this is Cultural Baggage. Hello my friends I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage.

Today we are going to hear from Norma Sapp who is pioneer in cannabis reform in Oklahoma, and our main discussion will be with Dr. Ethan Russo. Let’s get going.

I consider this to be a treat to talk to one of the world’s foremost doctors and scientists. He is a man who understands the cannabis plant like perhaps no other and he just got back from a trip to New Zealand and I can’t wait to hear how that went. I want to welcome Dr. Ethan Russo. How are you, Sir?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: I am fine, thanks.

DEAN BECKER: How did your trip to New Zealand go?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: It was terrific. I had never been there before. It is a wonderful place with very warm and welcoming people. Beyond that there is a great deal afoot of interest in New Zealand. In April 2020 they will be initiating a medical law that basically allows a physician to recommend any cannabis product to any patient for any condition.


DR. ETHAN RUSSO: It is truly progressive and better even than what Prop. 215 allowed in California in 1996. Additionally, in September they are also planning a Referendum on legalization which is looking a little bit chancy right now, but I think that patients need to be the first priority.

DEAN BECKER: Of course they do. In Oklahoma they had a rather marvelous Medical Marijuana Initiative implementation, if you will, showing signs of progress. What did they seek from and what was their focus with you during your visit?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: It was two-fold. I should mention that my trip was sponsored by company called Rua Bioscience. They are a very interesting group. It was started by a group of Mari people, which are the indigenous people of New Zealand. They are looking at an interesting indigenous plant there that has a THC-like molecule. It may be that it is hard to cultivate, but they are planning additional research on that. They have a license to grow cannabis for medicinal use and they are developing a program in that regard with the idea being to increase local employment among the Mari people, but additionally providing for their needs as well as the larger market in New Zealand and around the world. Another big advantage in New Zealand is that they have tremendous agricultural research background and breeding expertise. They have really created some wonderful new crops and they have such high standards that their ability to export cannabis eventually should be better than that of any other country. We have already seen how this has been a problem for Canadian companies, Israeli companies, and companies in Colombia. They have all tried to export to other countries that are developing medical programs but there have been lots of problems that I think New Zealand may be able to overcome due to their high standards.

DEAN BECKER: You previously worked for GW Pharmaceuticals, which is perhaps the largest cannabis outfit out there that developed a standard process with regard to genetics, extracts, and implementation to develop two drugs, Epidiolex and Sativex which are THC and CBD drugs that were standardized enough to be approved by medical authority. Is that correct, Sir?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Sativex is currently approved in 30 countries around the world outside of the U.S., an Epidiolex is approved by the FDA for treatment of severe epilepsy syndromes such as Dravet syndrome, Lennox Gastaut syndrome. It is shortly going to be approved in the EU and elsewhere. The case in point being that the path has been laid already and it has been demonstrated that it is absolutely possible, and has been achieved to produce cannabis based medicines that can be developed as pharmaceuticals. Again, what has been done can be done again.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. This brings to mind that across the country folks grow Jack Herer weed in California and it isn’t the same as what they may be growing in Colorado or elsewhere, and there is not that standardization or that similarity of molecules in laymen’s terms. The fact is that through better genetics as they are doing in New Zealand it might be possible to standardize and then to find specific molecules, for lack of a better term that would help people with various maladies and would standardize treatments and the ability to have a benefit. Right?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: I would just add that there are different ways of doing things. There are many companies now that are concentrating on specific isolates, to put in laymen’s terms, one molecule for many in cannabis. My personal bias, based on 24 years of scientific study is that we are much better off with extracts of cannabis that are going to retain the multiple components that provide synergy or a boosting of effect. My feeling is that no single molecule from cannabis is going to provide the kind of breadth of activity that we will get from a whole plant extract and that has always been my focus.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir. All right friends, we are speaking with perhaps the world’s leading expert on cannabis medicine, Dr. Ethan Russo. Now I want to reach back to something you published back in July of 2016. I have had several people asking me about this and Fibromyalgia in particular has been a concern of many. To me it is only women or maybe men just don’t want to report it, I am not sure. The study that you put forward entitled, Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered. Current research supports the theory in migraine, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and other treatment resistant syndromes. If you could please elaborate on that a bit? I may have some questions for you, Sir.

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Sure. As a neurologist, it occurred to me that many of the disorders we have seen in that sphere relate to deficiencies of neurotransmitters and although this is a simplistic way of looking at the situation, in Alzheimer’s disease among other things we have a deficiency of Acetyl Choline which is the memory molecule in the brain. In Parkinson’s disease we have a deficiency of another neurotransmitter called dopamine. I hypothesize that what would happen if we had a deficiency of endocannabinoids, which are natural chemicals in the brain that are closely related to what THC does. In thinking about that, what would it look like? Well, we know that the endocannabinoid system relates to many functions but especially pain, digestion, etc. affecting almost every aspect of our physiology so I thought that if someone had an endocannabinoid deficiency they would probably be having pain that was otherwise unexplained and they would have a super sensitivity – things would hurt that shouldn’t. There were three disorders that seem to stand out as likely candidates and these were fibromyalgia, which is wandering pain in the muscles and tissues. Migraine which is probably familiar to most people and it is a severe headache that is also associated with super sensitivity of the eyes to light and the ears to sound, and irritable bowel syndrome which is a disturbance in digestion associated with abdominal pain and cramping and can be associated with either diarrhea or constipation or both. I am looking at these and there are some interesting things about them and one of those is that these do have a female prevalection and they overlap. So if someone has a long history of migraine they may be more susceptible developing fibromyalgia or irritable bowel, or both. These diseases are not clearly genetic, although there is some family tendency. The theory was that there is a deficit of endocannabinoid function at the root of them. I developed this theory in 2001, but subsequent work has really supported that this is the likelihood. I will just mention one experiment and it was in migraine. The study was done in Italy in 2007 in which they took samples of cerebral spinal fluid, which is the fluid that surrounds the brain, by way of a spinal tap or lumbar puncture. They showed very marked reductions in anandamide which is one of these endocannabinoids in that fluid in migraine patients as opposed to people who did not have migraine. This is proof, if you will, of an endocannabinoid deficiency in migraine and although the same experiment has not been done in fibromyalgia, there are strong reasons to believe that it might be similarly affected. We know very well that cannabis is one of the only effective medicines in treatment of this disorder.

DEAN BECKER: This brings to mind that I think it is so profound that it is often overlooked by nearly every doctor out there that we have an endocannabinoid system within our body and that it has a reciprocating situation with cannabinoids if we are deficient and that it helps to improve our lives. Right?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Exactly. There are other ways of tackling this, too. My feeling is that we could do a great deal more with lifestyle factors and specifically with aerobic activity and diet with probiotics and prebiotics. It may be that the bacteria in our gut is promoting a healthy endocannabinoid system but when all else fails it is clear that cannabis has a great deal to offer in these clinical endocannabinoid deficiency states as well as many other disorders.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Sir. Now I am going to get to a couple of the questions I have received from some of the women interested in fibromyalgia. Are there any newer, safer drugs besides Cymbalta, Savella, and Lyrica to effectively treat this disorder besides cannabis?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Actually not. There was a survey done about three years ago among 1,300 patients with fibromyalgia done by the National Pain Foundation. Shockingly, when they looked at the three FDA Approved drugs for fibromyalgia they found that the actual patients found them poorly effective and in comparison, most people who have tried cannabis found it effective or extremely effective and very few failed to have any improvement. It is exactly the opposite of what one might expect and it is very disappointing with respect to the FDA Approved drugs.

DEAN BECKER: Alright. Thank you for that. Dr. Russo, are there any current trials or studies that you are aware of that are ongoing where people might be able to learn something more recent than your July 6, 2016 study?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: We are hard at work at this. I have just begun a new company called Krato Science. Among other things, we are going to be investigating these areas. One of the first projects is to look at fibromyalgia and see if it is possible to develop a simple diagnostic blood test for it. This would be based on the endocannabinoid system. I would admit to you that it is conjectural at this point but if we were to demonstrate this it would for the first time provide a simple, cheap diagnostic test for a disorder that otherwise leads to extensive evaluations, which are very expensive and lead to what is called a diagnosis of exclusion which means that if you cannot demonstrate something else and you have the clinical pattern of pain throughout the body associated with a sleep disturbance we call it fibromyalgia. The really unfortunate thing is that there are many doctors out there that still consider this a psychosomatic disorder. It is a situation where people hurt but the tissue looks okay and they can’t demonstrate any abnormalities on any tests so it is really easy for uninformed doctors to say that it is all in their head, which is so far from true.


DR. ETHAN RUSSO: This is a demonstrable biochemical disorder of the nervous system and we just need to get on a legitimate footing. If a test were to show the correlations that we are hoping it is also going to provide legitimacy to the diagnosis which has been sort of the red-headed step child of medicine.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, indeed it has. I think you touched on this earlier but it is one of the questions that I have been asked and that is are there any key things people can do to help minimize the symptoms as well as avoid flare ups?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Treating fibromyalgia there are a number of things I would recommend on the lifestyle front. First of all, I have got to say that I have never seen a patient who improved without increasing activity and that is tough because too much activity exacerbates the condition. What I would recommend is everyone try a low impact aerobics program; the best thing is swimming. Gym memberships cost money but this would be a tremendous investment. So there’s that. That alone is going to help improve the sleep disturbance and again, nobody gets better without improving their sleep, which is another reason that cannabis is so helpful in this situation. Again, for anyone involved in this I recommend an anti-inflammatory diet with prebiotics and probiotics. Those things are going to go a long way towards helping and beyond that we have got to think of medicine.

DEAN BECKER: All right friends once again we have been speaking with Dr. Ethan Russo who just returned from New Zealand and has some great advice for all of us. Dr. Russo, is there a website and some closing thoughts you would like to share?

DR. ETHAN RUSSO: Our website for Krato Science is not up yet but it is going to be at towards the end of March 2020: www.krato-science.com, beyond that I have papers available online that people can find by Googling my name.

It is time to play Name That Drug By its Side Effects. Dehumanization, solitude, degradation, depravation, dehydration, starvation, injury, humiliation, torture, suffocation, untimely teenage deaths. Time’s up! The answer: it is not a drug, it is drug treatment and tough love.

DEAN BECKER: Well folks a few months back in October Marcella and I went up to Oklahoma to see what in the heck was going on. We were privileged to have one the pioneers of drug reform for the state of Oklahoma to show us what was going on there and take us to a few locations. She has retired from Oklahoma NORML President, but she hasn’t really slowed down. With that I want to welcome my friend, Norma Sapp. Hey, Norma.

NORMA SAPP: Hey there.

DEAN BECKER: It is good to hear your voice again. We had a fun time up there this past October, didn’t we?

NORMA SAPP: It was fun. I wish I hadn’t come down with the flu and gave it to you.

DEAN BECKER: We have some kind of crap going around right now as well.


DEAN BECKER: I know that you guys have what I thought was the best medical marijuana law that has ever existed and yet people are taking wrenches and pliers to it and changing things again. What is going on up there?

NORMA SAPP: Actually this year in legislative session we have a slew of really good bills and a lot of help in the House to fix the things that were problems from last year’s legislation so I think we are going to get it all straightened out as far as the medical side. There is a fight right now about running a recreational petition.

DEAN BECKER: Right. I guess that was what I was concerned about. There seemed to be a bunch of ballyhoo going on in that regard as far as the recreational side. From what you are saying, the medical side is being tweaked and improved?

NORMA SAPP: We have a wonderful director of the OMMA now. OMMA is Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, and one of the bills that passed through the House last week is to remove the OMMA from the Health Department where it is now with oversight from the Health Department who happen to be our adversaries because they don’t believe in cannabis, or smoking it. So it will be a standalone agency and it supports itself.

DEAN BECKER: That is good to hear. Reefer Madness has such a hold on this country and in some states it is worse than pulling teeth to get anything moving because there is always somebody who objects or has some of that ancient hysteria and propaganda that they will throw out again even though there is no proof to it. Right?

NORMA SAPP: Correct. They won’t listen to logic or modern day studies. What it is is that people don’t go vote out the old ones. We have real term limits in every state whether you have term limits on your state legislators. I know we don’t have term limits on Congress but you have a vote. Get rid of the dinosaurs that still believe the 80+ years of drug war propaganda.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. That is our problem here in Texas. We have way too many of those dinosaurs that are still clinging to that. Two people in particular really stand in the way of logic and progress and they are our governor and lieutenant governor.

GW Pharmaceuticals over in Great Britain came up with their standardized grow methods and they grow their CBD strains and THC strains to exacting standards as best I can tell to make it an exact medicine, which is what the FDA requires here.


DEAN BECKER: With the tens of thousands of cannabis strains that are now out there surely one of them would be good for fibromyalgia and let’s hope for the sake of those suffering from it that we find that soon. You guys are lucky and blessed as you have the opportunity to write a ballot initiative and to have legislators that actually work with you. Tell us what that is like.

NORMA SAPP: It is really amazing! I have a young man who has become a cannabis lobbyist, he got addicted to this like I did. He has been following me around and he is a quick study and has learned a lot but he has been very lucky to be there in the last three sessions and seen a world of change from what I saw for the first 27 years that I did this. He thinks it is pretty easy and lots of fun, and it has been for the last three years.

DEAN BECKER: Cutting that trail the first round through is not that easy.

NORMA SAPP: It wasn’t, and because I am in the middle of this 30 years, we have had term limits applied to our legislative body and just as I would get one group of people educated they would term out, so it has been hard. When Rep. Jon Echols had a niece named Katie who had very bad seizures and I forget what type but it is a certain form of epilepsy. Her parents did the research and went to Colorado before we changed our law here and he saw the evidence directly as to what CBD with a little bit of THC could do for that child and so he went on a two year education campaign in the legislature and taught all of his members exactly what he say. Then when the CBD laws were introduced by him he was able to get a good vote on both sides because he had already educated everyone and, of course we were there to back him up with lots of studies and calls to our legislators to ask them to vote in favor. When people saw the evidence before their eyes of what cannabis does do it was a natural progression to move on and we voted in favor. For these legislators to allow this in to their brain and for them to understand it better, they now get it that plants can be medicine.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. This brings to mind one other thought and another component to making these changes happen and that is that you know the truth about the drug war. You have that LEAP perspective and you understand that to make it illegal means you are often times empowering criminals that are not providing quality, and that there is just not any real benefit to the prohibition side. Right?

NORMA SAPP: Yes. Absolutely! Prohibition has just been an evil war on the people for 80-something years now and the damage we have done to families – oh my God! When you take away the bread winner or even just the mother, it disrupts the whole family for at least two generations and maybe even three.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. It has proven itself to be totally worthless. I think even those who vote in favor of prohibition know that it is wrong. Like I always say, they made their bones and they can’t back down now.

NORMA SAPP: That is exactly what is happening here with criminal justice reform as well. We finally got to the point that we could not afford it anymore, so it wasn’t so much that they changed their mind and became compassionate. We had to do something and we could not do it without building some more prisons and were already spending more than education on locking people up.

DEAN BECKER: We are about to run out of time here, but there was a situation where at the end of last year you guys released a boat load of prisoners. Right?

NORMA SAPP: Yes, and 160 were released yesterday. It was in the 400’s at one time, which was the most that had been released at one time in the nation. Now I think that Illinois has released more at once.

DEAN BECKER: It just shows common sense. It is a wonderful thing to see the change begin. I can’t wait until the legislator’s in Texas pull their heads out of their current place of residence.



DEAN BECKER: Anyhow. Once again, I have been speaking with my friend Norma Sapp who is based there in Oklahoma. Norma, do you have any closing thoughts or a website you might want to share with the listeners?

NORMA SAPP: I do Facebook only now and you can find me by my name: N-O-R-M-A S-A-P-P. Find my page and follow me because I am of room for friends and you can find out what is going on here in Oklahoma and join the conversations as well as understand what we are dealing with and maybe how you can deal with it in your state.

DEAN BECKER: I want to thank Norma Sapp, I want to thank Dr. Ethan Russo, and I want to thank you for listening to this program. Please visit our website: www.drugtruth.net and again I remind you, because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listener’s around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.

Please visit our website at: www.drugtruth.net.