We recently sat down with the incomparable, Dr. Facundo Alvarez to discuss the role of cannabis therapeutics in global healthcare.
As I continue to work with more medical professionals throughout Latin America and in the autism community, I always seem to become a magnet for other heroes championing the same mission. It’s an honor to highlight Dr. Alvarez's work in the study of cannabis therapeutics.
His dissertation contribution in 2018 starts with, "Health, A Fundamental Right," which focused on scientific research and therapeutic uses of cannabis at the Tucumán National University in Argentina. His studies also focused on the endocannabinoid system and pharmacology at the Natural Science School in Tucumán National University Argentina.
In 2019, he continued his dissertation with, "The role of cannabis in modern medicine" and presented his findings at the first Latin American Meeting of experts in phytocannabinoids at the medical school in Lima Perú.
What is your personal story and mission that inspired you to work with cannabis?
My personal story with cannabis begins during my time in medical school. After reading about Charlotte Figi and her use of cannabis to treat symptoms of Dravet syndrome I was touched by her courageous journey.
From that moment on I began to learn all about the characteristics of the cannabis plant and its therapeutic benefits. When I finished my medical degree, I began using forms of cannabis to treat a multitude of patients from different backgrounds and health conditions.
After seeing dramatic improvements in my patients' symptoms I decided to dedicate myself exclusively to cannabis therapeutics, focusing on clinical care, research, education and work based on drug policies aimed at promoting public health plans and access to medical marijuana.
Do you think cannabis education for medical professionals and healthcare providers is lacking?
I believe that it is absolutely necessary for more education about the therapeutic benefits of the medical cannabis. It should be promoted at the university level and available to all health professionals.
Because of the already existing scientific evidence about the endocannabinoid system, its components, and its importance in people's health, it is difficult to believe that this topic is not included in the university curriculum and that many physicians do not know about the benefits of this therapy.
In recent years, there has been a more concerted effort for professional development aimed at health professionals. It's important to me that education plans continue to be promoted.
When society's demand for information reaches a tipping point, as health workers it is important to listen to the patient, and be up to date on the latest health and scientific research. Cannabis has so many benefits that still need clinical trials to further promote it's health benefits.
What kind of cannabis research is needed that hasn't been covered yet?
I believe that it is necessary to promote research work at the clinical level. Due to the regulatory organizations that govern in many countries and the difficulties of access, the promotion of clinical studies with cannabis remains difficult.
Despite the scientific advances that have been recognized (both at the in-vitro and pre-clinical level), clinical research is still pending in several areas.
I believe that cannabis has great therapeutic potential and that it should be researched at the clinical level for treatment of different health conditions such as: anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, tumor pathalogies, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Also, as a preventive medicine for numerous health conditions that otherwise would force patients to consume large amounts of pharmaceuticals and that could deteriorate their quality of life and that of their families in many cases.
Where do you see medicinal cannabis in three years?
I believe that the potential of the cannabis plant is immeasurable. It's therapeutic properties are being discovered with the progress of research.
I am confident that the available scientific evidence and the need for information will promote a change in the regulatory models of various countries that will allow greater freedom in the use and prescription of cannabinoids.
In the vote recently carried out by the CND in December 2020, we saw support from the institutions in charge of the control of substances at the international level. There is still a long way to go, but an important step was taken.
I see a prominent future in the cannabis industry globally, promoting work plans based on health, access to medicines, and public policies with an interdisciplinary approach.
As medical professionals, we should have access to all available medicines that could benefit the patient. I firmly believe that in three to five years access to medical cannabis will be less of a problem because of the continuing research and education in this field.
What is the best advice you can give to a first-time cannabis user?
The best advice that I could give to a patient who is about to start a treatment with cannabis would be to forget everything they heard about the plant in their life.
I would advise them to abandon all previous prejudices around the plant because of all the misinformation being disseminated online to discredit the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
They should also know that they should rely on advice from medical professionals and that the treatment is based on improvements in the overall quality of life, and that if used correctly, it can bring many benefits with minimal risks to their health.
I would also give the patient relevant information so they are more confident in the treatment and can understand how cannabinoids act in our body and how we respond to this therapy.
More about Dr. Alvarez
- The Roundtable: "Lima Declaration” 2019, the first Latin American meeting of experts in phytocannabinoids medicine.
- The “Experience and Problem around the access to cannabis derivatives and medical consultation in Argentina”
- The First International Symposium of experts in phytocannabinoids and Medical Cannabis in National Assembly. Quito, Ecuador, “Cannabis for Industrial and Medical Use”. Agronomy and Zootechnics School. Tucumán National University, Argentina.
- “Medical Cannabis - Endocannabinoid System - Autism Spectrum Disorders” publication
- Argentine Congress on Current Problems in Mental Health at the Virla Cultural Center in Tucumán National University, Argentina. The Discussion table: "Cannabis Regulation in Latin America".
- PharmaCann Mx. First International Symposium of Cannabinoid Medicine. School Medicine Palace in Mexico City, Mexico. “Knowledge Incorporation of Endocannabinoid System at the University Enrollment."
- “Cannabis Conversations”. Graduates Association, Los Andes, Chile
- National University in Bogotá, Colombia. “Medical Cannabis: Legal aspects in Latin America. Regulation and current perspective; ” South American Symposium on Medical Cannabis at Santiago de Cali University in Cali, Colombia.
- "Endocannabinoid system, generalities, routes of administration. Applications and risks” at Medical and Scientific Cannabis and Panel table: "Regulatory Framework in Latin America, first meeting Law school, Tucumán National University, Argentina.
- During January 2020 prior to Covid, “Prevention in a regulation context”. Second Latin American Meeting of experts in Phytocannabinoids. Pedro de Valdivia University, Santiago, Chile.
- Member of the first internship in extractions, quality control, biochemical analysis and medical uses of cannabis, Cannabis Science Foundation. Concepcion University, Chile. And Medical Cannabis Seminar. Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada.
- ANANDAMED. Co-founder and Medical Director. Institute specialized in advice and support in cannabis sativa plant derivatives.
- Yerba Buena City, Tucumán, Argentina. Present: Co-founder and member of SOMEC, "Society of Medicine in Entheogens and Cannabis". Santiago, Chile. Maria Moñitos Foundation. Scientific Director. Bogotá, Colombia.
- CANNAMERICA. Co-founder. Vice President and International Relations Director. Non-profit association based on drug policy, education, and research for medical cannabis in Latin America. Medical member of SCC, Society of Cannabis Clinicians.
- QURATIVA co-founder and research director. Non-profit civil association. San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina.
- Teaching staff training cycle for health professionals “Cannabis in medical practice” Pain treatment indications". Buenos Aires National University. Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Medicinal Cannabis Update Course. “Palliative care. Chronic pain". Buenos Aires National University. Buenos Aires, Argentina.