High Country: The must-attend Aspen Ideas seminar for the marijuana-minded | AspenTimes.com

High Country: The must-attend Aspen Ideas seminar for the marijuana-minded

Katie Shapiro
High Country

Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, presents “The Science of Cannabis” on Friday, June 22 at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Starting with Colorado in 2014 and in the years since recreational and medicinal legalization has continued to sweep the country, I'll dare to say that the Aspen Institute hasn't exactly embraced the topic to its fullest potential.

That first year, there was a "Dope on Pot" discussion with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Katie Couric along with a panel begging the question "Is Marijuana the Next Big Tobacco?" In 2015, Neal Katyal, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Andrew Freedman and Jordan Lewis gave festival attendees "A View From the Ground Up" of Colorado's legalization of marijuana. After doing a multi-term search on the Aspen Institute website, there were zero cannabis-related conversations in 2016 and 2017 (I attended both years, too).

Now, four summers later with marijuana medically legal in 29 states and nine legal for recreational sales, here we are with "The Science of Cannabis" as the only dedicated discussion, but I'll take it.

As part of the "The Cutting Edge of Medicine and Science" program track, it's on the schedule of open-to-the-public seminars. Having access to many of the same speakers presenting for official pass holders is one of the best-kept secrets of the Aspen Ideas Festival with more than 80 events available to attend with a single ticket from June 21 to 30.

Ruth Katz, co-director of Spotlight Health and Executive Director of the Health, Medicine and Society Programs at the Aspen Institute says of her decision to add cannabis back into the agenda for 2018, "We think it is essential to explore the biological implications of using marijuana for recreational purposes, especially on the developing brains of young people. The medical value of cannabis is increasingly established, but there may be risks when the drug is used for pleasure."

One of the nation's top experts in the field, Dr. Nora Volkow, will present a 50-minute seminar that explores the challenge of advancing scientific studies and research on how marijuana effects the brain due to government funding restrictions. As the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Volkow also will tackle how exactly the substance works and where the risks and benefits lie in using it for medical reasons or purely as a pathway to pleasure.

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Unfortunately, seeing Dr. Volkow directly conflicts with "From Opioids to Health and the U.S. Economy: A Conversation with the U.S. Surgeon General" Jerome Adams, who was quoted in December at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators annual conference in Indianapolis saying, "Under medical marijuana, I believe it should be like any other drug. We need to let the FDA vet it, study it, vet it. The FDA has actually approved cannabidiol oil and some derivatives of marijuana, marijuana is not one substance. It's actually over 100 different substances, some of which benefit, some of which are harmful."

Adams remains opposed to legalizing cannabis for recreational use.

On Monday, the New York State Department of Health announced it will now allow anyone with a prescription for opioids (joining 12 other qualifying conditions under the Compassionate Care Act) to use medical cannabis as an alternative, officially and automatically qualifying for the states Medical Marijuana Program.

"The opioid epidemic in New York State is an unprecedented crisis, and it is critical to ensure that providers have as many options as possible to treat patients in the most effective way," says New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in the news release. "As research indicates that marijuana can reduce the use of opioids, adding opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana has the potential to help save countless lives across the state."

Katie Shapiro has a lot of questions for Dr. Nora Volkow. She can be reached at katie@katieshapiromedia.com and followed around high country @kshapiromedia.

IF YOU GO…

What: The Science of Cannabis

Where: Limelight Hotel

When: Friday, June 22 at 8 a.m.

Cost: $45

Tickets and more info: aspenshowtix.com; aspenideas.org