David Knowlton is Chairman and CEO of the Cannabis Education and Research Institute (CERI). He has served Chairman of the Board of the Compassionate Care Foundation, a medicinal cannabis dispensary in Egg Harbor Township. Knowlton founded the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute. This interview first appeared on the Quality Institute website.
Why was CERI created and what are the organization’s goals?
A group of healthcare professionals and others passionate about the benefits of medical cannabis joined together to create the non-profit CERI board to advance unbiased, evidence-based research on the medicinal use of cannabis and to share reliable information about this gentle approach to dealing with a variety of debilitating conditions. We want to ensure that medical cannabis benefits are known and available to those who can benefit from them.
In our work, we have seen the benefits of advancing research into medical cannabis. Here’s just one story. Nine-year-old Ashton Mitchell suffers from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy. In 2015, his seizures — sometimes numbering in the hundreds in one day — landed him in the emergency room at least once or twice a month. The worst seizure lasted 10 hours and left him in a coma for four days. Within days of starting treatment with medical cannabis, Ashton began showing signs of relief. His epilepsy abated and he was able to calm down. His parents, his teachers and his caregivers quickly saw improvement. Now he’s learning to stand and talk; he laughs. It’s amazing.
What are some of your initial projects?
We want to systematically gather data to learn what works and what doesn’t work. We want to work on specific projects where we think it’s likely that cannabis can substitute for some strong medications, the most obvious being opioids. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently added opioid abuse as an indication eligible for medical cannabis treatment.
We want to educate the public, physicians and others in the health care delivery system and policymakers about the benefits of medical cannabis. We plan to foster the collection, creation and dissemination of credible scholarly work on medical cannabis, and create and maintain data and research resources.
And we want to differentiate medical cannabis from recreational marijuana to drive evidence-based decision-making to support patient needs. After assessing the impact recreational marijuana has had in other states, we are concerned that passage of recreational marijuana legislation in New Jersey may have a negative impact on efforts to provide medical cannabis for patients. In 2020, we plan to host a summit focusing on issues that impact patient treatment and the impact of recreational marijuana on medical cannabis programs.
What are the specific challenges to obtaining objective research about cannabis?
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell was eloquent in his January 2019 New Yorker article in articulating the many issues that must be addressed for medical cannabis to reach its full potential in helping patients with debilitating pain or other harmful conditions. He cited a national Academy of Medicine effort to analyze scientific literature on cannabis. The resulting report, issued in January of 2017, stated that cannabis “remains a mystery,” Gladwell said.
We need quality trials; we need to know more about efficacy, dose, routes of administration, and side effects. We need studies. And once efficacy is clear, we need to undertake creative ways to help patients pay for medical cannabis.
How does being part of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute advance CERI’s mission?
I am very proud of my work with the Quality Institute and very excited with the direction the new President, Linda Schwimmer, has taken the organization. The Quality Institute is highly credible. Even if the Quality Institute finds something negative about one of its members they are not afraid to say it. They don’t pull punches. I think if I want rigor in the research and credibility in the health community it helps to be part of the Quality Institute. It was the first call I made after we created CERI.