The January 2017 cover of Hadassah Magazine featured an older woman smoking marijuana to treat glaucoma.

That surprising vision helps explain why an audience filled the Congregation Or Hadash sanctuary Sunday, Feb. 18, to learn the latest on medical marijuana from integrative physician Zachary Cohen of Oak Grove Family Medicine.

Women from event sponsor Hadassah Greater Atlanta set the stage for the wisdom of Atlanta native Cohen.

Registered nurse Marsha Hildebrand put the program together along with Ellen Sichel, the co-president of Hadassah’s Health Professionals Group.

Malka Shutman gave a detailed introductory slide presentation, and retired physician Rachel Schonberger, who chairs the Hadassah Medical Organization, said: “Our funded research is leading the way in immunology, stem cells and genetics. Hadassah really gets a wonderful ROI, return on investment. That’s a good business term for this.”

Ellen Sichel (left) and Malka Shutman were among the Hadassah leaders involved in making the program on medical marijuana a reality. (Photo by Marcia Caller Jaffe)

She noted that Raphael Mechoulam at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School was the 86-year-old biochemist who isolated and characterized marijuana ingredients THC and CBD in the 1960s, setting in motion the field of medical uses of cannabinoids.

The audience of mostly baby boomers and seniors understood that medical marijuana has nothing to do with college days of rolling joints while listening to Janis Joplin. The starting point was a Georgia law that allows medical uses of CBD oil with not more than 5 percent THC (the component that causes the high).

The law specifies that the marijuana-derived oil can be used to treat only a small number of illnesses, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, Tourette, neuropathy and Crohn’s. End-stage cancer patients, people in hospice care and some people with autism are among those allowed to use the treatment.

Before the talk, the youthful Cohen said that even as a teen, an integrative medical practice was his dream. He noted that he brought plenty of business cards for new patients and that he takes insurance.

Integrative physician Zachary Cohen answers questions about medical marijuana.

Cohen said there is a slippery slope in medical marijuana:

  • Despite liberalization at the state level, marijuana is still against federal law, so U.S. doctors can’t do their own research. Israel is leading the botany and scientific studies into medical uses of marijuana while the United States, Germany and other countries pay for the state-of-the-art research.
  • Someone who is drug-tested on CBD oil might not get a security clearance for a federal job.
  • You get what you pay for. Organic products are more expensive, and insurance does not pay for prescriptions. Many people suspect that the pharmaceutical lobby is holding back federal approval.
  • Nurse practitioners cannot prescribe CBD oil.
  • Conditions such as a loss of appetitive, back pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia are not approved for treatment in Georgia, but Cohen is encouraged by reports from patients with approved conditions who say those symptoms improve.

On the positive side, Cohen is very encouraged about the future of cannabis:

  • He has not seen any issues with addiction in patients using low-THC oil.
  • CBD does not interact with such prescription medications as blood thinners and hormones.
  • Israel is on the cutting edge with 110 clinical trials. Migraines, cancer, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, improper sugar levels and dementia are among the ailments being explored.
  • Topical application is being explored for back and neck pain. The idea is to turn down the pain signals via receptors that he compared to open baseball gloves.
  • Israel has 700 hybrids of the cannabis plant and eight grow farms. Tsfat is a fertile area.
  • People can join studies through Clinicaltrials.gov.

Cohen said Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is the hero of legalizing cannabis oil in Georgia, but Peake is not running for re-election this year.

Cohen made a plea for people to write legislators to expand the legal applications.

“Evolution has kept this plant around for thousands of years. One should ponder why Mother Nature did this for us,” Cohen said. “The plant seems to have secured its own evolution through its interaction with humans.”

Audience member Laura Temins, a therapist and hypnotherapist in Roswell, said, “I’m impressed that Dr. Cohen is authentically interested in helping people navigate the benefits and limitations of medical marijuana. He is an awesome resource.”