Prof. Or began using cannabis for medicinal purposes already in 2007. He is an ardent supporter of the use of cannabis oil as opposed to smoking cannabis and believes that the expansion of the use of medicinal cannabis for other types of patients should be examined.
A special interview with Prof. Reuven Or, the Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Ward at the Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital.
Prof Reuven Or’s introduction to the medicinal benefits of cannabis occurred relatively early on in his career. As the Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant and Cancer Immunotherapy Ward at the Hadassah Ein Karem University Medical Center, he was in close contact with Prof. Rafael Meshulam, the scientist who identified and isolated the THC component in cannabis. “I attended many of his lectures, I tracked his research and scientific progress and I learned from him”, Prof. Or states. “Thus was I aware of the research and the scientific developments that he drove in Israel and around the world.
“An article was published in the Life Sciences journal in 1995, which summated the results of the joint study undertaken by Prof. Meshulam together with the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Dept., which involved giving THC to hemato-oncologic children. The article presented very positive results regarding the effects of the substance on the condition of the children. “When the awareness to the potential of the plant gained ground, we decided, together with Prof. Meshulam, to be the first to prescribe THC to bone marrow transplant patients.”
Cannabis oil leads to good results
“The decision to prescribe medicinal cannabis to bone marrow transplant patients is easy to understand”, says Prof. Or. “Patients who undergo a bone marrow transplant, whether adults or children, undergo some of the most arduous medical treatments known to the medical profession. Many are exposed to extremely high doses of chemical compounds and occasionally also radiation therapy. Therefore the side effects are dreadful and affect multiple systems in the body, such as the mouth, the digestive system, the muscles, the respiratory system, the liver, and the kidneys.
“Until they recover, the patients become very ill and are very sensitive to pharmaceuticals. Any and every medication could be fatal for them if not administered in a controlled manner, due to the sensitivity of the internal organs. They suffer from unspeakable pain, a lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Medicinal cannabis has the potential of belaying these side effects without overtaxing the internal organs with toxins.”
This act of prescribing medicinal cannabis to bone marrow transplant patients, commenced around 2007. “Because I, as a doctor, strongly object to smoking, and object to smoking by patients undergoing chemical treatments or by patients with weakened immune systems, we elected from the outset to give cannabis oil by dripping it under the tongue.
“This method has several advantages: No need to swallow – and generally the patients have difficulty in swallowing; no smoking is involved; and drops can also be given to babies.
We found that administering cannabis by means of drops of oil placed under the tongue leads to excellent results and achieves our objectives, which are mainly balancing out the symptoms – reducing the level of pain and nausea and improving the general disposition of the patient.”
“The effects of the plant moves me”
The success of this experiment drove Prof. Or to expand the use of medicinal cannabis to the oncology and hematology wards, for patients hospitalized at the medical center as well as patients bedridden at home. Prof. Meshulam could no longer supply the cannabis oil in the required quantities,
a fact that drove him to cooperate with the Cannabliss Company, which operates a medicinal cannabis distribution center for patients at the hospital.
Currently, after several years of cooperation, Prof. Or cannot provide statistical data regarding the success of the use of medicinal cannabis because “there are not enough sufficiently thorough studies, and certainly nothing is 100% successful in the medical profession. However, amongst the bone marrow transplant patients, the rate of success from the point of the positive effect on one or more symptoms is, we estimate, about 70% of our patients.”
“The combination of conventional medicine and alternative medicine – that is, medicine that does not emanate from pharmaceutical companies but rather from nature or the production of something from nature – is a great and special combination. Although we are still at a stage where cannabis is considered a narcotic, we are aware of the fact that there has been a great deal of criticism regarding this matter.
“Patients with multiple physical problems and a generally negative disposition can benefit from a natural substance – medicinal cannabis. Some side effects should be taken under consideration but, compared to other pharmaceuticals, medicinal cannabis is relatively safe. I find it extremely moving to see that something natural can improve the quality of the patients’ lives. The patients do not consider this a narcotic despite all the definitions, but rather a supplement that helps them to a great extent and they appreciate it very much. Every patient understands that anything natural that can help is preferable for him because he is exposed to a great deal of chemical compounds.”
Does Medicinal Cannabis have any side effects?
“People do very infrequently have psychotic episodes or hallucinations. We have come across a handful of such cases and, when we stopped the treatment with medicinal cannabis, the occurrences disappeared completely.”
Do you think that the use of Medicinal Cannabis should be expanded to other medical cases?
“I think that this is a complicated matter. In those wards where the patients suffer from illnesses that are not so complex, more in depth, short term research should be carried out in order to examine the effects and to take decisions. If someone is suffering from rheumatism, it is possible to conduct formal clinical trials and find out how medicinal cannabis can contribute to the treatment process. The plant has some anti inflammatory properties and therefore in those illnesses that involve the immune system, I would expect that matters be examined more thoroughly.
It is clear as daylight that pain clinics could make use of medicinal cannabis but I would go about it very carefully and try to examine the matter from the aspect of a clinical trial, despite the fact that there is no entity that will support research studies, the costs of which are exorbitant.”