Jacob Miguel Vigil: Cannabis Scientific Studies | The Future Of Research

Jacob Miguel Vigil: University of New Mexico - On Scientific Cannabis Studies - The Future Of Cannabis
Jacob Miguel Vigil: University of New Mexico – On Scientific Cannabis Studies – The Future Of Cannabis

I had the honor of talking to Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil. The professor and I talked about the future of cannabis and how everyday people can benefit from such a simple plant.

The professor informed me of all the exciting scientific studies and research the MCRF is conducting.

I don’t speak for professor Vigil, but I think it’s fair to say his stance is one of optimism, he believes cannabis can change the world, which is a belief we at CheapHomeGrow can agree on.

Below the YouTube and Soundcloud Video/Audio Files is a transcription.

Hello everybody, this is Shane from CheapHomeGrow.com interviewing Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil from the University of New Mexico. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I’m an associate professor in the Psychology Department at the University of New Mexico. I study pain perception and human instincts primarily. However, most recently I’ve been working full time in the area of medical cannabis research.

I read on the website that you started the MCRF, is that true?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Yes, the Medical Cannabis Research Fund.

The reason why I started that is that it’s so incredibly difficult to get federal funding for this line of research and it’s very scarce. The research is necessary. There are many logistical roadblocks in the way for scientists, and one of them is primarily finding funding. I thought it was an opportunity for folks out there in the general community to invest in the type of work that they feel is important.

How is the MCRF funded?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: The MCRF is funded with donations by individuals, so anonymous donations.

If one of my listeners is interested in funding the MCRF how would they go about doing so?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: They would just go to the website, mcrf.unm.edu

They would go to the donation page there’s a little bit of information about the program. We’re building a repository of scholarships on the website, and we’re trying to expand a little bit more. It’s pretty easy to donate, and we would much appreciate it. Every single cent goes to all the essential costs to help fund students that training in this area. Every single cent goes directly to the research itself.

Why do you feel legalized cannabis can help cure the opioid epidemic?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Well I didn’t mention yet that I believe legalized cannabis would do so, but I do in fact agree with that statement.

What we do know is that at least in our studies and we’ve conducted many different types of studies at this point. In our pilot study with imitation outcomes, we find that patients with chronic pain that are habitual prescription opiate users who are given the option to enroll in the medical cannabis program ultimately after some months often cease the use of using opioids altogether.

This is in direct comparison to patients that were given the same opportunity, which chose not to enroll. We have a cohort observational study essentially estimating the outcomes of people’s decisions to access and use medical cannabis, and the results are striking. They’re statistically and clinically significant, and it offers a lot of hope for those individuals to find themselves stuck in the prescription pit right now.

Why is medical cannabis research challenging to fund?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: It’s difficult to fund if there’s the prospect of showing the type of resolve that we’re now finding. There’s a lot of direct conflicts of interest at different levels of society and throughout our government and historically cannabis has been controlled. There are light cracks that are starting to shine through, and you can see the evolution of the research over the past hundred years they take on different themes.

There was a lot of work describing deleterious effects on the brain, on decision making, on adolescents and different groups and so forth. The most recent work is mostly dispelling a lot those factors that we once were told were true.

The gateway theory, that cannabis starts folks on harder drugs. We see the opposite that some people describe it as an exit drug and that folks that begin using cannabis essentially get off harder drugs.

What are some current projects the MCRF is currently working on?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: We have some basic patient outcome projects going on right now. We have approval for several thousand cannabis patients, and we are looking at how their usage affects their usage of other types of medications and correspondence with depression, daily stresses, activity levels and so forth. That’s one line of work. We’re also working with some companies around the country who are helping build apps for us.

We’re able to measure patient outcomes in real time under naturalistic settings, and this allows us a very creative way of conducting clinical work that doesn’t necessarily require federal authorization.

There’s a lot of creative opportunities for researchers that are willing to have the courage to stick their neck out a little bit and conduct this type of work differently.

The exciting thing about cannabis is that it will never be a uniform product. It should not be tested in the same way that pills are, for example, you have randomized controlled trials. Cannabis will always be variable depending on the genetics, the conditions that it’s growing in and so forth. Essentially engage in a more observational exploratory type of research design is most optimal for studying the effects of cannabis.

What do you mean by exploratory?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Additional research design would entail a randomized controlled trial where one group gets a placebo, and another group receives an active drug. They try to control for all the other conditions except for that one intervention. Presumably, the outcome points towards the roll or the cause, or the effects of that one intervention.

Now cannabis again is variable, and it will always be variable. Essentially that allows consumers to be exposed to almost anything in the number of products out there and there’s no research designed that could capture all that variability through a single trial.

Essentially the approach that we’re taking is to gather the types of information that patients are actively consuming and providing and experiencing in real time, and we’re trying to organize all that information simply so that we can best direct patients for their optimal outcomes.

I’m assuming that’s going pretty well so far?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil:  Yes, we are working in that realm as well.

We’re also looking at other datasets, for example, and these clients have not been completely written up yet but for example in Colorado, that every dispensary that entered a county was directly responsible at least statistically for reductions in over-the-counter medications, for example, sleep aids. With every additional dispensary, the sale of sleep aids continues to go, own.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mostly what we’re seeing is a foreshadowing of what’s going to be a transformation in the replacement of manufactured medications for cannabis.

What you’re saying is there’s evidence to suggest that cannabis can replace sleeping pills?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Certainly sleeping pills. In this case, we’re talking about over the counter, but we’ve done other works showing that patients are coming off prescription sedatives as well.

We’re talking about prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids. The latest convention concerning the theory for how to dissolve operating is that we think to essentially have this homeostatic state that becomes breached whenever we’re anxious, whenever we’re feeling pain when we’re feeling depressed when we’re feeling anxiety and so forth. Cannabis essentially regresses deviations back to a state of normalcy.

Essentially cannabis seems to be affecting basic properties of life, libido, food intake, social contentment, the lack of pain. It seems to produce a state that humans feel very comfortable in and that is the best explanation for how it seems to affect so many different types of symptoms.

Again, through one drug. There’s no other drug that seemingly alleviates so many disparate very different types of symptom. All in the ways that essentially improve the psychological and presumably behavioral and physiological function of the individual.

The potential is immense…

How does cannabis improve brain function?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I don’t know how it improves brain function.

It certainly affects brain function, and I think the interpretation of brain functioning is really important.

I remember hearing an NIH official describe the cognitive effects of long-term cannabis usage. She was showing that long-term cannabis users, their brains don’t light up when they are shown the dollar signs, the things that non-cannabis users do.

She was trying to make the case that was a bad thing. This notion of during the state of contentedness might be different to what we might expect out of our youth, where we might expect them to strive or challenge themselves or to put themselves in an insecure state essentially.

That’s one way to interpret how humans might be optimally living. Another way to interpret our existence is that maybe we’re better off kind of swinging in a hammock and using our creativity in other ways.

There’s this whole notion of amotivational syndromes or outcomes.

This is the notion that you essentially become lazy when you start smoking cannabis. Having to think about that and interpret it in different ways. What makes us strive if it’s coming from a place of insecurity. Certainly, that’s driven me my whole life. Wanting to accomplish something that I don’t feel that I was good enough at yet. That might be a good thing, that might be a bad thing. There are many different ways of existing mentally.

Can cannabis increase one’s focus or is that depending more on the strain itself?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Well, that’s a double question. We certainly don’t know hardly anything about variability in whole national raw cannabis, the type of marijuana that millions of people are smoking all over the world. Not the stuff in a study but the “real stuff.” We don’t know a whole lot about even the differences between indicas and sativas and the terpenes and the roles of different ratios of cannabinoids and so forth. We just don’t know.

Is cannabis addictive?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Certainly cannabis is addicting, that is one thing we know for sure. That could come down to interpretation. Your interpretation of this interdependence or whatever was indeed dependent on a lot of things in life, like love, feeling secure, food and so forth. I think there’s a lot of conceptual interpretation involved in any of this stuff.

Getting back into focus it is an interesting question, and it might very well be one mechanism by which cannabis seems to attain pain. Pain is very interesting. You can only focus on for example one pain experience at a time, so if both of your arms are in pain, you should just experience one sensation at a time. You can’t experience both.

There’s a whole an attentional demand component of pain perception that cannabis might merely distract in a straightforward way, in ways that feature or distract the brain from experiencing those types of sensations.

You’re saying that the cannabinoids trick your brain into not feeling any pain?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Pain is like an experience, it’s like an emotion. It becomes aware of us.

We can have tissue damage in the absence of pain. Pain in the absence of tissue damage. It’s an experience that evolved because it has its own function or social functions. Cannabis seems to detract the way from those negative experiences.

We have results from thousands of folks essentially that are indicating in real time the effects of cannabis use. These are folks with depression and anxiety and so forth and across the board, it seems to improve the state of contentedness and psychological well-being.

It seems to produce either positive feelings, or it detracts away from negative feelings. But we don’t know. There’s so much research that needs to be done regarding how it affects our social, sociology processes. All that stuff is going to be happening in the next few years.

Is the MCRF moving down that road for that type of research?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: We’re constrained by funds. The more resources we have available to us, essentially, we can engage in broader projects. I come from a psychology background, and certainly, those types of questions are really interesting so how does cannabis use affect our feelings towards our family members, our children, our elders, our ways of engaging throughout the community and so forth.

Those are really interesting questions and getting back to this homeostasis theory presumably the prediction would be that cannabis use creates a state of social contentedness.

Presumably, it should increase the amount that people trust each other and reduce the likelihood of creating negative consequences for each other. There’s been some fascinating work with regard to the role of cannabis on reductions, for example, domestic violence, feelings of insecurity within the family.

This is just one of many areas that are yet to come but, are waiting for all of us researchers to start tackling.

There’s a video on your website of a young child; her name is Amelia. She took CBD oil; she was suffering from seizures. She took the CBD oil and luckily she’s doing a lot better, but my question is, how does CBD oil help fight seizures?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Well, first of all, I’ll say that little girl, I believe is still relatively seizure free. She just had her second birthday, and it’s amazing, the transformation is amazing.

The more technical part, I have to simply say, we don’t know, so if we get into clinical literature, it hasn’t been that deep yet. It’s still restrictive, does cannabis have an effect? Not necessarily at the roles of mechanisms yet.

Researchers have had their hands tied from being able to study the plant.

Instead, we’ve been relying on synthetic cannabinoids or extractions or isolates or whatever. We’ve been trying to approximate what is happening.

This is going to require transformation reformation of the laws, and once that occurs, this is going to explode.

Someone put it to me this way; if cannabis can replace even a fraction of the pharmaceutical industry, we’re talking about trillions of dollars. Major universities all centered around the study of this amazing plant. Transformation of society, I truly believe that’s right around the corner.

The government would have to rescind its stance on schedule 1.

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: There’s a couple of court cases that are ongoing right now. Personally, I believe this is going to come down to litigation.

There’s going to be a decision made at some level to work like a light switch, and regardless of region, I believe it’s going to be legalized very soon.

The evidence is irrefutable. The problem is, is that we haven’t had the opportunity to show that evidence obviously by design. I think we’re past that tipping point and it’s only a matter of time before the full potential will be known, and we’ll be able to explore fully and transparently.

Besides sleep apnea and seizures, what other ailments do you think cannabis can help fight?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I could point towards the data.

Certainly, the anecdotes are all around, people that are dying of cancer and have different types of ailments where it improves their life and reduces their symptoms.

When we turn to the data, I’m thinking of one particular dataset where we’re looking at about three dozen kinds of symptoms everything from convulsions, being nauseous, to having different types of pain, nerve pain, musculoskeletal pain and so forth.

Three dozen different types of symptoms across the board. For example, on a 1 to 10 scale, the average reduction in those ailments is about three to four. That is incredibly clinically significant, and this is reductions in depression, convulsions, seizures, and anxiety.

No other suitable medication has that breath of effect. That suggests that it was very important to constrain from a business perspective. That’s where we currently find ourselves.

Do you believe cannabis can be a neuroprotectant?

I think one of the next lines of research is to examine how low chronic inflammatory conditions are associated with different types of ailments and to understand the role of cannabis presumably.

There’s been work conducted as far back as the 1970s showing that cannabis reduces tumors.

In fact, I just talked to a doctor two days ago whose colleague is showing the same thing through brain scans. This physician hasn’t published her results; maybe she’s scared to do. She’s directly observing reductions in tumor size that people have in their brains.

We don’t know the mechanisms yet, but there is a lot of potentials. We know that there are certain types of effects that cannabis has in general concerning pain reduction, improve sleep, reducing inflammation in general.

There’s a lot of potential, and it might require a reconceptualization of some of these diseases. For example, concerning depression, we’ve spent billions of dollars trying to figure out what’s wrong, what’s broken in a depressed mind. We haven’t been able to do so.

That suggests that we re-conceptualize our idea of depression. What it is to be depressed. What causes depression? I think one place that we could supplement the potential medicinal effects cannabis is to look towards our other aspects of the environment that might be deleterious to our survival. Potentially help buffer against some of those things. Certainly, we’re being exposed to artificiality in our air, or water, our food and so forth certainly in our medication.

I think the combination of fully exploring the potential of the plants and reducing the amount of plastic that we’re putting into our bodies is going to get that lifespan back on the upward trend hopefully. Unfortunately, right now our life expectancy is going down from generation to generation and that’s unnecessary.

Why do you think that is?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I think it has to do with the world that we live in now. Unfortunately, corporations can have a lot of power, and with enough time they can control many aspects of our environment. It’s possible that humans haven’t fully been able to explore our potential.

One thing that makes humans different than any other animal is our ability to create. If that potential is constrained, inhibited or controlled presumably there’s a whole lot there that can be gained.

I’m optimistic towards the future and particularly with regards to the dismantling of some conventional ways of thinking.

One example is that cannabis is not as dangerous as we’ve been told. That’s only one example of falsehood; there could be so much potential out there that we’ll be able to benefit mankind.

From your experience as a researcher, would you recommend any particular method of ingestion for an individual?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: We’re able to track the patterns and decisions that patients are making and the choices that they make and what they consume and what they report consuming and so forth.

We see patterns were mainly there are different types of consumers out there. There are different types of patients, different kind of recreational users and often they will explore different methods of ingestion, but they seem to regress back towards smoking essentially.

We’re also showing that smoking the cannabis as people have been doing forever, as well as using the concentrate seems to have the most significant medicinal effect.

I don’t know what that means. Is it providing immediate relief as opposed to edibles which take longer to take action? I think the old fashion method is probably going to be the most widely used as it always has been because it’s convenient and practical.

It’s certainly been stigmatized, and people don’t like the smell of the smoke. They assume that the smoke is causing some damage even though there’s plenty of meta-analysis showing that long-term heavy-smokers of cannabis show no pulmonary dysfunction compared to people that didn’t smoke cannabis.

Fundamentally there doesn’t seem to be any long-term lung damage as a result of smoking. It looks as though it might be, doesn’t mean there necessarily are specific forms of damage. There might be other types of damage, but concerning long-term lung function, that was a misconception.

I always thought if you smoked marijuana you’re messing up your lungs.

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Yes, there are short-term effects. There’s coughing, but that’s short-term. That’s a short-term way the body heals itself. It is interesting; there’s exciting research out there. It’s been constrained but if you put all the pieces together and you have something that something remarkable.

Do you believe cannabis can help lower health care costs?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: Yes, we did another study. Where we were looking at the cost savings for insurers for example in the amount that they would typically spend on pills for patients that choose to enroll in some of their states authorized medical cannabis programs. When you extrapolate that nationwide we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars easily with just prescription costs alone, we’re not talking about visits to the doctor. The cost and consequences of becoming addicted or dependent on opiates for example and all the cost, drug interactions, and health care cost in that regard. We’re talking about the number of pills that insurers are saving because essentially patients are not using their pills anymore. It’s a lot of money.

The money factor is fascinating. When we started conducting this work, for example, looking at reductions in opiate use we could easily transform those graphs into billions of dollars. When you look at the slope, it’s quite shocking how much money essentially the pharmaceutical companies are not going to be making in the future.

It’s money to fund the governments and entire countries and so forth.

Can I get a link to that study?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: This particular paper is still under peer review from a scientific journal. It’s not yet published. An example, the top seven analgesic manufacturers in 2015 I believe, they reported sales over a trillion dollars. That’s just a few companies recorded over a trillion dollars in sales.

People talk about a couple of billion here and a couple billion there. We’re talking about massive transformations of how wealth is distributed, how medications are appropriated and how drugs are experienced. If you take the pharmaceutical out of the equation because grandma can grow weed in the backyard, that’s a lot more money in the consumers’ pockets.

Do you see a future where we will see everyday people self-medicating at home using a home grow box?

I see that as the way of the future. I genuinely don’t know the role of a dispenser in our modern era. They tax us. You must provide patients access to the medication. Yes, there are experienced folks out there that are making different types of product, they’re trying to improve those products, and so forth, so they have a utility but because cannabis can be grown by anybody very easily essentially with no skill.

We’re talking about a different animal altogether, and that’s why pharmaceutical companies and the industry, in general, have never been able to control it because it can never be contained. It doesn’t come in a little pill form from some big building or other states.

An optimal solution nationwide would be to allow anybody to grow it. Those individuals that want to sell it they’re taxed and that they have to subscribe to safety mandates and so forth.

There are a whole bunch of cannabis run programs in the United States, very few of them are serving patients, as well as they, should be. For example, here in New Mexico, there’s very little compliance with state mandates. Even though the book states that all the cannabis is supposed to be tested for potency, for microbiological contaminant and so forth very little of it is.

Unfortunately here in New Mexico, our program is being run by folks that probably are not in the best position to be running it as efficiently as it could be. It’s unfortunate. I wish that the government would take its hand out entirely out of this equation. We know that cannabis does not kill people. Concerning its role in car accidents, behavioral accidents, and functioning that’s still open to investigation. I don’t see any downsides to allowing folks to be able to grow it.

What is the future of cannabis research?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I think the future is going to be examining what patient populations can benefit, which patient populations are most at risk. We need to take a step back; we know that it doesn’t cause brain damage or schizophrenia. There’s a number of studies now that says that cannabis cures schizophrenia.

There is a complete reversal, and this reversal is taking the form of basically killing CBD, CBD is supposed to be the magical therapeutic component of cannabis. At least our research suggests, that’s not the case at all and in fact, all these patients that have experienced alleviations of their symptoms in real life are mostly smoking higher THC strains.

Our research also directly suggest that CBD in and of itself doesn’t have much of an effect unless it’s interacting with THC. There’s a lot of backpedaling that’s taking place right now in the scientific community, but in general, I think to identify vulnerable patient populations, patient populations that can most benefit.

I think that cannabis is going to cause reconceptualization of our understanding of medicine and how the body operates. To date we’ve been primarily targeting symptoms, all of our medications focus a specific symptom.

If cannabis has the potential to affect multiple systems instead of just symptoms,  we’re talking about a new way of intervening in human health, and it might be an entirely simple way that is it doesn’t require a lot of different types of medications. It could also potentially inform us about how the body operates and what deviations from different states are resolving from and what they mean.

There’s been this catch 22 throughout society in the past 100 years, or so the pharmaceutical has defined our understanding of medicine, and it hasn’t been the opposite. We have the cart leading the horse around. We’ll see what the future brings.

If there any questions that I that I should be asking? Would you like to make any closing statements?

Professor Jacob Miguel Vigil: I don’t have much else to say except for a couple of main points and that’s to the scientific community, we’re dealing with something different than conventional medicine.  It requires different approaches to investigation and then likewise in a message to patients is that cannabis use mostly is going to need more active management on the patient side. The patients are always going to be forced to experiment through trial and error because no two plans are the same.

I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time or it won’t be an optimal solution for doctors to be telling patients exactly how many pills to take per day just like you would on a pill bottle.

I think in fact that’s also a positive thing because it puts our health management back on the shoulders of patients and gives them that control. We certainly know that patients appreciate that, we don’t like to be told something that we don’t understand or being thrown a bunch of medications at us randomly to those that they seem to be very advocatious.

I think it’s a good thing that people might have the opportunity now to take a more active role in their health and presumably, that will start to emerge with a greater understanding in the education of how this plant is assessed in the human body.

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