Your Brain on Weed: Dustin Sulak Interview
Interested in the effect that cannabis has on the brain? We are too, so we contacted Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician from Intergr8 Health, Falmouth, Maine. Sulak, a diplomat of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, and his team in New England treat over 17,000 patients with medical cannabis and integrative medicine.
Bud and Breakfast: Why do you think we have these receptors for endocannabinoids like THC present in the brain in the first place? How might that have evolved?
Dustin Sulak: The endocannabinoid system evolved approximately 600 million years ago. Very primitive animals, like sea-squirts, have CB receptors that are almost identical to those found in humans. This implies that these receptors have been serving a very important role in health and survival—evolution doesn’t tolerate a lot of variance in the function of the endocannabinoid system.
The simple purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to allow cells to maintain internal balance despite fluctuations in their external environment, a process known as homeostasis. The precise activity varies depending on which cell type we examine, but these receptors are active all over the body in almost every cell type. The function of this system is an integral part of our capacity to heal and grow.
Cannabinoid receptors clearly preceded the existence of the mammalian brain, and it’s likely that the evolution of complex nervous systems in vertebrates wouldn’t have been possible without the endocannabinoid system’s homeostatic function.
Bud and Breakfast: Do you think that the taboo on using cannabis and it’s illegal status has actually been a health detriment for the average human being ?
Dustin Sulak: Prohibition of cannabis and the decades of false propaganda have had significant detrimental public health consequences, such as over-incarceration and the associated wastes of human potential and taxpayer money, clogging up the judicial system, fostering distrust of law enforcement, and supporting the demand for international drug trade and violent drug cartels.
There has never been any academic assessment of our current drug policy that has supported its efficacy—even the three large studies commissioned by the federal government have recommended against prohibition.
There is more and more evidence that cannabis can be used in low doses to prevent disease, improve resilience to stress, and enhance overall health.
Bud and Breakfast: If a person is interested in increasing overall wellness, how regularly do you think they should use cannabis and in what quantity?
Dustin Sulak: Ultra-low doses of cannabis—well below what’s needed for a psychoactive experience—have been shown in animal studies to protect the heart during a heart attack and protect the brain during a stroke or head trauma. There is more and more evidence that cannabis can be used in low doses to prevent disease, improve resilience to stress, and enhance overall health. The optimal health-promoting dosage is different for each person—those in greater health and balance need less cannabis, while those with more severe medical conditions often require more.
I’ve developed protocols that teach patients to accurately determine their optimal dose, but the simple recommendation is to use the least amount possible to control symptoms and improve wellbeing. Any evidence of building tolerance to cannabis is undesirable, because that also means building tolerance to and losing efficacy of an essential component of your innate healing system. On the other hand, people that find themselves getting more sensitive to cannabis over time and needing to use less and less have likely found a health-promoting relationship with the herb.
Bud and Breakfast: Do you have a preferred delivery method i.e. smoking, edibles or vapor?
Dustin Sulak: Vapor is useful due to rapid onset—patients get relief in 2-5 minutes—and it’s easy to adjust the dose. Liquid extracts called tinctures are probably the best way to administer cannabis for the vast majority of patients due to convenience and ability to take a dependable dose of a standardized medicine.
More and more patients are using topical cannabis preparations to treat local pain, inflammation, or itching. I often recommend against using edibles because I don’t think medicine should taste or look delicious, and I hear too many stories of people eating too much and having an unpleasant (though rarely dangerous) overdose experience. Each of the delivery systems has its strengths, weaknesses, and clinical utility in certain patients.
-Interview by Tabitha Farrar for Bud and Breakfast—cannabis accommodations for the marijuana tourism industry.
Writers note: When I first started writing about cannabis, I read some really fascinating perspectives from some very educated individuals on the endocannabinoid system. What I am always interested in, is the science behind the effect. If one strips away the learned opinions and perceptions, and can look simply at the effect, it is unexpected and exciting.
Could we see cannabis being recommended as a regular part of one’s personal health and wellness regime sometime in the (not so distant) future?