The Cannabis Scientist
by R. Robinson
Dr. Robert Melamede has been a Cannabis activist before many of us were even born. Growing up during the Counterculture Revolution of the 1960s, he straddled two seemingly disparate worlds. On one hand, he came from a straight-laced military family. On the other, he frolicked with the tie-dye-wearing ragamuffins of Timothy Leary’s dropout generation. Today he uses an academic podium to promote medical Cannabis while also running a Cannabis biotech company.
At 65, Dr. Melamede — or Dr. Bob, as he’s known to his students — doesn’t look a day past 50. Towering well over six-feet, the man is a walking paradox, a technocratic mystic who can seamlessly weave medical terms into insightful diatribes regarding divine will. The lines in his face record decades of joyous laughter, and the vibrancy of his smile marks the approaching victory of his life’s work — the federal legalization of Cannabis.
“There are thousands and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles showing [Cannabis’ medical] benefits,“ Dr. Bob explains. “There’s over 800 articles showing cannabinoids killing cancer. And yet, there’s no medical value? These [politicians] are mentally ill! And they run the world! And we let them, but that’s changing now. People are no longer going to let them do this.”
A professor of molecular biology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) and the President of Cannabis Science, Inc. (CBIS), Dr. Bob’s been a busy man. He teaches the world’s only university course for 420-friendly content, Endocannabinoids and Medical Marijuana. When he’s not equating God to energy physics and evolution, he’s traveling the world to promote better living through Cannabis.
Dr. Bob has worked alongside Rick Simpson in the Phoenix Tears project. He speaks annually at Denver’s world-famous 420 celebration. He forged alliances with NORML before NORML became a household name. He serves on the advisory boards of the International Association for Cannabis as a Medicine, the Marijuana Policy Advocacy Project and Americans for Safe Access. He’s testified as an expert witness in defense of medical Cannabis users. He was even featured in the groundbreaking documentary What If Cannabis Cured Cancer. And now he hopes to turn Cannabis into a tried-and-true industrial resource, one that will gradually spread to everything from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics.
Dr. Bob believes the medical establishment, in many ways, no longer serves its patients. “Ask any doctor in the country: are omega-3 fatty acids good for you? They’ll all say yes. Ask them why, and they won’t know that it’s because you make endocannabinoids out of [omega-3 fatty acids]. They’re all telling you to basically increase your endocannabinoid activity, but they don’t know it.”
In fact, he insists that responsible Cannabis consumers, in many ways, are ahead of the curve. “We have [a] medical marijuana community that’s more educated than the medical community. Most doctors don’t even know that there is an endocannabinoid system.” The medical community’s ignorance of endocannabinoids may not last much longer, especially if Dr. Bob gets his way.
Founded in 2000 as National Healthcare Technology, Cannabis Science became incorporated and publicly traded in 2009. Dr. Bob started as the head of its scientific advisory board, and in 2009 he became the company’s CEO. Recently he stepped down from his CEO position to act as the president and director of the company. Dr. Dorothy Bray, an HIV-research specialist, is the current CEO, but Drs. Bob and Bray are not the only scientists who run the show at Cannabis Science.
Cannabis Science’s very existence flies in the face of prohibitionist propaganda. Our mainstream media usually depicts ganjapreneurs as jean-clad burnouts, but Cannabis Science defies this stereotype. Its executive management is composed of graduates from Cambridge, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Cornell. Their resumes include industrial heavyweights such as GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer. Some of them even worked for the federal government at the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Drug Administration. A former Assistant US Surgeon General serves on its Scientific Advisory Board.
Furthermore, Cannabis Science does not employ a team wholly composed of Cannabis consumers, either. Due to differences of opinion among the corporation’s scientists, Cannabis Science is now two companies, Cannabis Science, Inc., the drug research arm, and Exchange Corporation, an activist arm that makes non-pharmaceutical Cannabis products such as makeup, creams, and lotions.
“A lot of the people who are in Cannabis Science do not support — largely because they don’t understand — the value of medical marijuana,” Dr. Bob said. “We’re not trying to indoctrinate our team. We’re letting them focus on drug development; we don’t care what they believe about medical marijuana.”
Cannabis Science started with a single idea. “We initially focused on skin cancers, because Cannabis works very effectively against basal cell and squamous cell — very, very effectively,” Dr. Bob elaborated. What started as skin-cancer treatment soon blossomed out to include other cancers, including Kaposi’s sarcoma, a cancer caused by a virus that only afflicts immune-compromised patients, particularly those infected with HIV. Their goal is to create a topical spray made of just the right cannabinoid ratios. With a little engineering voodoo, this spray could not be consumed for its psychedelic effects.
Eliminating the potential for abuse means that Cannabis Science’s topical spray would have an easier time getting federal approval. Although Cannabis Science is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, legalization in one state hasn’t resolved legal issues elsewhere. In January of this year, Americans for Safe Access attempted to sue the federal government over Cannabis’ Schedule I status. The District of Colombia Circuit Court responded by creating new, difficult standards for proving the medical efficacy of Cannabis. In order for Cannabis to even be considered for rescheduling, it must pass through Phase II and Phase III clinical trials — a manufactured precedent that no other compound has had to undergo before.
But Cannabis Science has accepted the challenge. “Where we’re moving now is to be able to formalize things with regulatory bodies like the FDA and Europe’s comparable agencies — around the world, really. So that’s what we’re trying to do: to get Cannabis medicines into the hands of the people.” But he added that there’s considerable resistance, especially in the United States, to receive approval for new Cannabis-based medicines. For this reason Cannabis Science, Inc. has gone international, with branches in the US, Australia and Europe.
Even if Cannabis Science’s researchers hold some reservations for medical Cannabis, Dr. Bob has other plans for the company. He expects that the company will successfully run Cannabis through strict clinical trials, and “people will be able to go into any pharmacy in any state and have their Cannabis preparations covered by healthcare. Regardless of legalization or not, there are always people who want to take that route. And we want to satisfy their needs.”
For Dr. Bob, Cannabis legalization is not only a social, political, legal, ethical or economic issue. He believes Cannabis holds the key to our very survival as a species, that widespread Cannabis consumption is a necessary step for our biological evolution. “Everything in biology oscillates. There’s always a balancing of opposing forces, the modern embodiment of yin and yang…. One of the biggest balancing acts occurs between inflammation and turning it off. Our immune system has harnessed the power of free radicals to focus them on killing pathogens. In doing that, just the same as with nuclear weapons, there’s collateral damage. We’re the collateral damage as we protect ourselves. From an evolutionary perspective, [cannabinoids] give us an evolutionary direction as to where we should go.”
He often refers to our inflammation levels — the overall activity of the immune system — as the “thermostat.” He explains that our ancestors typically only lived into their 40s, since infection was once the leading cause of death in humans. In industrialized societies, however, we have sanitation and antibiotics to combat infection. “Evolution has selected our thermostat setting and the world has changed so rapidly over the past 150 years that the thermostat setting is out-of-date. It’s now responsible for killing us with age-related illnesses. So supplement with your omega-3s and consume Cannabis and live a happier and healthier life.”