Actor Montel Williams speaks during his “Let’s Be Blunt” panel at the 2017 Cannabis Science Conference in Portland, Oregon. Williams is one of the first mainstream actors to advocate for medical cannabis use. Courtesy of the Cannabis Science Conference

For the first time, a conference centered around cannabis and its use in medicine is coming to Long Beach.

The Long Beach Convention Center will host the Cannabis Science Conference, one of the only forums for cannabis researchers and professionals to convene and discuss the latest findings related to the drug and its medical applications. The conference runs May 18-20.

Organizer Josh Crossney noticed that while forums for cannabis discussion were starting to sprout up as it was becoming more accepted nationwide, most of them were focused on the business aspect—the ins and outs of how to make money off the plant.

Crossney saw a need for a different kind of discussion and founded the convention in 2016 in Portland to bridge the gap between science and cannabis.

“In a federally illegal industry, the scientists and the researchers are actually what’s going to push us over the finish line,” Crossney said.

Medical applications for the plant are the primary focus of the conference. Some of the newest research on cannabis will be presented at various panels on topics such as testing and processing procedures, and implementation of a Cannabis Nurse Network to help teach medical professionals how to integrate cannabis into their treatments.

“Let’s Be Blunt” will be a featured panel at the conference led by actor Montel Williams, who has a long track record promoting the need for the widespread legalization of medical cannabis use. Williams has appeared at the conference previously as part of his two decades of advocacy.

“When Montel has spoken for us in the past, not only does he speak for an hour, he speaks with a handheld microphone, where he goes through the entire audience engaging with people as he’s speaking,” Crossney said.

Williams was one of the first mainstream celebrities to endorse medical cannabis use after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. Crossney says Williams’ success is a demonstration of the positive impact cannabis can have on a person.

“Seeing someone like Montel be a living walking testament to this plan, I think speaks volumes,” Crossney said.

Having high-profile names like Williams, former NFL offensive lineman Eben Britton, who spoke in 2017, and Grammy Award-winning artist Olivia Newton-John, who held a panel at last year’s conference, helps convince a wider range of skeptics to keep an open mind when talking about medical cannabis use.

“[I can stand] there telling all those people, ‘Hey, cannabis is great. You should look at this,’ and they respond ‘who are you?’” Crossney said. “But when it’s Olivia Newton-John, they’re like ‘look, I’m open about this.’”

Success stories of children who used cannabis as a treatment after not responding to traditional pharmaceutical methods will also be highlighted at the conference. Two of those kids who decided to turn their experiences into a platform for advocacy—Rylie Maedler of Rylie’s Sunshine and Connor Sheffield of the Connor Sheffield Foundation—will host their own panels where they will tell their stories.

At just 7 years old, Maedler was diagnosed with Aggressive Giant Cell Granuloma bone tumors, a rare and aggressive tumor that attacks and breaks down the bones of the face. Doctors told Maedler’s parents that even surgical removal would not be a solution for long, and the only real way to attack the disease was through chemotherapy.

After struggling with epilepsy as a side effect from the treatment, Maedler’s mother turned to cannabis as a treatment and Maedler saw immediate relief. Bone regeneration and tumor shrinkage was seen after only a few months with no side effects.

Now, Rylie’s Sunshine helps provide products to families in similar circumstances while continuing to advocate for the use of medical cannabis to help children with certain illnesses.

Sheffield, meanwhile, suffers from dysmotility—which causes muscles in his digestive system to not work properly, leading to severe loss of appetite and weight loss. He had to be fed through a feeding tube, but there came a point where even that no longer worked to get food through his system. The situation became so dire that doctors considered palliative care.

With medical cannabis treatment, however, Sheffield developed an appetite and began eating without a feeding tube. But a new problem quickly arose: he was not being allowed to consume cannabis during school to induce his appetite. His foundation now advocates for schools to allow kids to use cannabis for medical purposes.

Medical cannabis use in children is a topic that hits close to home for Crossney. He said highlighting stories about how cannabis helps children with a variety of severely crippling diseases is particularly important to him, and not just because of his work with a pediatric nonprofit.

Crossney met Tracy Ryan and her daughter Sophie at the first conference in 2016. The 8-month-old Sophie had a brain tumor, and Ryan eventually turned to cannabis for her treatment, a major shock to Crossney.

“‘What do you mean, your 8-month-old baby is on cannabis? You don’t mean our kids like rolling up a joint,’” Crossney recalled thinking at the time. “I knew at that moment, when I had a second pause, there are a lot more people in the world that aren’t as open minded as me, so I needed to use my platform and voice to advocate for these kids.”

Ryan had initially dismissed the potential for cannabis as well, but speaking with talk show host and movie star Ricki Lake and her documentary film partner Abby Epstein convinced her to try, and the results have been groundbreaking in brain cancer research.

The use of medical cannabis for veterans with PTSD will also be featured at the conference. Veteran suicide prevention organization 22TooMany will be one of the many exhibitors at the convention, and there will be a panel focused on treating veterans.

“They are one of the biggest populations that suffers from PTSD and anxiety and other conditions associated with some of the things they may have seen or had to be a part of during their career in the military, and this plant can help them, so we absolutely should be providing a platform for them,” Crossney said.

Despite its name, the Cannabis Science Convention will actually be branching out to other types of compounds, particularly psychedelics, Crossney said. A market of exploration has emerged in recent years for psychedelics like the Psilocybin in the famous “magic mushrooms” and Sheri—a natural tobacco used in Peru for healing ceremonies—which has prompted Crossney to add a series of panels on these drugs.

Crossney said psychedelics, like cannabis, have been stigmatized for their mind altering properties, and hopes to continue working to alleviate those fears.

Cannabis and psychedelics were used for healing purposes in ancient medicine for much longer than they have been banned in the modern world,  Crossney said. “We’re just trying to undo the many decades of prohibition and misinformation.”

This expansion into the wider topic of psychedelics represents a commitment to the greater goal of the conference, Crossney said: to eliminate the stigmas that obstruct people from getting the medicine they need to live happy and healthy lives.

“We don’t suggest people not listen to medical advice,” Crossney said. “What we suggest is that cannabis can be another tool in the toolbox when you’re treating people, especially sick children.”

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.