This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on September 30, 2019
A former Whanganui doctor is now a specialist when it comes to treating patients with cannabis in the US.
Ahead of New Zealand's 2020 cannabis referendum and the country's first ever medicinal cannabis summit, he spoke to Jesse King from Colorado.
Dr Joseph Cohen worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Whanganui before returning home to Boulder, Colorado in 2009.
Cohen had lost interest in his field at the time and he was seeking a new career when he went to a medicinal cannabis dispensary with his wife.
There, he was offered a job out the back of the dispensary making recommendations and he very quickly left to start his own practice, Holos Health.
Next year, New Zealand will host it's first ever medicinal cannabis summit MedCan 2020 in Auckland and Cohen would love the chance to attend and speak at it.
Cohen said it was critical New Zealand doctors and the public sought expert advice after Government passed the medicinal cannabis bill in December 2018, giving terminally ill people a legal defence for using cannabis products.
"I would love to teach what I know and to encourage people in New Zealand to do things correctly, avoiding some of the obstacles that we've hit here," Cohen said.
"I'd like to make sure New Zealand tries to minimise some of the abuse potential. It's an amazing medicine, but people have a tendency to abuse some things."
Cohen has 10 years of experience working in the medical cannabis industry and has constantly had to counsel patients about overusing cannabis.
Humans have their own endocannabinoid system to make cannabinoids and the cannabis plant has the same chemical structure as the body produces.
If problems begin to occur within the body, the system produces a cannabinoid in an effort to bring everything back into balance.
If someone consumes a high concentrate of cannabis, such as by dabbing (inhaling small quantities of a concentrated drug) the system could receive up to 90 per cent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as opposed to maybe 15 per cent from smoking a joint.
This can make the body unbalanced, forcing it to compensate by decreasing the response of your receptors to the medicine and causing your own cannabinoids to go into hiding.
THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids identified in cannabis and the principal psychoactive constituent of the drug.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another cannabinoid in cannabis, one that is non-psychoactive and the most medicinal component of the plant.
Cohen looks at these parts, discusses with patients their lifestyles, nutrition and symptoms before determining their treatment and the method for taking it.
Medicinal cannabis can be consumed as an edible, inhaled or swallowed in the form of a tincture (a liquid extract.)
Cohen said that making these decisions comes with experience.
"That's what doctors need to know in New Zealand. You don't go to a class or a course and think that you can adequately treat people. That's not the way it works.
"You have to see patients and you have to really get a grip on what this medicine can do and how to use it before you can get the best effect."
Cohen allows doctors to visit his practice and shadow him for a week and also does some work with Green Flower Media who produce informative videos about cannabis.
While fully supportive of where New Zealand is going with medicinal cannabis treatment, Cohen does have concerns about the transition.
One of those concerns is the affordability of the products which he said may become more expensive than they need to be.
"There are going to be these issues. Who's going to be recommending treatment? Do they need to be specialists? Can they be a primary care doctor or a GP?
"It's hard for me to say what will work best in New Zealand, but patients need to know that they can go to a clinic where doctors are specifically trained in cannabis medicine."
Cohen was also interested in New Zealand's 2020 New Zealand cannabis referendum on whether or not the country should legalise the personal use of cannabis.
Colorado Amendment 64 was passed in November 2012 and since 2014, adults aged 21 or over in the American state have been allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants.
Cohen is all for it, saying smoking weed is much safer than drinking alcohol and with a far reduced risk of being abused.
"We've had many patients who have reduced their alcohol intake because they are able to use cannabis and actually had health benefits because of it," Cohen said.
"In New Zealand, you have time now to get the public educated. If you get the public educated and they're more comfortable with it, it's more likely to pass.
"I think that people should have the right to smoke a joint if they want to, to relax with their friends instead of getting drunk."