The contribution of women to science has historically not received the recognition it deserves, but with so many amazing women at the forefront of cannabis research, it’s high time we paid homage to some of these incredible minds. With their vision, intellect and hard work, these luminaries have been instrumental in expanding our knowledge of cannabis and driving a global change in attitude toward medical marijuana. It’s fair to say that without these ten women scientists, cannabis would still be in the dark ages.
Dr Cristina Sanchez
A distinguished lecturer in molecular biology at the Complutense University in Madrid, Dr Cristina Sanchez was among the first scientists to recognise the anti-cancer potential of certain cannabinoids. For more than 20 years, her research has shed light on the ability of THC and other compounds within cannabis to kill tumour cells.
According to her findings, cannabinoids send cancer cells into a process called apoptosis, whereby they essentially commit suicide, entering a cell-death sequence without releasing any inflammatory molecules that could harm the surrounding tissue. This is something of a holy grail for scientists when developing anti-tumour medications, as it ensures that these cells die “cleanly”, without taking any healthy cells with them.
As one of the most prominent cannabis scientists in the world today, Sanchez sits on the board of both the Spanish Society of Cannabinoid Research and the Spanish Observatory of Medicinal Cannabis.
Dr Allyn Howlett
Immediately after Raphael Mechoulam revealed the existence of THC in the mid-1960s, scientists began seeking the brain receptor to which this and other cannabinoids are able to bind. More than 20 years later, in 1988, Dr Allyn Howlett finally made the all-important breakthrough by discovering the CB1 receptor.
This finding has been instrumental in helping us understand not only the effects of cannabis, but also the role of the endocannabinoid system. In other words, for more than three decades, cannabis scientists have been standing on Howlett’s shoulders, as her discovery laid the foundations for all further research into the plant’s pharmacological properties.
She is currently a professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the Howlett Lab continues to investigate the function of the CB1 receptor.
Dr Daniela Vergara
Currently based at the University of Colorado Boulder, evolutionary biologist Dr Daniela Vergara co-founded both the Agricultural Genomics Foundation (AGF) and the Cannabis Genomic Research Initiative (CGRI), which have been instrumental in furthering our understanding of the cannabis genome.
Aside from helping to identify the genes that are responsible for the synthesis of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids, Vergara’s work has also drawn attention to the genetic differences that exist between cultivars. Notable, her findings have helped to raise awareness of the fact that the research strains approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tend to lack potency in comparison to those favoured by consumers.
As such, she has played a pivotal role in ensuring the expansion of cannabis research to include a wider variety of cultivars, thereby giving more realistic findings and generally raising standards throughout this field of scientific investigation.
Dr Bonni Goldstein
Dr Bonni Goldstein, MD, is the author of a book entitled Cannabis Revealed: How the World’s Most Misunderstood Plant Is Treating Everything From Chronic Pain to Epilepsy. Her scientific interest in cannabis began in 2008 when a friend of hers began using the plant to treat a serious illness, and since then she has established herself as one of the world’s foremost cannabis scientist.
As a specialist in both adult and paediatric use of medical marijuana, she is currently the Medical Director of Canna-Centers Wellness & Education, a treatment facility for seriously ill patients in Los Angeles. Having worked extensively with children, she is now helping to run a pilot study into the use of cannabis to treat autism spectrum disorder.
Dr Dani Gordon
Originally from Canada, Dr Dani Gordon is a double board certified medical doctor who now resides in the UK. Before leaving her home country, Gordon ran a cannabis-based medical centre where she treated over 2,500 patients with conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety in depression.
After moving to London, she co-founded the UK Medical Cannabis Clinician’s Society (MCCS), which trained the country’s first medical cannabis specialists and helped to set up the nation’s first cannabis-based medical centres.
Her recently-published book, entitled The CBD Bible: Cannabis and the Wellness Revolution That Will Change Your Life, is becoming something of a go-to guide for anyone interested in working with this cannabinoid.
Dr June Chin
Having suffered from chronic pain since childhood, Dr June Chin was first advised to give medical cannabis a try while in medical school. As it turned out, this was the best advice she could have received, as not only did it help to liberate her from her own debilitating condition, it also set her on course for an illustrious career as a cannabis scientist.
As co-author of the popular book Cannabis & CBD For Health & Wellness, her experience and knowledge have helped huge numbers of people devise their own cannabinoid-based regimens in order to improve their own wellbeing. Among her many other roles and commitments, Chin currently serves as the Chief Medical Advisor for CannabisMD.
Dr Saoirse O’Sullivan
Having been named the International Cannabinoid Research Society Young Investigator of the year in 2016, Dr Saoirse O’Sullivan is one of the leading lights in cannabis research. She currently holds the title of Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK, having previously served as a lecturer.
O’Sullivan’s work focuses primarily on the role of cannabinoids in cardiovascular heath and in the gut. Among her numerous publications are studies investigating the potential of CBD to protect the brain in stroke patients, and the capacity of cannabinoids to prevent inflammation and sepsis in the gastrointestinal tract.
Dr Sue Sisley
Despite coming up against a series of regulatory roadblocks, Dr Sue Sisley persevered in her quest to conduct the first ever FDA-approved clinical trial of medical cannabis as a treatment for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She even had to take the administration to court in order to get the study over the line, proving that she’s got passion as well as brains.
Though the results of the study have not yet been published, the groundwork laid by Sisley is likely to open the door to a new avenue of treatment for PTSD and change the lives of countless people for the better.
She has previously conducted studies into the use of medical cannabis for pain management and as an opioid substitution therapy, while working with numerous medical cannabis centres across the US.
As a process engineer with chronic back pain, Mara Gordon happened to stumble upon the healing properties of cannabis. This experience inspired her to put her data analysis skills to use by developing her own cannabinoid-based wellness regimen, all of which led to a new career as a prominent cannabis scientist.
Gordon is best known for founding the highly respected Aunt Zelda’s, which uses data-driven science in order to provide bespoke cannabis formulations to individual patients. She also established Call Spring Wellness and developed a software tool called CDRMed, both of which are aimed at helping physicians incorporate medical cannabis into their practice by providing data-backed guidance on cultivars, dosage and a range of other key metrics.
Through Aunt Zelda’s, Gordon is now helping to fund a number of important clinical trials, including one that aims to investigate the role of cannabinoids in fighting breast cancer.
Dr Janice Knox… And Her Daughters
The matriarch of an entire family of cannabis scientists, Dr Janice Knox worked as an anaesthetist for more than three decades before opening her own medical cannabis centre in Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t long before her husband – also a doctor – decided to ditch the ER room to join his wife, while the couple’s two daughters, Rachel and Jessica, both entered the family business after qualifying as medical professionals.
Collectively known as the Knox Docs, this extraordinary family not only runs one of the most prestigious medical cannabis centres in the US, but has also become a major source of both inspiration and education on the matter, regularly appearing at conferences around the world.