About 250 scientists from around the world have gathered this weekend at Pheasant Run Resort sitting through seminars titled "Endocannabinoid Signaling in Periimplantation Biology," and "Cannabinoids and HIV Pathogenicity," to name a few, for the 21st Annual Symposium of the International Cannabinoid Research Society.
ICRS members meet once a year to compare notes on research studying how cannabinoids, compounds from the cannabis plant (more commonly known as marijuana) or from the brain called endocannabinoids, affect the body and how it functions.
While most attendees are scientists, many are graduate students or training scientists as well as physicians interested in learning how these chemicals might be useful in treating human disease.
"We are all around the world working on our own projects," said Cecilia Hillard, ICRS executive director, professor of pharmacology and director of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"That's why it's so wonderful for us to get together once a year so we can really share things that we learn," she said.
For example, she said someone may be studying how bone is formed, and she is studying how the brain works.
"I learn a lot by learning how the bone is formed, and they learn about how neurons work," Hillard said. "It's really a lot of what we call a 'cross-fertilization' of ideas."
While the society is not political, Hillard says the type of research that is done on the controversial topic of medical and personal use of marijuana is nonetheless important.
"We're carrying out scientific investigations trying to understand what these molecules do," Hillard said. "What we try to contribute to the debate is the reality."
She said scientific investigation is done in a very neutral way, trying to understand what these molecules do.
"The mass appeal is, 'is there a good use for this in the treatment of human disease?'" Hillard said. "Most of us really have a passion for looking at these molecules because there is a lot of potential for treatment of human disease."
The findings of this research are published in scientific journals so that the information is available to anyone. She said sometimes "you have no idea the impact your work is having." Hillard said part of the mission of the ICRS is to educate the public.
"I wish the politicians would (look at the data) but I don't think they do," she said.
Some of the most promising research, she said, involves pain management.
"That seems to be one of the most validated things that endocannabinoid drugs can be used for," she said.
Another medical use is spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. She said the pain associated with muscle stiffness and spasms could effectively be treated using endocannabinoid drugs.
The symposium runs through Sunday, July 10. This is the second time the ICRS has met at Pheasant Run. Other locales during the last 20 years of research have included Italy, Hungary, France, and Sweden.