David Knowlton is President and CEO of the Cannabis Education and Research Institute (CERI). He also is Chairman of the Board of the Compassionate Care Foundation, a medicinal cannabis dispensary in Egg Harbor Township. A founder of the Quality Institute, Knowlton retired as President and CEO of the Quality Institute in 2015.

Why was CERI created and what are the organization’s goals?

A group of healthcare professionals and others passionate about the benefits of medical cannabis joined together to create the nonprofit CERI board to advance unbiased, evidence-based research on the medicinal use of cannabis and to share reliable information about this gentle approach to dealing with a variety of debilitating conditions. We want to ensure that medical cannabis benefits are known and available to those who can benefit from them.

In our work, we have seen the benefits of advancing research into medical cannabis. Here’s just one story. Nine-year-old Ashton Mitchell suffers from cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy. In 2015, his seizures – sometimes numbering in the hundreds in one day — landed him in the emergency room at least once or twice a month. The worst seizure lasted 10 hours and left him in a coma for four days. Within days of starting treatment with medical cannabis, Ashton began showing signs of relief. His epilepsy abated and he was able to calm down. His parents, his teachers and his caregivers quickly saw improvement. Now he’s learning to stand and talk; he laughs. It’s amazing.

What are some of your initial projects?

We want to systematically gather data to learn what works and what doesn’t work. We want to work on specific projects where we think it’s likely that cannabis can substitute for some strong medications, the most obvious being opioids. Gov. Murphy recently added opioid abuse as an indication eligible for medical cannabis treatment.

We want to educate the public, physicians and others in the healthcare delivery system and policymakers about the benefits of medical cannabis. We plan to foster the collection, creation and dissemination of credible scholarly work on medical cannabis, and create and maintain data and research resources.

And we want to differentiate medical cannabis from recreational marijuana to drive evidence-based decision-making to support patient needs. After assessing the impact recreational marijuana has had in other states, we are concerned that passage of recreational marijuana legislation in New Jersey may have a negative impact on efforts to provide medical cannabis for patients. Within the next year, we plan to host a summit focusing on issues that impact patient treatment and the impact of recreational marijuana on medical cannabis programs.

What are the specific challenges to obtaining objective research about cannabis?

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell was eloquent in his January 2019 New Yorker article in articulating the many issues that must be addressed for medical cannabis to reach its full potential in helping patients with debilitating pain or other harmful conditions. He cited a national Academy of Medicine effort to analyze scientific literature on cannabis. The resulting report, issued in January of 2017, stated that cannabis “remains a mystery,” Gladwell said.

We need quality trials; we need to know more about efficacy, dose, routes of administration, and side effects. We need studies. And once efficacy is clear, we need to undertake creative ways to help patients pay for medical cannabis

CERI is now a member of the Quality Institute. How does being part of the Quality Institute advance CERI’s mission?

I am very proud of my work with the Quality Institute and very excited with the direction the new President, Linda Schwimmer, has taken the organization. The Quality Institute is highly credible. Even if the Quality Institute finds something negative about one of its members they are not afraid to say it. They don’t pull punches. I think if I want rigor in the research and credibility in the health community it helps to be part of the Quality Institute. It was the first call I made after we created CERI.

Since your “retirement,” what have you been up to?

Well, as I mentioned, I am Chairman of the Board of the Compassionate Care Foundation, one of the six original Alternative Treatment Centers for medical cannabis in New Jersey. I also am a founder of America’s Nurses ™, a start-up focused on bringing more Nurse Practitioners into the delivery of primary care. But, most important, I spend about half the year traveling around the country with my wife Diane in our RV. We go meander; we take our time. When you have an RV, you travel with your house. You can go anywhere. I love it!