QUINCY -- Well-known medical cannabis advocate Dr. Alan Shackelford gave doctors, nurses and other medical professionals a firsthand look Thursday night at what marijuana can do for chronic conditions.
The Denver doctor and cannabis researcher opened his presentation with a brief biography and a video of 5-year-old Charlotte Figi, the youngest patient he has treated with medical cannabis.
In the video, Charlotte was enduring a seizure. Shackelford said she had more than 300 grand mal seizures a week before he "very reluctantly agreed" to begin treating her with cannabis. Charlotte was treated with a high-concentration cannabidiol oil and now has two to three seizures a month.
"That was stunning," Shackelford said. "I didn't understand exactly why it was working or how best to approach her treatment."
After informing the crowd of the significant drop in Charlotte's seizures, Shackelford cut to a second video of Charlotte standing upright and appearing healthy.
In late 2012, Shackelford made his first trip to Israel -- the only country to embrace medical cannabis research -- to "meet with authorities and professors and others to discuss doing research that would clarify those questions."
"I think the most important thing a physician can do is read and educate himself or herself on why cannabis might be a legitimate treatment option for a patient," Shackelford said. "I think biases have no place in medicine, particularly personal biases."
A Harvard-trained physician, Shackelford hoped to dispel myths and answer questions about medical cannabis during his appearance Thursday.
"The main thing I would like for them to go away thinking about is that this isn't something we discovered in the Amazon last month," he said. "This has been a mainstay of Western medical practice for many, many years. Every doctor prescribing medications in the United States between about 1850 and 1940 prescribed cannabis. This is nothing new."
Shackelford was invited to speak by Chris Wildrick, chief operating officer of Herbal Remedies Dispensary in Quincy.
"It was very important to me we bring in someone that is credible," Wildrick said. "For Dr. Shackelford to agree to come to Quincy and be a part of educating our medical community is huge. He's world-renowned."
Wildrick and partner Bob Lansing entered the medical cannabis field after researching it as a possible alternative medicine for a family member with a seizure disorder.
"We didn't plan it," she said, "but it didn't take us long in our research to recognize there is certain medicinal value to it."
Illinois' Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act was signed into law on Aug. 1, 2013. The couple opened Herbal Remedies on Nov. 9, 2015, the day Illinois' eight approved dispensaries opened. Herbal Remedies started with 60 patients and now serves 238.
"It's been a slow growth," Wildrick said. "There's a number of people in Illinois that do qualify to be in the program, but they're met with resistance from their doctors. That's what drove us to this event tonight."
The event was Wildrick's first. Fifty-four people registered early, most of whom are in the medical field, she said.
"That tells me there is interest," she said. "They recognize the need to learn more and know more about cannabis use. My goal is for everyone to walk away better informed, which could mean more acceptance and clear some of the confusion."
Illinois' pilot medical marijuana program expires Dec. 31, 2018, unless legislators choose to extend it.