We chatted with Dr. Rebecca Siegel to talk about her new book The Brain on Cannabis.
Siegel has been a practicing clinical psychiatrist for almost 15 years. The issue popped up on her radar four years ago while she was practicing in New York as medical marijuana became available.
“I grew up in the ‘80s. And I knew about the war on drugs, this is your brain on drugs, and all that stuff. And so, in my practice, I had a patient come to me and say cannabis saved her life,” Siegel told L.A. Weekly. “And I didn’t really understand what that meant. At that point.”
The patient had been suffering from a terrible bout with her insomnia. But she revealed to Siegel a cannabis-infused chocolate bar she’d purchased in Colorado with no prescription. The patient credited the bar with getting her off prescription sleep medicine.
Siegel wondered immediately if she could help the patient further.
“Was I able to do this for her? And of course, I had no idea so, that was sort of where it began, the positive benefits of cannabis. And I decided I wanted to learn more,” she said of the path that would lead to her decision to write the book. “I decided somewhere along, early at that point, that I had to write a book. I knew that if I didn’t know enough, most people didn’t know enough.”
In addition to that, the idea of medical cannabis was rapidly expanding in the field from Europe to North America. She knew the work on the book would be proper preparation to answer the questions that were bound to come, as more and more patients wondered if cannabis might be right for them.
While based in New York for 25 years, as all this was starting, Siegel had just started working with Amen Clinics. The California-based clinics specialize in brain imaging. Not long after her first medical marijuana conference at UCLA, she started working at the clinics and then approached founder Dr. Daniel Amen about her book idea.
Amen isn’t a big weed guy, despite the amount of work his clinics had done on the subject, but as Siegel was in California for two weeks to learn how to practice with the clinics, she wrote a treatment plan Amen found fascinating. He said her book had to become a reality and introduced her to his literary agent.
“Who then found me a publishing company, and about four years later, the book came out,” Siegel said.
We asked Siegel the biggest surprise after coming in as a psychiatrist already aware of some efficacy. She replied just how “out” it was; there is no stopping it. As she came across more niche studies, she only found herself more interested in the subject matter.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies. There are a lot of serious conversations being had about the impact of cannabis on the developing brain. Especially when it comes to things like substance abuse and schizophrenia.
“And there are people who are going to say there are studies that say that if you have a history of schizophrenia, even in your family, or how young you may start either smoking or vaping or cannabis, that may influence what may happen, and the development of you know, mental health issues. So, does that mean that it is due to cannabis? No, not necessarily.”
Siegel understands it’s complicated and stressful for parents, as the mother of three young adult children. She thinks as the research opens up, there will be less confusion between causation and correlation.
“It’s changing by the day, as long as more research is being done,” she said.