Monday, August 15, 2016

Cannabis Oil Saves a Airdrie girl With a Severe Form of Epilepsy

Three years ago, during the darkest time of her life, Airdrie mom Sarah Wilkinson told her two sons to say their goodbyes to their ailing sister Mia.

Then seven years old, Mia had just been revived from the longest seizure of her young life, thanks to a dose of ketamine (a potent drug used as horse tranquilizer, and known as Special K on the street) beyond the maximum allowed for children.

“We came home and my husband and I discussed how we were going to tell our boys,”  said Wilkinson, still choking back tears from the memory.

“We sat them down and just said, ‘we’re not going to have her for much longer, so you need to give her as much love as you possibly can.’ ”

That night, as she lay in bed with her husband James, the heartbroken mom thought she’d try one final option in hopes of saving her little girl.

Cannabis oil, she’d read, had shown some promising results for children suffering from epilepsy, and it was that last desperate hope that Wilkinson clung to.

“I wasn’t ready. It didn’t feel like it was time to say goodbye.”

Mia was born with a very rare form of pediatric epilepsy called Ohtahara syndrome, and just 29 minutes after she was born she suffered her first seizure. Thousands upon thousands were to follow.

From childbirth for the first several years of her life, Mia endured as many as 100 seizures per day, taking a daily regimen of anti-seizure medications that left her little more than a zombie, and at one point caused acute liver failure. In most cases, Ohtahara syndrome is fatal within the first two years.

Today, Wilkinson is getting ready to send her nearly 11-year-old daughter to school for the first time this September. Mia’s now also able to say ‘mamma’ while grooving, fittingly, to Lady Gaga’s Born this Way, simple things that seemed unthinkable just three years ago.

Since taking her first dose of cannabis oil in July 2013, Mia has suffered no seizures. While she remains severely disabled, unable to walk or talk, the progress since she began taking the medication, extracted from dried marijuana buds, cooked in a slow cooker and then mixed with coconut oil, has been miraculous.

But even after two years of remarkable turnaround, including being successfully weened off her other medication, Wilkinson was told Mia would no longer be given a prescription for cannabis oil in Alberta.

“I just broke down in tears. It was just a kick to the gut almost,” she said.
After going public on the denial of the life changing medication, Wilkinson was deluged with offers of help. She finally took Mia to a clinic in St. Catharines, Ont., last September where a doctor was more than willing to prescribe cannabis oil.

Wilkinson has since found a doctor at Calgary’s Natural Heath Services clinic, who is able to renew Mia’s prescription, without having her leave the province. 

Alberta Health Services didn’t make anyone available to comment on its policy regarding medical cannabis for children, offering a statement instead.

“Alberta Health Services does not support the prescription of medical marijuana for pediatric patients with epilepsy at this time,” reads the statement, the same provided to media a year ago when doctors refused to renew her prescription.

“Health Canada has not approved medical marijuana for treatment of seizures in Canada, and AHS is unaware of any studies, data or recognized epilepsy organizations that recommend or endorse the use of medical marijuana in pediatric patients with epilepsy.”

The family’s very public battle to provide the drug for Mia has made Wilkinson something of a shepherd for other parents desperate to try the medication in hopes it may help their own children suffering from severe epilepsy.

Wilkinson said her hope is Mia and other “trailblazers” will turn the tide against the stigma of cannabis, and recognize the real medical benefits to some users, like little Mia.

“I just wish this would have been a first line treatment for her epilepsy as opposed to a last resort,” she said.

“I think in 20 to 30 years we’ll look back on this as a pretty dark history with cannabis prohibition. You just can’t argue with her medical records when literally nothing else worked.”

Friday, August 5, 2016

How Does Marijuana Affect the Body

Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used for at least 5,000 years and has an extensive history of traditional uses as an industrial material and a botanical medicine all throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and America.1
Read on to learn more about medical marijuana’s healing benefits, how it has gotten its bad rap, and find out why you’d want your own state to approve its use, too.

What Is Medical Marijuana?

The term “medical marijuana” refers to the use of the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant and its pure extracts to treat a disease or improve a symptom. It must be sourced from a medicinal-grade cannabis plant that has been meticulously grown without the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers.
Marijuana’s incredible healing properties come from its high cannabidiol (CBD) content and critical levels of medical terpenes and flavonoids. It also contains some tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the molecule that gives the psychoactive effect, which most recreational users are after. Through traditional plant breeding techniques and seed exchanges, growers have started producing cannabis plants that have higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC for medical use.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved medical marijuana, more and more physicians are starting to reverse their stand on the issue and swear by its effectiveness and health benefits.
In a previous CBS interview US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledged that marijuana may be useful for certain medical conditions. Likewise, CNN's chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta also made a highly publicized reversal on his marijuana stance after the production of his two-part series "Weed."

How Does Medical Marijuana Work and What Diseases Can It Help Treat?

Historically, marijuana has been used as a botanical medicine since the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, marijuana’s claim as a potential panacea is backed up by countless studies crediting its healing potential to its cannabidiol content.
Cannabinoids interact with your body by way of naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors embedded in cell membranes throughout your body. There are cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and immune system. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana occur when a cannabinoid activates a cannabinoid receptor.
There’s still ongoing research as to how far it impacts your health, but to date, it's known that cannabinoid receptors play an important role in many body processes, including metabolic regulation, cravings, pain, anxiety, bone growth, and immune function.2
Dr. Allan Frankel, a board-certified internist in California who has successfully treated patients with medical marijuana for less than a decade, has personally seen tumors virtually disappear in some patients using no other therapy except taking 40 to 60 milligrams of cannabinoids a day.
Other common ailments being treated with medical marijuana include:
  • Mood disorders
  • Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures
CBD also works as an excellent painkiller and works well in treating anxiety issues. Cannabis oil, on the other hand, when applied topically has been proven to heal sunburn overnight.

How to Obtain and Use Medical Marijuana

In states where medical marijuana is legal like California, Colorado, Vermont, and New York, you can join a collective, or a legal entity consisting of a group of patients that can grow and share cannabis medicines with each other. By signing up as a member, you gain the right to grow and share your medicine.
A patient at the age of 18 can secure a medical cannabis card recommendation letter if their attending physician or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) advises or agrees to it. With your medical cannabis card, you now have the liberty to choose the collective you want to belong to.
Medical marijuana can be administered to patients using one of the following methods: 3,4
  • Inhalation – Allows the patient to titrate the dosage. It has an instantaneous effect as the medication is rapidly taken into the lungs and quickly absorbed through the capillaries into the bloodstream. The effects of inhaled cannabis will last approximately four hours.
  • Smoking – Can be done using a joint or the cigarette form (hand-or machine-rolled), a pipe, or bong (water pipe). While smoking medical marijuana by joint is believed to be inefficient because the medication goes with the smoke as the cigarette burns, smoking small amounts using a water pipe is more advisable because the cool smoke is less irritating to the airway.  
  • Vaporization – Like a nebulizer treatment, cannabis can be heated to a temperature that will release the medication in vapors to be inhaled by the patient.
  • Sublingual (under the tongue) or oramucosal (in the oral cavity) delivery Made possible using oils or tinctures, it is readily delivered into the bloodstream and provides a rapid effect. Tinctures can be administered through a dropper under the tongue or sprayed in the mouth to be absorbed in the oral cavity. This is highly recommended for non-smoking patients.
  • Oral ingestion – Non-smokers can also take medical marijuana through pills or mandibles, which are edible cannabis products in the form of teas, cookies, or brownies. The primary drawback of this approach is that because cannabinoids are fat-soluble, there may be issues when it comes to absorption, depending on the patient’s metabolism. A good workaround for this problem is using cannabis butter, which fat-soluble cannabinoids blends well with.
  • Topical application – Cannabis can be applied as an ointment, lotion, or poultice for treating skin inflammations, arthritis, and muscle pain. It is unclear how cannabinoids are absorbed transdermally, although its credit should also go to the more soluble terpenoids and flavonoids that also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Keep in mind: making sure that your medicine has been sourced from a medicinal-grade cannabis plant without the threat of chemical residues, which may cause further harm, should also be a top-notch priority.

Potential Side Effects of Medical Cannabis

Dr. Margaret Gedde, a Stanford-trained MD PhD pathologist and award-winning researcher who specializes in the therapeutic use of cannabis, says the only concern you’ll have to worry about medical marijuana is the psychoactivity of THC or its ability to make you feel “high.” Although in some cases, THC may be beneficial, too, especially for patients suffering from severe pain.
But aside from that, cannabis is generally safe to use. You can also avoid this side effect by specifically looking for high CBD and low THC marijuana formulations.
The risk brought by different versions of synthetic marijuana should also be considered. Imported from Asian countries under the guise of potpourri, herbal incense, and even plant food, the synthetic powder is mixed in a lab and shipped to the US, where retailers spray it onto a leaf─ often an herb or a spice─ that can be smoked, just like pot. It binds to cannabis receptors in your body up to 1,000 times more strongly than standard marijuana, as well as producing gripping effects on serotonin and other receptors in your brain.
You can't overdose on real pot, but you CAN overdose on synthetic versions─ and it doesn't take very much. Most people don't realize how dangerous synthetic marijuana can be. Unlike medical marijuana, synthetic marijuana is not only void of any healing component, but may also put you at risk of serious side effects, including:
  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Seizure
  • Kidney problem
  • Cardiac problem
  • Acute psychosis
  • Tachycardia (an abnormally rapid heart rate)
  • Hypokalemia (a deficiency of potassium in the bloodstream)
I highly recommend inquiring to your physician or D.O. about reputable medicinal-grade marijuana plant growers or credible apothecaries near your area that sell natural cannabis products for medicinal purposes.

If Marijuana Is SO Beneficial, Why Is It a Schedule 1 Drug?

In one of my interviews with Dr. Frankel, he explained how people have forgotten cannabis as a botanical medicine and became known as a notorious form of illegal drug:
"What happened in the '60s and '70s was that due to desires for psychedelia, the changes in the war in Vietnam, and the war on drugs with Nixon, the types of strains that were available and the demand for psychedelia changed. Before we knew it, CBD—due to a lack of 'stoniness'—was bred out of the plant."
As a result of growers breeding out the all-important CBD, marijuana became known primarily as a plant that gets you high. Its original medicinal properties and uses largely fell by the wayside.
Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a category specifically for the most dangerous illicit drugs, such as heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and ecstasy. Based on the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, drugs from this group:
  • Have a high potential for abuse
  • Have no accepted medical use in the US
  • Have lack of accepted safety under medical supervision
Personally, I find it disheartening that something as promising as marijuana is being demonized due to inappropriate use.
It’s such a shame, too, that the federal government seemed so careless in approving the recreational use of marijuana (which made the ongoing cycle of substance abuse and addiction in our country even worse), but played it tough when it comes to approving medical cannabis, which could potentially benefit countless of people by improving many conditions and taking the place of a number of synthetic drugs. Who would not want that? Well, clearly, not those whose bottom line would be affected.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pot for pain is picking up speed

Pot for pain is picking up speed. Should it?

Like many people, economist W. David Bradford says he was under the impression that medical marijuana was something only young people would be interested in. At least, that’s what he thought until his own research began showing otherwise.
In mid-July, he and Ashley C. Bradford, his co-researcher and daughter, published one of the more compelling studies about medical marijuana to date. Theirreport, which ran in the journal Health Affairs, looked at data on prescriptions filled by Medicare enrollees from 2010 to 2013—and found that older people who qualified for Medicare were, where appropriate, making use of medical pot. Not only that, they also found that when states legalized medical marijuana, prescriptions dropped significantly for painkillers and other drugs for which pot may be an alternative. Doctors in a state where marijuana was legal prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year.
Since 1999, overdose deaths in the U.S. involving opioids (prescription painkillers and heroin) have quadrupled. Meanwhile, estimates suggest opioid abuse racks up over $72 billion in medical costs alone each year in the U.S., and the Bradfords’ report found that states with medical marijuana laws saved $165.2 million per year in medical costs. So while it remains contentious, a growing number of experts some medical experts and even some states are considering the idea that medical marijuana should play a critical—and legal—role in combating the nation’s painkiller epidemic.
“What we hope people take away from this is that when marijuana becomes available as a clinical option, physicians and patients together are reacting as if marijuana is medicine,” says Bradford, the Busbee Chair in Public Policy at the University of Georgia.
Marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug according to the federal government, and many lawmakers and doctors remain resistant to the idea that marijuana has a place in medicine. Some doctors also argue medical marijuana isn’t well regulated. Others say there’s simply not enough scientific evidence to know for certain that people can improve their pain with cannabis, or kick a painkiller habit.
But other experts, like Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of the Hematology-Oncology Division at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, says anything that makes a dent in an epidemic that kills 80 Americans every day is worth consideration—especially since medical pot is proving in studies to be an effective treatment for pain. “If we could use cannabis, which is less addictive and harmful than opioids, to increase the effectiveness of pain treatment, I think it can make a difference during this epidemic of opioid abuse,” says Abrams who has investigated the effect of cannabis on pain for over a decade. “We are hampered by the fact that it is still difficult to get funding for studies on cannabis as a therapeutic,” he adds.
Still, the movement has momentum. In April, Maine became the first state to consider adding opioid addiction to the list of ailments that medical marijuana can treat. The health department ultimately denied the petition, but proponents like Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopathic physician in Maine who treats people with medical marijuana, says it helped start a conversation about pot as a potential solution. “Cannabis enhances the pain relief of opioids and if they are working together, [the effect] is more powerful,” he says.
Sulak practices with Integr8 Health, a health care practice with around 15 providers in Maine and Massachusetts who treat about 20,000 people using medical cannabis. About 70% of the people use medical marijuana for chronic pain, and others use it for conditions like nausea from chemotherapy drugs or cancer. Among over 1,000 people Sulak recently surveyed at Integr8 Health, half said they used cannabis in combination with opioids to treat their pain, and the majority of those people said they either stopped opioids completely or reduced their dosage of opioids over time.
“You don’t see this anywhere else,” says Sulak. “Instead you see people coming back and asking for more and more opioids.”
The idea that marijuana may treat pain and combat addiction is not without precedent. A study published in 2014 in the journal JAMA found that states with medical marijuana laws experienced a nearly 25% drop in deaths from opioid overdoses compared to states that did not have those laws. That may be because medical marijuana, which often relies on compounds from the cannabis plant called cannabinoids, has been found in many studies to help pain management. For example, a 2015 analysis of 79 studies also published in JAMA reported a 30% or greater reduction in pain from cannabinoids compared to a placebo. Studies suggest cannabinoidsinteract with receptors in pain activity centers located in the brain and spinal chord. There’s also some suggestion that they have anti-inflammatory effects.
In February 2016, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren wrote a letterto the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking the agency to look into the “effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.”
In 2015, Minnesota added chronic pain as one of the conditions that could be treated with medical cannabis. The Boston Herald reports that some Massachusetts clinics are treating people addicted to painkillers with pot, though the state’s health department does not have an official position on that therapy. So far Maine has come closest to officially adding opioid addiction to the list of conditions pot can treat successfully.
It will likely be quite some time before medical marijuana is a standard and widely accepted alternative to painkillers — but, says Bradford, he’s seen changes over time. “I think we are seeing much more openness to the use of medical marijuana,” he says. Whether state lawmakers agree, remains to be seen.