SAFE ACCESS to CANNABIS: A Desire for the Masses, Necessity for Some
by Mark Zatyrka
It is reported that over 100 million US adults deal with chronic pain. Statistically 1 out of every two patients report pain as being the cause for inquiry with a medical professional (Zou & Kumar, 2018). With the cost of the prescribed pain medications being above a half a trillion dollars annually, many go into medical bankruptcy trying to find a reasonable quality of life. Most are willing to embrace a naturally occurring compound because it can be digested by the body and mind without severe negative side effects, contrary to over the counter drugs and prescriptions which come with an array of side effects and often result in patients needing to take additional medication (sometimes 3-4) to alleviate side effects caused by the first medication. The stream of medications at times can seem endless for those in chronic pain management situations and those with debilitating health issues.
The medical community has discovered that several components of the cannabis plant offer daily relief from pain, nausea, sleep issues, seizures, depression and anxiety. The component that is most widely recognized and utilized currently is known as Cannabidiol, or more commonly “CBD”. CBD is the crucial component within certain cannabis strains, aiding in the relief from a plethora of potential health issues. It is the non-psychoactive compound that offers a wide array of medicinal benefits without resulting in the feeling which is commonly referred to as being ‘high’. This feeling of being high is a result of the other well-known component of cannabis, THC (Kubala, 2018).
Similar to hemophilia, the endocannabinoid system is rarely discussed in medical schools, however, we are learning it can play an important role in our overall health. Each person is born with an endocannabinoid system which helps regulate different physiological and cognitive processes from fertility to the sensations of pain. This internal processing system in each one of us is the primary reason we as humans can utilize cannabis for a wide range of effects that it can present when used in various ways. Our endocannabinoid system is essentially the system which allows for and develops communication between our cells. The CB1R and the endocannabinoid system are largely involved in various aspects of central neural activities and disorders, including appetite, learning and memory, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, stroke, multiple sclerosis, neurodegeneration, epilepsy, and addiction (Zou & Kumar, 2018).
Your body can naturally receive and process all parts of the cannabis plant without harm or side effects to your body when it is used properly and efficiently. Cannabinoids resemble endocannabinoids and can essentially be absorbed and recognized by your body as though they were internally produced. Cannabinoids bind to receptor sites in your brain and body that allow for the different effects, which are varying by the cannabis strain, to take place. Within your body, what are known as your CB1 and CB2 receptors are largely involved in various aspects of central neural activities and disorders, including appetite, learning and memory, anxiety, depression, multiple sclerosis, neurodegeneration, epilepsy, and even addiction (Mary’s Medicinal’s, 2018).
Previously, cannabis wouldn’t even enter the conversation until young adulthood, but now more than ever parents are looking to cannabis to solve the severe issues that their child may be dealing with. We are on the precipice of understanding the benefits of cannabis with children, therefore long-term scientific data is not available at this point, yet there are many anecdotal and surface studies that have occurred to open the minds of many.
A renowned case of success in the use of cannabis with children is that of Charlotte Figi and her family. Charlotte was age 2 when she had her first seizure. Her family physicians were absolutely convinced it was a onetime occurrence, but this became a prevalent issue in all of their lives. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. This is a type of epilepsy that typically does not respond to normal forms of medication or therapy. Her family felt helpless as their baby seemed to be slipping away and they worried about her ongoing development. As they went down every road that western medicine had to offer, they eventually had to accept that it was time to consider an alternative. This is when Charlotte’s family began the conversation with their physician about the use of CBD oil. They had heard anecdotal reports of cannabis helping with the frequency of Grand Mal seizures in adults and were curious if their daughter could benefit from such a regimen as well.
Although no doctor wanted to risk their license on approving the use of CBD oil for Charlotte due to her age, the family did not give up. Eventually they found Dr. Margaret Gedde, who approved the use of ‘pure CBD oil’ for her seizures. The next step was a long process, but they were able to find the Stanley brothers who had been growing medical marijuana for quite some time and were already heavily focused on isolating the genetics that were best suited for cultivating one specific component, CBD. They were able to go through and identify the specific traits within the strain, that they would eventually name Charlotte’s Web, to ensure less than 0.3% THC would be present within each yield along with very high levels of CBD. The Stanley brothers’ pride in themselves on providing access to safe cannabis is their life long goal, which they are achieving daily. From the cannabis grown by the Stanley brothers they were able to create a high end and very potent CBD focused oil extracted from the plant itself. Charlotte went from dealing with 300+ Grand Mal seizures per week to less than 1 per week with the use of the CBD oil produced for her. This case is the cornerstone of how the cannabis industry and CBD industry took the momentum they had gained via countless decades of initiatives and used it to launch the next phase in the cannabis movement (email@example.com, 2018).
What the Figi family was able to achieve, by finding a responsible vendor and a medical professional who was willing to provide access to high-end medicinal cannabis, may easily be identified as a historical turning point for the cannabis industry. As a result of coverage of Charlotte’s story by numerous media outlets including CNN, acceptance and excitement around the potential surrounding CBD rose overnight; over the past 5-6 years, families have become increasingly willing to move across the country in order to gain legal and safe access to this plant-based medication. Hundreds of families have made this journey, uprooting their family from their home state in order to pursue accessible legalized marijuana, forgoing any federal laws in the pursuit of this medical alternative.
Colorado has become the ‘end all, be all’ for parents in pursuit of medicinal marijuana as a treatment for their children. “Hundreds of families have moved to Colorado in hopes of healing their sick children — kids conventional medicine has failed” (Ingold, Amon, & Pierce, 2014). While some are met with helping hands and success stories erupt, others are met with a harsher reality that they are too late for CBD to help, or they lack accessibility to help in administering cannabis treatments and creating proper regimens for proper dosing, so they are left to their own devices and must administer the medication to their children in their own home without proper guidance.
Overall, the amount of research and information regarding children and medicinal use of cannabis is quite minimal, therefore we must rely on current research to continue to decipher the reality of cannabis within the medical community. This has done little to hinder the hundreds of registered medical marijuana patients under the age of 18, brought by their parents to Colorado: In 2014 there were 400+ registered patients under the age of 18, many of whom were not residents of the state until after seeing the CNN report on Charlotte Figi and her progress (https://www.colorado.gov/, 2017).
Mark and Maria Botker from Minnesota were willing to separate their own family to find help for Greta, their 7-year-old child. While Maria traveled to Colorado with Greta seeking medical help, Mark remained behind at their farmhouse in Minnesota with their two older daughters (10, 13). In search of any help in mitigating the number of seizures their daughter was incurring daily, the family had gone through multiple rounds of pharmaceutical regiments and went as far as allowing brain surgery to be performed on Greta, but nothing helped. They came to a final resolution that their next step was to investigate cannabis and the potential for CBD (Bello, 2014). After only a few months of living in Colorado they realized their neighbors, Anna and Biagio Burriesci, were dealing with a very similar situation. The Burriesci family moved to Colorado from New York seeking the benefits of medical marijuana for their young daughter Grace. In doing so, they lost their jobs and their financial security, taking over a $200,000 loss on their estate in Queens, New York in order to pursue accessible and legalized medical cannabis. “This condition ultimately meant death for our kid, so we were going to war for her,” “Families are desperate,” Biagio stated. Their daughter went from experiencing 300 seizures a day to less than 5 daily and, thanks to the reduction in her episodes, she was able to learn useful motor skills to aid in coping through these episodes (Bello, 2014).
Breakthrough within the Cannabis Community
In June of 2018 the FDA approved the use of concentrated CBD, called Epidiolex, to treat rare forms of epilepsy. This non-synthetic cannabis-derived product is the first plant-derived cannabinoid pharmaceutical ever approved by the FDA. The company that created it, known as Greenwich Biosciences, has been at the helm of outstanding research, creating an avenue for specific cannabis products to become mainstream. Epidiolex has been available since November 2018, with sales in the first 2 months rising over a staggering $4.5 million dollars, and over 500 physicians prescribing this medication, the demand and support for this medication is apparent.
As we continue to advance with research and development, we are also gaining approval by the government, setting the stage for the future of other cannabis products and overall legalization (Partnership, 2018). Only 3 months after the release of Epidiolex, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration removed certain forms of CBD products from the Schedule 1 class and reclassified the cannabis-derived products as Schedule 5. This decision is the first official admission by the government that cannabis has medicinal value. Anything that is on the approved list of items and tests under 0.1% of THC is federally approved for sale and use with a prescription. CBD products derived from cannabis will be available for the masses in our lifetime, guaranteed, but it is not over yet as we all need to help and continue to move the needle in the right direction for overall progression (Hemp Industry Daily, 2018).
On March 12, 2019 a legislative bill, initiated by a Wichita couple with special needs children, will be moving forward in Topeka. “House Bill 2244 was introduced into the Kansas legislature to allow people with life-threatening medical conditions to get treatment with CBD oil with a small amount of THC.” In its title, the bill “authorizes the use of cannabidiol treatment preparation to treat certain medical conditions.” Both daughters of Gwen and Scott Hartley were born with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes the head to be under-developed and therefore smaller. Claire recently passed at the age of 17, and her parents have dedicated their lives to helping their 12-year-old live a full life. Titled “Claire and Lola’s law”, their parents hope to help other families seeking advice on, help with, and most importantly access to, CBD oil. The reality of this law change could be ground breaking, as Claire and Lola’s mother Gwen explained:
The law is actually an affirmative defense law which would allow us to go to a legal state, purchase the THC CBD oil that would benefit our child, bring it back into Kansas and not get arrested or lose custody of my child,” Gwen explained last week. If this was approved this could be the light at the end of the tunnel for numerous families and a signal to other states to lift the ban on CBD use for severely debilitating disorders and life-threatening illness (Viviani & Kwch, 2019).
Many adults wonder: Is cannabis safe? Why would cannabis be the best option? Will it help? If I were to choose this route will my personality or decision-making change, or be altered in some way? Is it safe enough for my child? Is it proven to help my/my child’s disorder or level of pain? These are all valid questions when first entering the world of cannabis. I am always excited to share with others that it is proven through scientific studies over decades of research, that our own individual endocannabinoid system is intended to receive and utilize all types of cannabinoids. We are literally built to utilize cannabis for the benefits it offers, pure and simple.
It can bring a grown man to his knees to see his only child in danger or worse to see them facing death at a young age. Those that are dealing with the consistent thought and therefore mindset of losing a child to a type of disorder or disease that can be treated in the same country that you are a citizen within seems unjustifiable. Many of us seek a quality of life balance as we get older and realize what is important to us. What if you were never given the chance to feel love, to speak to your parents, to feed yourself your favorite meal or play a board game during a family gathering? Many of us in the bleeding disorders community know how it feels as a parent of a child that could not enjoy their young life. Please ask yourself some hard questions and try to put yourself in another’s shoes to try and feel the level of utter dismay and confusion that they feel day in and day out. The way we resolve this issue is to keep this subject on the forefront of discussions until all laws are altered or changed in a way to allow for safe and responsible access to cannabis and all products derived from this plant. It can change the world if given the chance.
With legalization and decriminalization on the rise, we are finally moving the needle in the right direction for cannabis patients and users across the United States. 33 states have approved medical access for patients and 10 states have approved recreational access for patrons. The level of progress at the state level gives momentum and hope for legalization at the federal level, making this an approved substance across the country and allowing for safe access for the masses (NCSL, 2018).
Potential health issues that can improve with the use of CBD:
Cancer – varying types
Nervous System - varying issues
Pain – varying levels
Skin Issues – varying types
Mark Zatyrka lives with severe hemophilia A and many of its complications. Zatyrka was formerly an owner of American Homecare Federation (AHF), a specialty homecare pharmacy for individuals living with bleeding disorders. Currently, Zatyrka is CEO of Insa, a vertically integrated cannabis operator in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Insa’s mission is to illuminate this path for others by providing premium, personalized, locally-grown medical and adult-use cannabis products that inspire people to feel and live better. Insa’s uncommon products ignite the benefits of this powerful and wildly versatile plant. Zatyrka’s growers, artisans, chefs, and thinkers combine deep knowledge and experience to cultivate premium cannabis and cannabis products with diverse terpene and cannabinoid profiles. Mark lives in CT with his wife and 6-year-old daughters. He is an active volunteer with the New England Hemophilia Association and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
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