Here’s why we need education, not misinformation, about medical cannabis

(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

Why aren’t we treating cannabis like the medicine it is?

I have written an awful lot about marijuana during the past few years. The beauty of it, however, is that I have reported the gamut of research about cannabis, which is what I have decided to call the plant from here on out.

Admittedly someone long fond of bud, I have chosen to abstain from it during periods of a year or longer. That’s not my choice now, as I am finding great relief from my PTSD-related anxiety, nightmares and tendency to withdraw since receiving my Illinois Medical Cannabis card.

In this new era of getting our information on social media, some experts call what I do “Wisdom Journalism.” Wisdom Journalism is when you know the topic you’re writing about so well that even though it may contain nuance that other reports leave out, it is considered acceptable by your audience.

Of course, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, or if you don’t walk the walk, your audience will abandon you.

I’m in a funny position having made a pretty good living the past couple of years writing branded content as a freelancer for some of the finest drug and alcohol treatment centers in America.

In general, addiction specialists traditionally have considered marijuana use a bad thing. The model of abstinence remains predominant in inpatient treatment covered by insurance companies.

Beyond that, true abstinence from all substances really is an ideal foundation for true recovery from drugs and alcohol. That said, it’s not always possible.

My views about marijuana or any topic in no way reflect the views of any of my clients.

Addiction, mental health interwoven

The reason the treatment centers I write for are so good is because they specialize in treating the co-occurring mental disorder as well.

Many people who suffer from various forms of mental illness find great relief from marijuana. But it has to be monitored, and the patient needs to know what they are doing.

Because not only can treatment with marijuana be ineffective for people with mental illness, what’s worse is that it could really screw them up.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your research, try to make educated choices in consultation with your doctor and therapist, and then try alternative treatments. We can’t stop flat out lying about the benefits of cannabis any more than we can pretend it’s not addictive or that it doesn’t induce psychosis in some people.

Have you taken anything made by pharma lately? By no means are these perfect alternatives. Some of us, including myself, have determined some chemical treatments to be far worse than any side effects the proper dosing of the correct strains of cannabis might induce.

I am proud to say I am one month benzodiazepine free, but it hasn’t been easy. You can read about that here. It would have been impossible without the cannabis; at least right now given the dose I had been on of Xanax and Ativan before that.

So, we need to be fair and honest about medical cannabis.

And we need to be honest about how it interplays with addiction. While I have written extensively about marijuana having a dangerous role in recovery, the truth is I am finding more and more people – particularly those with PTSD – who have quit or drastically reduced their alcohol intake post medical cannabis card.

That is never a bad thing. Everyone deserves to feel better and break free from substances that are destroying their life. The “addiction” argument as it pertains to marijuana always falls flat with most users because they don’t feel marijuana is destroying their life. In fact, many marijuana users do know what that feels like, which is one of the reasons they smoke marijuana now instead of using other substances.

University of Mississippi garden provides research cannabis

Remove the mental health issue, and medical cannabis has broad, safe applications for an endless number of ailments. The most obvious: Helping the sick to get over nausea and to eat, and easing pain.

Then there are the headlines that tug at the heart strings – epileptic children finally seizure-free after cannabis treatment.

As is so often the case, I first broke into reporting about medical cannabis for my friend Josh Robbins. While I have written for Fortune 500 healthcare companies, major health news sites, and everything in between, Josh runs a little ol’ website like me.

Josh’s site isn’t really little, and it is HON certified. The point is, we have had tons of huge journalistic “firsts” together in the healthcare reporting space, particularly as it pertains to HIV, while working as a team.

I wrote this piece for Josh’s site. It was then that I learned that all the cannabis used for medical research in the United States comes out of a ditch weed garden at the University of Mississippi.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re wondering how medical cannabis is legal in more than half the states, with hundreds of strains, and yet our government only studies a decades-old ditch weed and lumps it into research for all marijuana.

That is just crazy. And it’s a fact. There is no disputing it, even though it is finally changing – after half the states have made medical marijuana legal. In 2014, shortly after I wrote my story, the program expanded. You can check it out for yourself right here on the official University of Mississippi cannabis garden page.

Do you realize that would be like the FDA using only one type of pill as a catch all for all medical research?

Can you imagine the industry backlash!

Writing about cannabis from an informed point of view

From the dangers of making your own dabs to why smoking marijuana is risky for people trying to get off opioids, I’ve written about it from many different angles. And the lens I view all of this through has become much clearer.

People are dying of opioid overdose. People also are sharing their story en masse of how they not only got off opioids via cannabis, but also opioid maintenance therapy. The sad reality is that opioid maintenance therapy also is being abused and people being treated with it still are dying.

Even the tamper-proof opioid maintenance therapy isn’t working because addicts have figured out how to crush it, snort it, inject it and everything else.

We can’t keep lying about cannabis when it’s helping people. I certainly don’t intend to.

The truth is, the Colorado program is more about tourism than medicine, and cannabis detractors are having a ball with that. I wrote this story about Colorado cannabis for Healthline a couple of years ago. I visited Denver in May and did the full-blown Colorado Cannabis Tour.

It still doesn’t seem to have much of a legitimate medical program, from what I could tell, at least not in terms of high CBD levels and THC-CBD ratios. However, for people who had the medical card the cannabis they could get cost next to nothing compared to Illinois prices.

I can get 1:1 ratios at my medical cannabis dispensary in Illinois, for example. The CBD is what brings me relief from my chronic PTSD-related anxiety. I could not work as a medical writer orbiting my house on THC all day!

And I hope to start adding some clients from the cannabis world to my portfolio.

See you soon.

Medicine cabinet shakeup: Bye-bye benzodiazepines, hello Mother Nature

As I was sitting in my front room this morning, I realized a level of contentment perhaps never before experienced.

I could hear all the birds singing in my maple tree, and nothing but the sound of the wind blowing through the neighborhood’s lush, winding cul de sacs. The air smelled the kind of familiar that brings instant relief.

And I remembered once, being alone in Los Angeles, strung out on crystal meth in the late 1990s. I remembered I was so far gone from who I once was that I could not even smell anything anymore. I could not think, I could not experience joy of any kind.

I remembered I wished I was 5 years old again. I wanted to just skip down the sidewalk like I used to on the way to school, smelling the air after a gentle rain and watching the earthworms slither down the sidewalk. I would hop over both the earthworms and the sidewalk cracks.

And this morning I realized I have all that, and that is my life today. I am proud of who I am and how I live my life. And I thought how insanely profound it is that I live in this house, and that sometimes you really do need to just listen to the universe.

I realized too what a difference a week makes. My outlook was not so rosy on Monday morning.

It’s important not to overdo yourself, and I need to remind myself of that this week and cut back on my workload a bit. But leaving a client behind never is easy, and I wish everyone the best of luck at Vital Updates.

But beyond that, it has been a rough few weeks because I chose to quit my benzodiazepine prescription (Xanax, Ativan) cold turkey. I am now managing breakthrough symptoms of PTSD-related anxiety with Pre 98 Bubba Kush legally purchased at a cannabis dispensary with my Illinois Medical Cannabis Patient card.

Xanax withdrawals include shakes, sweats, irritability

I had heard that quitting benzodiazepines was rough. Boy, I had no idea.

Two years ago, I was on 4 mg of Ativan a day. That’s a pretty massive dose, but anyone who knows me (and who matters) knows my anxiety was off the chains, in large part for very good reasons. The doctor really was left with no choice.

For an entire year, I gave up marijuana after a bad experience. How do bad experiences happen? When people don’t know what they’re getting. This is why it makes perfect sense to regulate medical marijuana and make it legal for those who use it for the medicine it is.

Medical marijuana, or even smoking marijuana casually on the street, is not to be entered into lightly. In the modern cannabis era, there are an endless number of strains available by the sheer method in which they grow it now. You would never walk into a pharmacy and start choosing pills willy-nilly.

Thankfully, Illinois law is very, very strict. The product is fully labeled with THC/CBD percentages. The cannabis consultants at the dispensaries are extremely knowledgeable.

That said, anyone with a card can get anything at the dispensary. It truly helps to understand the potency of the plant and respect it. And I do on both counts!

For me, the relief comes in the form of CBD. CBD is considered a plant’s “medicine,” although THC also has some therapeutic properties. For me, however, too much THC is a really bad thing, as is too much of a Sativa-dominant strain.

I really need to better explain all of this to readers who I am sure are curious. I plan to write more about medical cannabis in the future.

The power of Protandim

At any rate, I am now feeling very, very good after a rough stretch. The withdrawals from quitting the benzodiazepines included sweating, irritability, anxiety, hot flashes…all of it.

One woman in my medical cannabis support group said when she quit the benzos prescribed her for her PTSD, she felt like she was coming off heroin. I told her I looked in the mirror a few times and thought I looked like I was in meth withdrawals.

Not only do I feel good, no doubt the result of finally getting lots of rest, but I’m losing weight. And here’s where I want to mention Protandim.

Protandim, made by LifeVantage, is an Nrf2 activator. Essentially, Nrf2 is a pathway that allows important proteins to get where they need to go in the cells of our bodies. As we get older, these pathways don’t work as well.

I am not one to get into nutritional supplements unless I really believe in them. You might recall I am a fan of turmeric and wrote about that last year. Not surprisingly, Protandim has turmeric in it.

Protandim markets itself as an anti-aging supplement. All I can tell you is that after being on it three weeks I have lost weight, my skin is glowing, I feel good, people say I look good…not sure if it’s the pot or Protandim! Both started the same day, as did total abstinence from the benzodiazepines.

My friend Lori Freemire, who you might remember from her Bettendorf, Iowa days, along with her husband Mike, the former mayor, has been encouraging me to try Protandim. Finally, she sent me a bottle.

Poisonous prescription finally in the past

I used to joke that I was going to become a marijuana activist. Little did I know that the day might come that there never would be a need for that.

We’re not there yet, that’s for sure. And by no means would I call myself an activist.

It cannot be emphasized enough that marijuana must be used responsibly, like all medications. For myself, I cannot smoke anything with high levels of THC and that is sativa dominant. It will make me bounce off the walls.

Marijuana with extremely low levels of THC and high levels of CBD, that are Indica dominant or a hybrid, calm me down and bring me feelings of contentment.

The cannabis card isn’t just about buying weed. There also are edibles available. I have found that one Cresco cherry gummy before bedtime offers a wonderful night of nightmare-free rest.

I’m not sure why I’m feeling so much better, but I’m not going to doubt it, particularly after some major shake-ups in terms of what I’ve been putting into my body.

I like to refer to the benzodiazepines as “the poison.” The only good thing about the benzos was that my insurance company did not even require a co-payment for them. Medical cannabis in Illinois, on the other hand, is not cheap.

Unlike the toxic, addictive benzodiazepines, Protandim, meanwhile, is all natural. In addition to turmeric, which I already am a fan of and wrote about last year, Protandim contains milk thistle (liver health), bacopa (boosts thinking), green tea (powers up metabolism, melts fat) and ashwogandha (used in Indian medicine and catching on in the West).

I’ll buy Protandim for at least another month and let you know how it all goes. Do you have any herbal remedies you think are effective? If so, leave a comment and share it with us! tallies 20,000th hit before its first year live

Late yesterday, my website tally topped 20,000. You can see it right here on the home page. Scroll to the bottom of the home page on the left-hand side. I’ve made the count visible.

I launched the site last August with this blog post. In it, I talk about my book, which WILL get written eventually.

But in many ways, the website already is the book. I’m making the book harder than it is. I’ve been chronicling the entire caregiving journey in columns for several years. Because Healthline Contributors and Caregiver Relief no longer are live, and gave me permission to reprint, many chapters of the story already are written and now exist on my site.

Then there are the pieces I have written exclusively to the site, with the most viewed post ever being, hands down: What really happened in the Rock Island County jail while I was held two days on no charges at all, emotionally tortured, and kept away from my sick dad? Finally, my tell-all.

While I won’t divulge specific numbers, suffice it to say that column has the most hits of all the pages on my site. By far. Way far.

Jail post most popular, but what about the next top five?

The next five posts behind it, in order of hits:

Chronic Lyme hornet’s nest still buzzing at physician conference in San Diego

Village Inn corporate HQ, famed pot hotel next-door neighbors in Denver

I legally bought weed today at this dispensary in Milan, Ill. Thank you Lord.

It’s the mother of all triggers, but it’s my courthouse, too: Why I’m here today

First year without dad: When it’s down to just you, you better like you. Thank God, I do. Or, “What happened to me when I was held in the Rock Island County Jail naked, for two days, on no charges at all? Part II”

Website doubles as online portfolio of paid work

Publishers already have expressed great interest in my book, and they love authors with social media followings. All told, I now have about 8,000 followers across various social media platforms, including more than 4,200 on Facebook.

I also use my website as an online portfolio of my paid writing work. Click to see my:

Celebrity interviews

Addiction/recovery portfolio

Mental health/wellness portfolio

Dementia, aging, caregiving portfolio

Public health/infectious diseases portfolio

At any rate, I just wanted to celebrate this YUGE milestone with all of you this Monday morning.

Twenty thousand hits before the first year, even.

I see good things ahead!

I love yard work, yes, I do. Here’s why you should like it, too. (It’s good for you).

(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

I love working in my yard.

No, I have no interest in working in yours.

We all should enjoy working in our yards. Not only should we be grateful for simply having a yard, because many people do not, but you would not believe all the research that is emerging that shows the benefits of yard work.

It’s not surprising. Taking the activities of yard work separately, several health benefits are immediately obvious:

Vitamin D absorption. Your body processes the Vitamin D it gets from the sun. Vitamin D can do everything from help lift your spirits to possibly slow the progression of HIV.

Aerobic activity. Pushing a lawn mower isn’t for sissies. Especially uphill. Or sideways on a hill.

My lot has double frontage, meaning it’s a city block long and in theory could be entered from both avenues. So, it’s a big yard, even though the plot is relatively narrow.

It also has a steep terrace, so that takes some extra work.

When it’s hot, working up that sweat feels great.

And don’t you love the smell of the freshly cut grass? My dad insisted on changing some sort of setting on the mower, so the grass literally covers me head to toe by the time I am finished.

Pride. Who doesn’t like to strut across their property when pushing that mower? Pride also drives us to keep our yards looking nice. I am surrounded on all sides by neighbors who take great pride in their properties. I am very grateful for that!

Sometimes exercise boosts cortisol

Now new research says simply touching soil and vegetation is good for us too. “Humans are hard-wired to respond to nature – with previous research suggesting just half an hour in the garden has long-term benefits for body and mind,” reported London’s Daily Mail.

“And another study found that sounds of nature, such as wind whistling through the trees and a running stream, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure.”

Interestingly, I had told my therapist that since I had joined the gym, not only had I not lost any weight, but I had gained some.

I explained at one point I was going twice, almost three times daily to the gym to blow off steam. Anything to avoid taking the benzos while I was having an anxiety attack.

She explained that research has shown that intense cardiovascular exercise during times of stress simply can churn out additional cortisol, which can lead to fat buildup as a stress response. A brief walk around the block is better for blowing off steam, she explained.

I can’t even tell you how the sound of the leaves rustling on my four-story tall maple tree in my front yard makes me feel. But then it’s a positive trigger to memories of hearing the leaves on that tree rustle as a child.

To think I used to climb it. No child could climb that monster now!

Go outside and climb a tree

“Green spaces don’t need to be the wilderness that provide benefits, they can be at your back door,” said Dr. Ross Cameron in an interview with the Daily Mail. Cameron is a lecturer at Sheffield University. He delivered his remarks about the mental health benefits of gardening to the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual John MacLeod Lecture in London.

‘The physical activity helps you relax, there’s implications for mental health so you’re more likely to be in a relaxed state,” Cameron said. “That’s one of the great things about green spaces – they are stress-busting environments. Just having a little bit of greenery around makes us more relaxed.”

There even are benefits to the immune system of playing in the dirt (or “gardening,” as we adults call it). Numerous studies have chronicled the mental health benefits of living in a green, forested environment.

Even touching greenery is good for the body and soul. Unless it’s Poison Ivy. Or Poison Oak. Or the Nettles.

I mow at least twice a week, daily maintenance

I got the yard mowed today, but I still need to edge as well as trim the front hedge. It’s so hot, I probably will save those tasks for later in the week.

One of the great things about working from home is that you can stay on top of yard work and house work while breaking up the work day. My house is always clean, my yard (almost) always freshly mowed.

I live such a blessed life.

See how a little yard work brightened my day?

I legally bought weed today at this dispensary in Milan, Ill. Thank you, Lord

I am not even going to lie.

I’m not sure if ever in my life I have wished more times for the same thing, even if I took a two-year break from it once: “Please God help me to find some weed to calm my mind,” I used to pray.

And now, God has provided in a huge way, as he has in so many incredible ways for me. It’s another blessing that has come out of great struggle.

As of May 22, 2017, I became a Medical Cannabis Registered Qualifying Patient with the Illinois Department of Public Health. I have a very nice card, kind of looks like a driver’s license, and my picture is even pretty good!

How I ended up with the card has not been a pleasant road. A rape and an unusual (maybe doesn’t seem so unusual now) and horrific assault have haunted me the past several years.

But being “arrested” at dad’s memory care institution (you can read about that by clicking here) two years ago and being thrown in the Rock Island County Jail, naked, on no charges at all, for two days (you can read about that by clicking here), is what has left me in my current condition.

And dad’s death of course, only 21 days after the state reunited us. We were kept apart for 108 days due to the memory care institution not allowing me to visit him any longer, even with supervision.

The final two and a half years of my dad’s life were all about elder care facilities, phone calls at all hours of the night, emergency room trips with dad, fighting with my brother over the cost of dad’s care and the fact I could not do it anymore, and a whole bunch of other just crazy stuff.

Living with post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t fun. I don’t trust anybody. But, two years ago I would not even leave my house. I even was having my groceries delivered. So, things are better.

Related post: Still healing from trauma, NYC book trip canceled for cannabis country

I was hurt by people I personally know who I never thought would hurt me. And that’s what hurts the most.

So how does the cannabis help?

For years, cannabis has allowed me to ignore unpleasant memories that play over and over and over again in my head, particularly if I am idle. I began smoking it a couple of years after I moved to Los Angeles in 1992 and smoked it pretty regularly until two years ago, when the incident happened at the memory care institution.

I know I was given bad “marijuana” at least once, and now it seems very likely that it was K2. But I believe it happened a second time too, or perhaps the weed was laced with something.

At any rate, I had no choice but to give it all up, as I had the alcohol before that, the cocaine before that, the meth before that, and the alcohol before that. Because two bad experiences so close together didn’t add up.

When I got sober, after just a few months, people would tell me how great I looked. I would say, “Well, I drank for 30 years. Heavily.”

Related Post: Learn more about the rare brain disease, FTD, that killed my dad

So that I already had a year of sobriety from alcohol under my belt, I was TIRED of dealing with anyone or anything related to my past, especially after I got the bad stuff.

At first, myself and everyone around me thought it was wonderful I had quit smoking pot. But it wasn’t long thereafter that I was on a prescription of as many as 4 mg of Ativan per day. After so long, I found the Ativan actually aggravating me during triggers instead of calming me down.

Anxiety medications are in a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which are basically alcohol in a pill. While many would wonder why I ever would be prescribed that, my fear, anger and nightmares had become so bad that it was getting in the way of my work and my daily life. I also have a tendency to raise my voice when I become extremely upset, and that apparently is not a good thing.

Life as a kid in a violent home

So, with the help of my health care team, including my therapist and medical provider, I took my medical records clearly denoting my chronic PTSD diagnosis to Chicago. There, I saw a doctor twice – both times for about half an hour – and also underwent fingerprinting.

All told, it was about a $600 process. And I really don’t think this doctor would give out cards to people who don’t come in with the diagnosis already previously made.

That was way back on April 8. It’s fair to say I’ve been “Jonesing.”

Trauma comes in so many forms for so many people. Mine started early. Due to dad’s rare brain disease, which we didn’t really know (or later, believe) he had at the time, my home was an extremely violent one.

My brother and I, who recently reconciled after finally settling dad’s estate in January, were discussing the violence we grew up with. Once, our mom pinned our dad down and held a steak knife to his neck.

Another time, he took his cane and poked her in the area where her breast had been removed. She was receiving radiation therapy and was weeping and bleeding in the area.

Related Post: How rape, assault led to sobriety

Dad, meanwhile, had just had surgery on his knees. Mom grabbed his cane and beat the holy hell out of both of them.

But my brother revealed to me recently a story I only had heard part of. He walked in once on dad pointing his shotgun at my mother. John, my brother, managed to get the shotgun away from dad. The shotgun was given to my Uncle Don, and that I knew, and I vaguely remember dad being very upset about his missing gun.

My brother was probably 13 or 14 years old; I was maybe 4 or 5.

Hoping to be able to trust, love again

Mom and dad divorced and second and final time (dad never moved out the first time, in 1980) in 1984. Mom got the home – the very home I live in today. She moved a man in about two weeks after she got rid of my dad, and we began to fight so violently I decided to move in with my cousin and pay rent. I was 17 years old making $3.35 per hour at the Quad-City Times, a senior in high school.

And the trauma continued. Mom’s breast cancer, first diagnosed in 1979, recurred many times. We lost her in 1995. She was 53; I was 24. You can read about my mom’s battle with breast cancer by clicking here.

My mom died in the same house I live in today. That’s because my dad, the little rascal, got it back about seven years ago, when he learned it was for sale. I think that’s cool as H.

And although my home was violent, dad and I reclaimed this house during the year we spent in it together. I love my house.

And now I can legally smoke pot in it. Add that to the list of things I never thought would happen, that I am very, very grateful for.

I hope I am able, with access to this new medication, to be able to make friends again, to be able to make eye contact with certain people again, to not be so angry about a past that while traumatic, has produced much fruit.