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!

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Yes, pharma reps likely do have a say in which medications you take

MedsYou probably have seen them in your doctor’s office: Those really nice looking young people in a coat and tie, or a pretty pantsuit, carrying a spiffy briefcase and a bag filled with medicine samples.

They’re pharmaceutical reps. And a new study shows they probably wield just as much influence as the cynical among us always thought they did.

Published today in BMJ, researchers from Yale and the Center for Medicare Services have shown an association between payments to physicians for speaking and consulting fees, food and drink and other perks and written prescriptions for those companies’ drugs – at least when it comes to non-insulin diabetes meds and oral anticoagulants, both common among our booming elderly population.

The study was massive. Researchers examined 46 million Medicare Part D prescriptions written by more than 600,000 physicians to more than 10 million patients. They looked at more than 300 hospital referral regions.

“One additional payment in a region (median value $13) was associated with approximately 80 additional days filled of the marketed drug in the region,” the study concluded. “Payments to specialists and payments for speaking and consulting fees were associated with larger regional changes in prescribing than payments for non-specialists or payments for food and beverages or education.”

We all know what prescription drugs cost. That’s some serious bang for the buck.

Docs got $169 million for these two classes of drugs alone

Just how much money are we talking in terms of the dollars doled out to docs?

Nearly a million payments were given to the physicians in the 300-plus regions in 2013 and 2014. Just for the anti-coagulants, which are used to treat atrial fibrillation (A-fib) and other cardiovascular disorders, payments totaled more than $61 million. For the non-insulin diabetes drugs, approximately 1.8 million payments totaling more than $108 million were showered upon the docs.

Read more: My interview with actor Howie Mandel about his A-fib

How this study, the first of its kind, finally became possible is noteworthy as well. In a word: Obamacare.

“The Open Payments program, enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, mandated manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices to report payments to physicians and teaching hospitals to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The resulting data include direct and indirect payments as well as payments in kind, such as the value of food and gifts, and details the manufacturers products associated with the payment.”

Previous studies have shown that doctors do not believe they are influenced by the payments.

Do you think your doctor is prescribing the best drug for you? Or is he or she possibly prescribing a more expensive drug that isn’t necessary, or even a drug that might not be as effective as something else? These are concerns I heard for more than two years as a reporter for Healthline News from patients with all sorts of medical conditions. I hope to someday write a long-form look at such practices as it pertains to HIV medications.

Read more: My infographic report on the cost of HIV medications around the world

Authors admit study has limitations

The study does have limitations, the authors admit.

“Our findings do not necessarily suggest that payments by pharmaceutical manufacturers are harmful for patient care,” they wrote. “Patients may benefit from physicians being made aware of newly approved, effective treatments that may have fewer adverse effects, reduce the need for monitoring tests, or improve adherence. However, our findings support long voiced concerns about the potential influence of even small payments to physicians by pharmaceutical companies, such as for food and beverages.

“This influence on prescribing can potentially negatively affect patients through inappropriate prescribing, or more likely prescribing of more expensive, branded drugs when cheaper, generic alternatives exist. By one estimate, the geographic variance in high cost or low cost drug prescribing cost Medicare $4.5 billion in 2008.”

I always have said I really have no idea whether Obamacare is a good or a bad thing, because I’ve written about it so much I could see it either way. But I will say this: This sort of transparency is good for America any way it comes in our current climate of rampant political and corporate corruption.

“Our study has important limitations,” the authors go on to note. “Firstly, as the study was cross-sectional, we cannot prove the causality that marketing causes prescribing; it is possible that pharmaceutical companies market in regions where prescribing is already higher. Secondly, our results likely underestimate the association between payments by the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and physician prescribing since we only had data on prescriptions filled, not prescribed, and our analyses were focused solely on Medicare Part D enrollees, who received approximately 25 percent of all the prescriptions written in the United States.”

The researchers report; you decide.

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Read more: My report on how insurers use higher drug costs to discourage sick patients from enrolling