Panelists aim to cut through medical marijuana haze
By Lou Fancher
The lexicon is simple, the science is constantly evolving, and society is only semi-ready for the advent of medical cannabis.
Striving to replace misconceptions and myth with facts and to debunk the notion that benefiting from medical marijuana requires "getting high," a panel of pro-cannabis experts is coming to the Lafayette Library on June 15. The Science Cafe discussion of the controversial herb and its medicinal use will be led by Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland-based Harborside Health Center; Bay Area editor and medical journalist Uwe Blesching; and Eloise Theisen, a licensed nurse specializing in cannabinoid medicine and founder of Green Health Consultants in Lafayette.
Theisen, 42, began her nursing career at John Muir Health Center and is an American Cannabis Nurses Association board member. A frequent consultant and educator, she specializes in the treatment with cannabis of patients with cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, ALS, dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinsons and various autoimmune and neurological diseases. Seniors 65 and older are her particular interest and expertise.
"I'll be speaking about the special considerations -- the drug-to-drug interaction of cannabis with people 65 years and older who are taking on average five other medications a day can be significant," she said. In addition to drug interactions, physiological changes due to aging -- for example, a liver that is less efficient -- impact the efficacy, dosage, and side effects of medical cannabis.
For most of Theisen's patients, regardless of age, possible psychoactive reactions are their primary concern. "They don't want to get high for the medicine to work. I tell them euphoria isn't a bad thing. It's a myth that we need to avoid it."
Like most subjects that carry stigmas, Theisen recognizes that her words can be misconstrued. Theisen isn't suggesting her patients toss caution to the wind and accept euphoria -- although exhilaration is often the response they experience after cannabis relieves their chronic pain, sleeplessness, depression and other conditions. Instead, with the right application, she suggests the body's natural receptors are biologically designed to consume and benefit from even small amounts of cannabis.
"The endocannabinoid system that's in our central nervous, lymphatic and immune systems, many of our organs, our brain, our vertebrae -- it means you don't need high doses to be effective."
While at the federal level cannabis continues to be illegal and is defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration as having "no current accepted medical use," science might soon tip the tide of federal government opposition. "Acceptance is about to change on the federal level," Theisen predicts. "GW Pharmaceuticals out of the U.K, they're in Phase 3 clinical trial of epidiolex, a drug used to control seizures. They've had a 50 percent reduction in seizures. Studies like that will cause change."
She and other experts say education and increased awareness are paramount when it comes to societal shifts. "People today are more open to having the conversation about it being a part of their treatment. "Manufacturers are developing more products that are in line with medical standards. The geriatric population is making a shift because they're finding other medications are ineffective."
A Pew Research report released April 2015 says 53 percent of Americans believe cannabis should be legal; quite a jump from 1969, when only 12 percent of people in a Gallup poll favored legalization. A recent CBS News segment that featured the DeAngelo's Harborside collective, presently the largest medical cannabis distributor in the world, said cannabis use is up 53 percent in people age 55 and older.
In the East Bay, one need look no farther than the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Club for evidence of increased interest in the substance. At over 300 members strong, the group brings in product manufacturers, physicians, legislators and advocates. "I try to attend every meeting. It's an educational support club, very well-informed," says Theisen. "The members guide newcomers so that everyone gets accurate information,"
Which is exactly what will happen at the Science Cafe. Lesson One? Use appropriate language: "cannabis" instead of "pot," or even "marijuana," according to DeAngelo.