The Gedicks have a 4-year old daughter called Rebekah who suffers from epilepsy. Rebecca was also born with an abnormal hippocampus that causes her seizures to spiral out of control. The medication prescribed to Rebekah was unsuccessful in stabilizing her behavior and led to serial vomiting. One doctor prescribed her medical marijuana. The drug is, however, hard to obtain in Massachusetts. Two years after its approval, the state Department of Public Health is yet to license any dispensary.
Owing to the constraints of obtaining the drug, the Gedicks do not know the ratios of its compounds that would work best for Rebekah. They are forced to experiment with several strains, and this may pose some risk to her. The Gedicks are not alone in the predicament of accessing medical marijuana. Vivienne Simon, a 64-year-old life coach, and lawyer, also laments the lengthy and tiresome process of obtaining medical marijuana. Simon suffers from ocular melanoma. She experiences discomfort arising from chemotherapy that she feels would be eased by the drug. She articulates that the only way western medicine can help her with her medication is with “Good luck” or horrible times with even more terrible side effects.
Legitimate caregivers have been overwhelmed by stringent state regulations that restricted them to offer care to only one patient. Trustworthy suppliers are thus hard to come by, and those present sometimes operate illegally. Most patients have found online vendors of medical marijuana but still express that they would be better off getting it from a dispensary. They opine that these would ease their pain and reduce their stigma since as it is; they are “in the shadows.”
The article articulates the concept of alternative medicine that aims to promote the wellness of parents of whom conventional medicine has no effect. Alternative medicine is any health product, practice or therapy that has not been founded on scientific proof, but which has the therapeutic impacts of medicine. When such alternative medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine, it is referred to as complementary medicine. Such medicines are taken with the goal of curing and preventing ailments, and managing or minimizing symptoms. It is also used to achieve inner peace and harmony as well as promoting an individual’s wellness (Kemper, 2001).
Medical marijuana is used in relieving symptoms from disease, achieving inner peace and harmony as well as in improving a patient’s wellness. Some cancer patients also opine that it may stop the disease from recurring. Tezla Mayorga’s son, Peter, who has bipolar disorder, suffers from depression. He was expelled from school, cuts himself, and has even experienced suicidal thoughts. He reacts badly to antidepressants and so Tezla started giving him medical marijuana. Peter is now quieter, and he eats and has good sleep. Medical marijuana improves his holistic wellness. It reduces his depression and apprehension. Cancer patients also use the drug to minimize the effects of chemotherapy (English, 2015). The drug is hence a form of alternative medicine intended at helping patients.
As with other forms of alternative medicine, medical marijuana has not been legalized in most regions and procuring it is extremely tough. However, prevalence in its use has been observed in recent years.The reasons for the increased use range from cultural to psychological ones. One reason is the social discontent and distrust of traditional power figures. Others include the displeasure in how scientific biomedicine is delivered, and the assumed safety and efficacy of natural remedies (Beyerstein, 2001). Medical marijuana has therapeutic properties. A study done by Robson found that cannabis has effective antiemetics and analgesics. He found that the drug relieves symptoms and improves the well-being of neurologically sick patients. The drug also alleviates anxiety and enhances sleep, and is safe even when overdosed (Robson, 2001).
Robson’s study makes a strong case for using alternative medicine to treat and relieve some ailments. However, like many types of alternative medicine that have not been scientifically proven, reception from the community is varied. The medical marijuana market is tight with stringent laws and regulations. The Department of Public Health licensed some dispensaries to sell the same, but they are yet to be launched. Legitimate caregivers sometimes have to operate illegally in order to help patients get access to the drug. A lot of stigma and negative perception is also allied to alternative medicine. One young woman who got clearance from a doctor to use the drug planted it in her family backyard. Her mother, however, was not amused and was worried about the perception of neighbors (English, 2015). Such perception leads to stigma associated with alternative medicine and the inadvertent refusal of many people who need to use it. Some patients also result in illegal means of acquiring alternative medicine.
The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to improve wellness has increased worldwide. In America, expenditure on CAM increased 45% from 1990 to $27 billion in 1997. The explosion was attributed to an upsurge in the proportion of the population seeking alternative therapies. Most people who use alternative medicine state that conventional medication stopped working for them. CAM use is rampant in high income households, well-educated individuals, younger people, females, and cancer patients. Due to regulation, the quality of alternative medicine varies highly. Medical marijuana bought in Dutch “coffee shops”, for example, was found to be contaminated by fungi and bacteria that may be of detriment to critically ill patients(Metin Tascilar, 2006). The process of identifying trustworthy suppliers is very tasking and nothing but transparent. Moreover, not many people would risk growing marijuana for someone else. Michael Fitzgerald opines that some suppliers are reminiscent of drug dealers. The Department of Public Health refuses to help patients find caregivers stating that it is not its role to do so. The issue has led to the online sale of medical marijuana by people who have little knowledge of it, much to the consternation of some caregivers and law enforcement sources (English, 2015).
Medical marijuana has proven quite useful in the improvement of the wellness and health of most cancer patients and those facing other ailments. There is evidence to support medical marijuana, especially in symptom management and supportive care for patients. There is however a need to acquire more high-quality scientific evidence to improve on safety and effectiveness. Just as with other alternative medicine, more research will help more patients like Rebecca and Peter improve their wellness and health. Physicians will also be able to explore efficient and safe approaches and become aware of the existence of possible dangers. Alternative medicine has found a prominent place in modern society and there is a need to promote its safe use and acquisition for the improvement of health and societal well-being.
Beyerstein, B. L. (2001, March). Alternative Medicine and Common Errors of Reasoning. Academic Medicine, 76(3), 230-237.
English, B. (2015, February 13). Left in the lurch on medical marijuana. The bOSTON gLOBE, 1.
Kemper, K. J. (2001). Complementary and alternative medicine for children: does it work? Archive of Disease in Childhood., 84, 6-9.
Metin Tascilar, F. A. (2006, July). Complementary and Alternative Medicine During Cancer Treatment: Beyond Innocence. The Oncologist, 11(7), 732-741. doi:doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.11-7-732
ROBSON, P. (2001, February 1). Therapeutic aspects of cannabis and cannabinoids. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 178(2), 1-20. doi:DOI: 10.1192/bjp.178.2.107
Left in the lurch on medical marijuana
By Bella English GLOBE STAFF FEBRUARY 13, 2015
4 Year old Rebekah Gedick holds her cat ‘Patches’ at home in Palmer, MA on Thursday, January 08, 2015. Rebekah has meltdowns and seizures due to epilepsy and other brain issues and her family wants medical marijuana for her.
It can happen any time, at home or, as it did recently, in public: Cindy and Keith Gedick of Palmer had to bundle their daughter out of a bookstore when she began to have a screaming meltdown. They were followed by a few customers who thought the little girl was being abused.
“We call it the red zone,” says Cindy. “You can’t touch her; you can’t talk to her. She’s just unglued.”
Such fits are a fact of life for the Gedicks and the reason they would eventually seek out medical marijuana. Besides having epilepsy, Rebekah, 4, was born with an abnormal hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates memory and emotional behavior. Her issues include seizures and out-of-control tantrums that leave her red-faced and perspiring.
After Rebekah was prescribed drugs with side effects that included serial vomiting — and which failed to stabilize her behavior — the Gedicks did some research and got a doctor’s approval for medical marijuana.
But with no dispensaries open in Massachusetts, they cannot obtain it. The options used by other patients — finding a “caregiver” who is allowed under state law to provide a limited supply to one person, legally growing their own, or getting it through the illegal black market — are out of the question for them for practical and personal reasons.
Cases like the Gedicks’ put a human face on the hardship the lengthy dispensary delays have placed on patients for whom the interim system, which most participants agree is complicated and flawed, has worked either poorly or not at all. That includes those with a need who have found themselves unable to obtain medical marijuana, and others who have faced struggles — sometimes resorting to illegal means — to get a drug that by now should be as available as any other prescription.
More than two years after voters approved medical marijuana, no facilities have launched because of licensing delays by the state Department of Public Health. Though 15 sites have finally been chosen, the first one, in Salem, won’t open at least until late spring. Initially the law envisioned that there would be as many as 35 nonprofit facilities ready by the end of 2013.
For the Gedicks, it’s the not-so-simple matter of getting what they need. Cindy Gedick says her family requires the services of a dispensary. They don’t know the strains of cannabis and the ratio of its compounds that would benefit Rebekah: “We would need to experiment with several different strains to see what works best for her. We need a dispensary that offers that atmosphere.”
The Gedicks are hardly alone in their frustration. Four years ago, Vivienne Simon, 64, was diagnosed with ocular melonoma. Though the eye tumor was successfully treated, she fears the spread of bad cells, which occurs in half the cases, and has been unable to get a caregiver.
Simon knows that medical marijuana can help ease the discomfort associated with chemotherapy, but like a number of cancer patients she believes that it may also prevent a recurrence. “I’m worried this thing can get into my lungs or liver,’’ she said. “The only thing Western medicine can offer me is ‘Good luck,’ or some horrible treatments with terrible side effects.”
A life coach and lawyer, Simon tried for months to find a caregiver online. The leads she got either had a client already, or didn’t respond.
It’s not surprising. Problems surrounding caregivers have been among the thorniest ones confronting patients. A number of medical marijuana advocates and patients say the legitimate caregiver market is tight because state regulations changed from allowing them to grow or procure medical marijuana for five patients — as was approved by voters — to just one patient soon after the law passed. Reacting to increasing reports of caregivers taking on multiple clients, the state moved to crack down on the practice this summer.
Also the process of finding a trustworthy supplier has been anything but transparent. Those involved with medical marijuana say that the caregivers operate in a legal gray area, with few qualification requirements and little oversight about the source and quality of what they sell. The state is in the process of trying to register them but finding a caregiver and vetting him or her remains the responsibility of patients and usually takes the form of patient networking.
“It’s not the Department of Public Health’s role to help find caregivers for patients,” says Scott Zoback, acting director of communications for the DPH. “Massachusetts has a dispensary-based system.”
Quincy 2-05-2014 Victor Powers, (cq) center, Navy veteran with prostate cancer and an artificial knee, hip and shoulder, photographed at the New England Grass Roots Institute, a group of dedicated patients,caregivers,and activists covering the professional basics of the medical cannabis industry. He is 63, and says that marajuana helps with his symptoms. Mike Fitzgerald (cq) founder of the New England Grass Roots Institute.
In Quincy, at the New England Grass Roots Institute, co-owner Michael Fitzgerald (left) talks to Victor Powers (center).
Some law enforcement sources — and some caregivers themselves — have expressed dismay over what they consider online sales by people who don’t know medical marijuana.
“Not many people would risk all the negative aspects to grow for someone else,” says Michael Fitzgerald, who with his wife, Melissa, owns New England Grass Roots Institute in Quincy, where they have taught more than 700 people with a range of health issues about medical marijuana. “I know about 10 real caregivers who do this for a loved one,” he says. Some others, in his view, are little more than drug dealers.
Simon contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which directed her to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, a coalition of medical marijuana patients and their families, caregivers, and health professionals who support safe access to it.
She got the name of a caregiver near the Rhode Island border but discovered that he would have to work “under the table,” since he already had another client. Through an online cancer support group, she tried to get what she needed from a California dispensary, “but that got very complicated.”
Other patients have been able to get what they need, but their paths have been anything but straight.
TezlaMayorga’s son Peter was 16 when the medical marijuana law passed. Peter, who suffers from bipolar disorder, had hit a rough patch. He was kicked out of school, began cutting himself, punched holes in the walls of their Revere home, and left suicide notes.
After he had a bad reaction to antidepressants, his mother began researching medical marijuana. It was a difficult decision. Mayorga grew up middle-class in Honduras, a culture where marijuana is considered something “for street people.” But when her only child began a downward spiral, she decided to give the treatment a try.
Mayorga took a course at New England Grass Roots and learned more about medical marijuana. She got written permission from a doctor but was at a loss as to where to obtain it. “I don’t even know the language to use,” she says. “I didn’t know where to turn.’’
Quincy 2-05-2014 Mike Fitzgerald (cq) founder of the New England Grass Roots Institute. The institute is dedicated patients,caregivers,and activists covering the professional basics of the medical cannabis industry. Globe Staff/Photographer Jonathan Wiggs
Fitzgerald, in Quincy, teaches people with a range of health issues about medical marijuana.
Through online networking, she found what she considers a reliable source who also supplies others. It is not apparently legal nor has it been easy. She works long hours as a chef at a catering company and drives an hour each way to get the marijuana. But she says it is worth it.
Peter, who inhales the fumes through a vaporizer, is calmer and eats and sleeps better, Mayorga says. “I’m not ashamed of it. To me, this is medicine, it is like milk for my son.”
One young woman started using it for lupus after getting clearance from a doctor. A friend gave her a plant, which she put in the family’s backyard for a while, in an affluent Boston suburb. Her mother, a nurse married to a financial planner, wasn’t thrilled about having it in their yard and was concerned about gossiping neighbors. And the daughter found the plant difficult to maintain, especially in winter, so she connected with a caregiver who supplies her.
Still, the mother would rather go to a dispensary than a caregiver “so we can know what we’re getting.”
For the woman with lupus, medical marijuana has been a godsend. She was being treated with heavy-duty medications, including chemotherapy, which made her sicker. “Medical marijuana has helped with pain, appetite, sleep and anxiety,” says her mother.
Beyond the practical hurdles, the family has also faced a less obvious problem: concerns about social disapproval. They do not want to be identified for fear it could jeopardize their jobs or scandalize their neighbors. Though medical marijuana is inching its way out of its stoner-image closet, there are still those who fear a stigma.
“Both my husband and I come from Irish-Catholic families,” says the mother, who is 57. “People have negative perceptions of marijuana, but we’re not doing anything wrong. We’re following all the rules.”
But going through the front door of a dispensary will ease their worry about stigma. “It will be more in the open,” says the mother. “We are in the shadows now.”
Simon, the cancer patient, is thinking of taking a course at New England Grass Roots so that she can learn to grow her own. Like the rest of these patients she can’t understand why the state has dragged its feet. “Let’s just get the ball moving and get people what they need,” she says. “This is medicine, not entertainment.”
Bella English can be reached at email@example.com.