America’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, opposes legal marijuana/cannabis, and has even claimed that it is “only slightly less awful than heroin.” Before Sessions moves to use federal power to crack down on legalized cannabis, he should consider the story of a teenage girl whose life might have been ruined had she not happened to live in Colorado, where cannabis and its derivatives can be easily and legally obtained.
The girl in question is my daughter, Ashley, who suffered a severe concussion on March 16, 2015, while playing volleyball. I had the unique opportunity to compare the results produced by three very different approaches to concussion recovery:
REAP (resting, education, accommodations, pace). This yielded six months of intense pain and suffering, with no improvement in Ashley’s condition.
Prescription drugs. These proved expensive, toxic and completely ineffective.
Cannabidiol (CBD, which is derived from cannabis). This proved non-toxic, and it relieved Ashley’s incapacitating headache within thirty minutes — at a cost of about $1. We eventually supplemented the CBD with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to obtain more comprehensive relief of our daughter’s concussion symptoms.
From my personal experience, I can understand why the major pharmaceutical companies would want marijuana to be illegal, but not why Sessions, a man who has three children and six grandchildren, would want to impede the exploration of an important new source of therapeutic agents.
CBD, which is one of the hundreds of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, seems to be uniquely effective at reducing inflammation in the human nervous system. It has proved helpful to sufferers of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and seizures, as well as victims of traumatic brain injury, like Ashley. CBD has also been found to relieve chronic pain, without addiction and/or toxic side effects. There is evidence that it can also play a
role in treating cancer and supporting cardiovascular health.
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Unlike THC, which is also derived from cannabis, CBD does not produce euphoria. While one might hope that Sessions’s efforts to “fight” marijuana would not outlaw CBD, making marijuana illegal would have a chilling effect on exploiting marijuana’s vast untapped therapeutic potential.
If states like California and Colorado had not moved to legalize marijuana in the face of opposition by people like Sessions, I believe that Ashley might well be dead today. It is a sad fact that chronic pain and disability can drive young people to suicide. After Ashley’s concussion, it was heartbreaking to watch our daughter’s inner light grow dim. She became edgy, and she was quick to anger. The life that Ashley once had as an honor student
and competitive athlete was gone. My husband and I were forced to watch the daughter that we knew disappear into a fog of pain and confusion. Ashley’s condition was the first thing we thought of every morning when we woke up, and the last thing we discussed before we went to sleep.
I shudder now when I recall what well-meaning medical professionals put Ashley through in their attempts to help her. If CBD had not been readily obtainable where we live, we would almost certainly have acceded to the urging of doctors that we give Ashley antidepressants, drugs whose warning labels list “suicide” as the first possible side effect. The doctors did their best, but they just didn’t have the right tools.
Yes, Ashley was probably depressed. After all, she had lost her identity as an athlete and as a scholar. However, numbing her out would not have done anything for her traumatic brain injury. Also, we knew parents who gave their teenaged concussion sufferer anti-depressants, and then slowly watched their child lose all of his “spark,” then become violently angry, self-harming and withdrawn — all while obtaining zero pain relief.
Before we found cannabis, we tried everything that conventional medicine had to offer for eighteen months, during which our daughter suffered from disabling headaches. We even hospitalized Ashley, so that she could be given intravenous drugs (anti-convulsants, anti-inflammatories and anti-histamines). This did not work. In fact, after she regained consciousness, Ashley’s headache was worse than before.
Desperate for a solution, we spent hours on the Internet, searching for some option that had not been offered by our medical professionals, with whom we had already spent so much time and money. Then Ashley’s father stumbled across an item regarding the possible benefits of marijuana for football players who were managing head injuries. This was the only lead that we had, so I pursued it relentlessly.
My research suggested that we should try CBD, which was easy for me to obtain here in Colorado. I gave Ashley approximately 20 mg of CBD. Thirty minutes later I heard the sweetest words I could imagine: “Mom! Mom! My headache is gone — like, I mean really gone!”
Ashley had experienced relief from her headache for the first time in more than two months. Her emerald-green eyes were clear and bright, and she was smiling. I had not seen that smile in a very long time.
We eventually learned how to employ CBD oils and a CBD vapor pen, supplemented occasionally with THC, to completely eliminate Ashley’s chronic post-concussion headaches. THC seems to be a very effective partner for CBD. However, we have been conservative regarding its use, since there is not complete data on the impact of THC on the developing brain. I do, however, feel much safer giving my daughter small doses of CBD and THC
than seeing her pumped full of anti-convulsants, anti-psychotic drugs and toxic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
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Cannabis has been the key to Ashley’s recovery from her concussion. Not only has it eliminated her severe and constant headaches, which potent pharmaceutical drugs could not touch, but it has also reduced inflammation in her brain and has stimulating healing. In the states where cannabis is legal, it was made so by referendums;
i.e., direct votes of the people. Ashley is not alone in her need for safe and legal cannabis products. When researching and considering using THC and CBD for Ashley, I felt uncomfortable and even a bit criminal even though I live where cannabis is legal. Personal responsibility is a core principle of being an American, and having the legal right to choose medical options is vital to preserving and developing medical freedom in America.
For all of the parents out there who think I am doing something morally, ethically or legally wrong, all I have to say is that cannabis has been the only intervention that broke the headache cycle, and that we feel like we truly acted in compliance with our doctors and specialists and exhausted all of the mainstream medical-model treatments. We were offered the best they had to offer, but they don’t understand cannabis and how it works.
Knowing what I know now, it would be my first choice for many conditions.
Please, Mr. Sessions, support the continued legal status of cannabis and its derivatives.
Ashley is currently a senior at Thunder Ridge High School in Highlands Ranch, and hopes to attend the University of Colorado Boulder. Donna Milan Sage, MSSA, is a mother and health educator who lives in Denver. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.