Marijuana master grower Jay Price's mission to help MS patients

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Of all the conditions that bring patients to The Clinic Medical Marijuana Centers, one is especially important to master grower Jay Price: multiple sclerosis. He knows which strains help the muscle pains and which strains help the eye spasms or the depression that often comes from battling the incurable disease. But helping a handful of patients find the right strain to ease their symptoms can only do so much, which is why for the last four years, the Clinic has been committed to fundraising for the national MS Society, quickly becoming one of the top donors in the region.

For Price, helping people with MS started as a personal mission -- though at first he didn't realize it, and then he wasn't sure he wanted it. When he was just seven, his father was diagnosed with a progressive form of MS, meaning his physical and mental deterioration would continue to worsen. Back then, medications and treatments for MS were in their infancy, Price says. By the time there were drugs available to halt the progression, his father was too far along to want the treatments. "He didn't want to pause it there," Price remembers. "He wanted it to run its course and be done with it."

By the time his father died, he could no longer remember his son; Price was just fourteen. For a long time, he didn't want to think about the disease or the painful memories that accompanied it. Even seeing Richard Pryor on TV suffering from the early tremors and speech issues was too much for Price. For years, he shut out the disease.

And then MS crept back into his life through another door. His girlfriend (now wife) had led a personal MS Walk team before the two met; she solicited Price's help to raise money for her team. He did that for a few years, growing increasingly more comfortable with MS, as well as more knowledgeable. Then came the medical-cannabis side of things, which not only led Price, a caregiver at one time, to his gig as the lead grower for the Clinic's five-dispensary operation, but also to dealing directly with MS patients seeking relief from cannabis. Patients would come to him with stories about the relief they had found from certain strains, Price says, and he would take notes.

One of the most important lessons he learned is that multiple sclerosis is a tricky disease and doesn't always present the same way. "There is no cover-all where you can say, 'I have MS' and we give you this strain. There are many different ways that the disease can present in a person, so there are many different ways to treat it. One person's experience with MS and what they are going through is totally different from someone else's," he notes.

But he did notice that a few things seemed to provide universal relief, he says -- notably strains high in cannabidiol, or CBD. That led to a breeding program of sorts. For example, the Clinic has a Pre-'98 Bubba Kush plant that tested out at 15.33 percent CBD and 10.64 percent THC when it won the 2011 High Times Medical Cannabis Cup in Denver; it's posted similar results ever since. Price bred that Pre-'98 Bubba with a number of different strains, including Corleone OG, to produce strains high in CBD, but with other interesting characteristics. The Luca Brasi, for example, regularly tests between 8 percent and 12 percent CBD, with slightly higher levels of THC. And in general, that is the range MS patients should look for.

"One of the most common things they are going to experience is neuropathic pain, which is basically that for no reason, something hurts," Price says. "For that, obviously, high-CBD strains work. But for more specific symptoms, like optic neuritis -- which is basically a freaking-out of your eye nerves -- we've found that hazes work really well, just not the real racy sativa hazes. Stuff like Super Lemon Haze or Jack Flash or something indica to bring it back more to that fifty-fifty zone."

Continue for more about The Clinic's mission to help MS patients. The Clinic now holds yearly seminars at which budtenders spend a day learning about various medical conditions; it includes a class on treating MS patients.

As the medical marijuana dispensary grew in size and number of patients, Price saw an opportunity to increase the fundraising that he was already doing with his wife. The owners of the dispensary were on board from the start, he says, and asked him to spearhead the project. The harder part was working with the National MS Society. "At first when I approached the National MS Society, they were like, 'You can do it,' but they didn't know how to deal with it," he says. "Their big fear was that by being too supportive of us, they could potentially scare off other donors. But then there were the people here [at the local chapter in Colorado], who had no problems with it, and they told us that they talk to patients who do use cannabis as a therapy and have had good success with it. But they're not ever going to officially endorse that, you know? They basically said that the jury is still out -- if you look it up on their website -- but that people do find relief with this."

That year, the Clinic managed to raise just over $6,000 for the cause. By 2011, the group had added a second golf charity event to raise money for MS and doubled its donation to more than $11,000. "The first year, I think, they also wanted to see how we showed up and presented ourselves," Price says. "Are we all sitting there smoking big joints? They didn't know how that was all going to go down."

This past August, the center put on its fourth annual Clinic Charity Classic golf tournament at City Park. By adding a raffle and charity concert the same weekend, the group pulled together more than $41,000 for the National MS Society. By the end of this month, the group's donations should total $54,628 for 2013. And to date, the medical marijuana dispensary chain has donated more than $102,500 to the charity, making it one of the top contributors in the Rocky Mountain region.

Kaylin Daniels, development manager for the national MS Society Wyoming and Colorado chapter, notes that the Clinic is one of the few groups to conduct its fundraising year-round. "The Clinic is certainly one of the strongest fundraising teams and largest corporate teams," she adds. "Many other corporate teams we have for Walk MS typically do not host large events like golf tournaments. Most do in-office fundraising like 'denim days' or bake sales. We do have Friends and Family teams that hold large events, but the Clinic's annual golf tournament has quickly become one of the largest team fundraisers for Walk MS in Colorado and Wyoming."

The money goes into the Colorado and Wyoming chapter fund, which helps pay for the roughly 350 research projects funded by the national MS Society each year. On average, the local chapter donates about $1 million per year -- and all of that goes directly to help heal people affected by MS.

Price has found some solace in being able to help researchers get the resources they need. That's also helped him find some closure regarding his memories of his father's suffering. "When I go to the MS Walk, it still gets to me sometimes to see people not doing well with it," he says. "But I think I'm better equipped."

For more about donating, visit thecliniccolorado.com.

More from our Marijuana archive circa May 2012: "Marijuana: The Clinic raises $12,000+ for MS Walk Denver."

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