Sometimes, something happens that changes you forever. Not in a good way. It leaves you a different person, with different fears, insecurities and perspectives. Sometimes, what you experience is some impactful, so traumatic, that your brain is branded, your psyche is scarred. You now live life, traumatized.
PTSD is the acronym for “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Most people associate PTSD with veterans, appropriately so, with staggering numbers of veteran suicide in America resulting from PTSD. The number now, is 22 veteran suicides a day in the US, and pharmaceuticals aren’t helping. In many cases, side effects from the pharmaceuticals make it worse. Weight loss or gain, acne, headaches, or worse, homicidal and suicidal thoughts are common side effects for the prescriptions for most vets with PTSD.
But looking at other demographics of people with PTSD, non-veteran PTSD: First responders, child victims of violent crimes, adult victims of violent crimes, survivors of natural disaster, caretakers, parents of chronically or terminally Ill children, and the dynamics of the PTSD are different, but the symptoms, impact and often, the outcome, are sadly the same. We just don’t keep a running count of those suicide rates.
Last year, Rachael Selmeski testified before Colorado’s House of Representatives asking members to support legislation that would allow medical marijuana patients to have their medicine administered at school, “Jack’s Law’.
“Everyday I fight just to keep my child alive,” Rachael told the tearful legislators who had heard her detail Maggie’s story, “Every single day.” The Selmeski family hasn’t fought everyday for weeks, or months, but for years. Rachael’s daughter, Magdalyne Joy, “Maggie” or “Mags” has epilepsy. She’s had seizures since she was an infant.
Their family blog talks about her first prescriptions: “Maggie is on 5 medicines, one of which is Pepcid for her little tummy to help deal with the others. She takes Keppra and Trileptal at 7 and 7, and then Clonazepam and Zonisamide at 11 and 11. Those around us notice the traveling pharmacy,” posted Rachael. What others didn’t see was the side effects, the misery and the waiting. Living everyday with the difficulties that come with having a disabled child: medical equipment, doctor’s visits, wheelchair maneuvering, accessible parking, accessible buildings, accessible bathrooms, and waiting. Waiting for the seizure that will kill their daughter. Wondering if this will be the day. They are traumatized.
Sebastien Cotte and his wife, Annett, were awaiting the birth of their first child, a son, Jagger. The pregnancy and birth left them with a seemingly perfect, bouncing baby boy. At 3 months, there were some cardiac flags but at 11 months old, the nightmarish diagnosis came, mitochondrial disease. Their beautiful son, who they thought was healthy, would never, ever be healthy. At 13 months old, Jagger was diagnosed with Leigh’s disease, the terminal, incurable form of mitochondrial disease. Jagger is six years old now and the family has shifted mentally to quality of life, not quantity. “Even when I am across the country on business, in a hotel room by myself, sometimes, I hear Jagger’s monitors go off,” said Sebastien emotionally, “it wakes me from my sleep often. I think I hear the beeps and alarms from his monitors. I hear the ambulance sirens. When he is not even there, I’m not even home. It takes me to dark, sad places mentally and emotionally. Truthfully, it is exhausting. We are waiting for our greatest tragedy, the loss of our child, and watching him decline everyday.”
There’s an adrenaline rush that comes naturally to people when there is an accident, injury or life-threatening circumstance. When it involves you or someone you care about, that jolt is more dramatic, more impactful and certainly burns a memory in your brain and in your heart, and it is exhausting. Parents who experience the roller coaster of emotions that comes with an ill child, sometimes become numb, or “colder”, they are traumatized.
Many, if not most, parents of children who are chronically or terminally ill suffer from sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Levels of anxiety and stress are greatly increased and according to J.J. Spangenberg MA (Psych), MA (Clin Psych); D. Phil & N. Lalkhen MA (Clin Psych) who examined the psychosocial impacts on families of children with epilepsy. Their conclusion was:
“Childhood epilepsy has serious and far-reaching psychosocial sequelae for the patient and his/her family. Witnessing a seizure in one’s young child, especially a tonic-clonic seizure, can be one of the most anxiety-provoking experiences for a parent. It usually leads to feelings of helplessness and fear and often results in overprotection or overindulgence of the child…. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy develop, leading to further loss of self-esteem. Due to their anxious withdrawal from others, parents risk increasing isolation and loss of social support. Parents may grieve the loss of a “normal” child and this bereavement process may become pathological. Higher divorce rates have been reported among parents of children with epilepsy than in the general population.”
There are different dynamics for parents of children with chronic or terminal illnesses versus parents of healthy children who unexpectedly experience the death of their child. But both losses are significant and traumatic enough to cause damage, it is the most devastating loss a person can live through. Weeks, months in the hospital; years of round-the-clock care, and worry or the sudden loss of the most precious thing in the world to them – it can change a person. It can create a PTSD parent.
Support and information for non-veteran PTSD patients, specifically parents of chronically and terminally ill children, is almost nonexistent. Parents don’t want to admit they are damaged, traumatized because of the circumstances, some don’t even realize what it is, they just know “it” is there and they feel that nothing will be the same again. It is a treacherous road that patients with PTSD travel daily, but the support aspects for this demographic of PTSD patients is minimal at best.
Focusing on positive progress or positive anything is helpful, but having a support network of other people, who can relate, seems to be essential. Parents of sick kids, really sick kids, need to feel that they are not alone, that they are traumatized, but it will be alright, because it could always be worse.
The state of Oklahoma was pursuing life in prison against an honorably discharged Marine who served his country for a decade.
“It is my right to choose the safest, most effective treatment for my PTSD and pain…pills or plant, it is what I fought for, it is what America stands for,”
said Kris Lewandowski, a combat Marine veteran who served three tours overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and off the coast of Somalia. But the life of this veteran and his family for the past 3 years, “has been nothing short of hell” over a plant. Lewandowski, obviously shaken, recalls the misery,
“It has been harder on me psychologically and emotionally than even my deployments were. I am in America but I am fighting for my rights, my freedom…over a plant. Cannabis saved my life. It’s my medicine. I believe in my soul that I have earned the right to consume a plant in America, to choose my medicine.”
Kris was set for trial in Lawton, Oklahoma on May 30, 2017. He was facing ten years to life in prison for growing 6 cannabis plants to treat his PTSD and combat injuries after the pharmaceuticals had failed him. When a MassRoots blog detailing the case went viral after it’s May 18th publishing, the prosecutors for the case finally changed their position and offered a plea deal that meant no jail, and a deferred sentence. Kris would remain a veteran, not become a felon. The blog reached the masses, and the masses mattered, it made “the” difference. People lept into action, sharing the blog, tweeting, emailing, and calling…in droves.
“Every case needs media attention. It literally makes all the difference. In three years they hadn’t thrown out any deals at all. They [the prosecutors] told us so many times there would never be a deal. Right before trial, after that blog went viral, we get a plea offer with no jail. After we get a large media push? That is no coincidence, but it was certainly magical,”
said Kris’s wife, Whitney Lewandowski, “That exposure was exactly what made the state rethink this case and their ‘war on Kris’. The post went viral and they started throwing out deals and trying to make something work to make it go away. It wasn’t a dismissal, but it was a victory. The day has finally arrived, it feels like I’m in a dream. This nightmare is finally over. Our future is bright again. I am humbled by the outpouring of love and support we got over the years. We are blessed with an amazing family, and group of friends who stuck by us at our bleakest time. Supporters and strangers who never turned their backs on us. Some days they were all that got us through.”
It’s harder than ever to be heard above the “noise” of the world. Even though the internet and social media make it easier, it is still like screaming during a concert hoping the artist on stage hears you over the thousands of other fans trying to get their attention, and actually hear them sing.
When people are fighting for their lives and want their voices to be heard. Any case needs to get media attention, because the right media attention reaches the masses. That means their case has a better chance of garnering support and getting the attention needed to put pressure on prosecutors to do the right thing, to stop injustice, and to make plea deals with no jail and deferred sentences if dismissal is not an option.
Kristoffer Lewandowski served 10 years in the United States Marine Corps and was a member of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. PTSD and combat injuries to his shoulder and back were a constant battle after his deployments and worsened over the years. The numerous daily prescribed pharmaceuticals weren’t helping, his pain was becoming unmanageable and the pills were causing liver damage, so they gave him another prescription.
He became addicted to the legally prescribed pills, he became eruptive, depressed, angry and physically was starting to show signs of the pharmaceutical damage. He was unable to serve the Corps as he had done so faithfully before. “I felt broken. I didn’t feel like a soldier anymore. It was devastating. I started trying to wean off some of the pills, I was desperate, but the withdrawals were vicious. It was a ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t’ situation, but the liver damage was killing me, the pills were changing me” said a tearful Lewandowski.
He was a Marine instructor at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and was processing for medical retirement when, on June 1, 2014, after a PTSD flair up, no effective medicine, withdrawals from antidepressants and a postpartum Whitney, a heated argument broke out and escalated into screams that had neighbors calling in a domestic dispute.
The police arrived, the search found six cannabis plants and the almost three year nightmare began. But this time, the nightmare was temporary and the story has a happy ending, even in Oklahoma, where laws against cannabis patients and consumers are some of the harshest in the US.
Lewandowski’s plea hearing was held Friday, May 26, 2017, at the Comanche County Courthouse in Lawton, Oklahoma, and for the first time in their three year ordeal, the prosecutors and the DA were offering Kris Lewandowski a no jail, deferred sentence deal, no felony. The Marine veteran was treated with regard rather than disdain in the Judge Emmitt Tayloe courtroom. The DA didn’t have degrading remarks or sneering looks for Lewandowski as he had experienced before, it was a mutually beneficial resolve for the court and the defendant, an example of how our system should and could be.
But it took three years and an alignment of stars to get an acceptable plea deal that didn’t include jail, felony or both. A legal team from across the US who dedicated to representing him for little or no cost; fellow veterans offering support; friends and family standing by them; people and organizations raising funds; supporters and activists dedicating time and money to spreading the word about the case; and a blog that was shared thousands of times in the first 24 hours it was published. It was a rare moment most defendants in cannabis cases will never have.
This case is important for veterans, as well as all cannabis patients. It sets a precedent and can help others convince leaders of the injustice of prosecuting cannabis patients. “This case demonstrates that we can, by working together, change cannabis policy and perception,” said Matthew Pappas, a California-based attorney who has been working on Lewandowski’s case since 2014, “Even in states that continue to persecute patients and cling tight to unjust, outdated laws.”
Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist said, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” For three years, Lewandowski’s case has brought a new face to cannabis patients and veterans that choose a plant over pills to treat their PTSD and service related injuries. It may not have been “the” world but it was “their world” and if it can happen to Kris, it can happen to any veteran.
Until US laws catch up with logic and science regarding the cannabis plant, scenarios like this will become more and more common. “Our efforts to keep Kris out of jail were successful because so many people came together effectively on his behalf,” said his Oklahoma-based attorney, Thomas Hurley.
“If we unite towards a common goal, we can literally move mountains,” said Lewandowski, who is now considering a run for California Congress, “In this three-year plight, my wife and family and freedom were at stake. I almost lost all that I hold most dear. We will win this war. This attack on citizens and soldiers simply trying to heal themselves. United…together, we will prevail. Divided, our battle is much more difficult and the end result unsure.” He and his wife, Whitney, are the State Co-Chairs for the American Medical Refugees Foundation, a nonprofit in Colorado and are both active in the Weed for Warriors Project. Their goal is help other veterans, patients and consumers have legal access to cannabis medicine and support for their injury, illness or disease.
Michael Minardi, a Florida-based attorney who has been helping with the case thinks this is only the beginning, and stresses the importance of unity, “Stand by your fellow soldiers who are being prosecuted for using cannabis medicine. Talk to your legislators, your representatives, your Senators, local and federal. Run for office and educate people to the benefits of medical cannabis and we will see veteran suicide decline. We owe a debt of gratitude to all veterans, servicemen and women. I will continue to fight for and serve veterans’ and all American citizens’ rights to use cannabis as medicine.”
The Lawton, Oklahoma courtroom of Judge Emmitt Tayloe had standing room only on October 19, 2016. Before hearing the plea reversal request from Marine veteran, Kris Lewandowski, Judge Tayloe and prosecutor Jordan Cabelka handled the sentencing of a man in an orange jump suit. A man who admitted to violently murdering his unarmed, innocent best friend, and then dragging his body to a shed in the backyard and setting it on fire.
The victim’s mother and grandmother sat in the front row and listened as both the Judge and prosecutor talked to the man in the orange jumpsuit with respect, referencing him as “sir” and treating him with regard. The women then had their chance to address the defendant who murdered their only son, and grandson. The women’s statements told of how their family had welcomed the man into their home, had him for Christmas, how a young boy who thought he was a friend to his father, would now grow up with only memories of a vicious and hideous betrayal, ending in the violent murder of his dad. A memory that would haunt he and the family forever, a deed that took a man’s life and destroyed their family.
The defendant showed no remorse, and the process went quickly. The Judge even wished him well after sentencing him not to life, not to death, but to a sentence less severe than the one the court and prosecutor are pursuing for Kristoffer John Lewandowski, the next defendant to be heard that day. Kris is an honorably discharged combat veteran who is facing life in prison for growing six marijuana plants to treat his PTSD.
The victim’s family then left the courtroom, followed by three family members of the convicted murderer.
Kris, in his dress shirt and pants, a three combat tour, honorably discharged Marine veteran was treated with no regard that October day. He was talked to with disdain, and even disrespect at times. Unlike the convicted murderer in the orange jump suit before him, there was no respectful “sir” directed at Mr. Lewandowski, only promises that he wouldn’t “take up any more of the Court’s time” and prosecutor statements that mocked the Marine and his confirmed medical condition. Scathing judgements in court about Kris wearing a “Cheech and Chong t-shirt” to his kid’s school, and statements meant to attack his personal character and moral integrity beat the veteran down publicly, and on record.
After graduating high school in Colorado, Kris Lewandowski wanted to serve his community as a police officer. He attended and graduated from the Law Enforcement Academy at Red Rocks Community College in 2003. His path was set it seemed , but 9/11 lingered in his mind and changed that decision. Like so many, after the attack on his home soil, Kris wanted to serve not just his community, but his country, so he decided to join the United States Marines Corps in 2005. His first tour of duty shortly after was in Iraq.
When he returned to the states, he met his future wife, Whitney. They married in 2010, and Kris would go on to serve two more tours overseas with the Corps. After injuries to his shoulder, back, and progressing PTSD that seemed to only worsen with prescribed pharmaceuticals, Kris was medically retired and honorably discharged. The discharge deepened his already overwhelming addiction to the legal opioids that he was being prescribed, “The pills were making things worse, it wasn’t making it better. I was sad, I was mad, and the PTSD and pain were still there,” said Lewandowski, “I knew I needed to change something, especially after our first child was born. The PTSD and varying pharmaceuticals to treat it were stealing my soul. Stress was intolerable, life wasn’t worth living, I was fighting for my life, I wanted to die, and taking the pills the doctors gave me didn’t stop that feeling, they made it worse.”
Lewandowski was transferred to Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma where he was an instructor on base as he awaited medical retirement processing. He had began weaning himself off of the opioids and began researching all natural options to treat his PTSD, including meditation, change in diet, and even medical marijuana. They took to the internet, library and friends, fellow veterans and asked about potential treatments for veterans with PTSD, anything, including cannabis. The overwhelming positive feedback from other veterans, the scientific research that supports its effectiveness and the desperation from the opioid withdrawal led Kris to grow his own medical marijuana. Just enough to make his own personal medicine, six plants. It was the first time he had ever tried cultivating his own medicine.
“I was desperate. I knew I was going to lose my wife, my kids, my marriage, and I truly believed I was going to lose my life. I still believe it. If I don’t have my medicine, I will endure the levels of PTSD and pain I have before. I can’t go back there,”
“It’s the only effective medicine I have ever had for my combat injury pain and the haunting PTSD. I just don’t understand how veterans who serve this country, could be denied access to a plant if it helps them.”
A PTSD flair up, no medicine, weaning from opioids and a postpartum Whitney had the couple in heated arguments that led to a domestic disturbance call in June of 2014. Police found the six plants and the pursuit of injustice began against Kris and his family. Whitney was told if she didn’t cooperate and agree with statements that Kris was assaulting her with a kitchen knife (he was making a sandwich when the argument broke out) that she would be charged with cultivation and they would lose custody of their two young boys, Levi and Jaxon. DHS would take the boys and she and Kris would go to jail, or she could say what they told her to.
“Kris has never harmed me, never hurt me, but I didn’t have a choice,” said Whitney, “We absolutely had a screaming match that night. We definitely had an argument and our marriage was in trouble, he was struggling with his PTSD and didn’t have anything that could make it better. I was enduring hormones from having the baby, and certainly emotional, but what the police say happened, never happened. They would have taken my kids if I didn’t agree to what they said.”
Initial legal counsel for Lewandowski arranged for a plea deal, not knowing that it would greatly impede he and his family’s health and education benefits among others, Kris agreed, becoming a felon rather than a veteran. He quickly regretted his decision.
“It is absolute insanity – this situation. Putting a three tour combat Marine veteran who served his country faithfully, in jail for using a medicine, the only medicine that was effective in treating his severe PTSD. This shows the deep and disturbing problems our country faces, ” said Matthew J. Pappas, a California-based attorney who is assisting Lewandowski along with his Oklahoma attorney, Tom Hurley and Florida-based attorney, Michael Minardi.
With new counsel, clearer understanding of the repercussions for the plea and a patriot’s belief in justice, he respectfully stood before Judge Tayloe and prosecutor Jordan Cabelka, and asked to reverse his plea in the crowded courtroom.
Kris won that battle on October 19, with the Judge allowing a plea reversal. So, for the moment, he is a veteran and not a felon. But the state took it personally and added the assault with a deadly weapons charge and a firearms charge thrown in because he had an heirloom, replica firearm in the house at the time of the disturbance. The state gave Lewandowski three options or trial. Two included jail time, the other had no jail but wouldn’t allow for him to consume his medicine, even in a legal state.
Kristoffer John Lewandowski is going to trial on May 30, 2017 in Lawton, Oklahoma at the Comanche County Courtroom. “If the state doesn’t do what is right, it is up to the citizens of Oklahoma. It must be the action of the people and the process of the jury trial to bring justice to this travesty and fully acquit Marine veteran, Kris Lewandowski,” said attorney Michael Minardi, “This case highlights the need for better laws and leadership. Jails are meant for rapists, murderers, child molesters, not Marine veterans trying to treat their medical condition with an all natural, non lethal plant that works for them.”
It is clear with this case, and many others, that our system is broken and broken heroes are regarded no higher than vicious predators, once in the broken system, regardless of charge. “Something must change, we hope and pray the change begins in Oklahoma on May 30, 2017 with Kris’s trial,” said Lewandowski’s wife, Whitney, “it’s all we can do to not hold each other and the children and just cry until that day. We are scared to death we will lose him, over a plant. This is America, he fought to defend and protect it and us, and they are going to send my husband to jail for a plant.”
Not if the good people of Oklahoma have something to say about it. “Not Guilty.”
The people of this country overwhelmingly support the medical use of marijuana 4 its citizens. This War on Drugs and War on the people must come to an end. Our veterans who fight for our rights in this country should not be persecuted or prosecuted for using a plant to treat the disease or injury that is caused by their service to this country. Cannabis should be an option for all veterans as a first line of treatment not a last or forbidden resort.
The “Happiest Place on Earth” pulled an Evil Stepmother move last month when it updated its rules and regulations to ban medical marijuana from all of its theme parks and resorts. Of course they did it just as both California and Florida passed recreational and medical use bills, respectively, as an obvious warning to their visitors that the will of the people will not apply on Disney turf.
Nevermind the fact that every ride, from “It’s a Small World” after a quick toke to “Space Mountain” after a space cookie is a hell of a lot more fun, or that Walt Disney himself was known to dabble in everything from cocaine to mescaline (the psychedelic influence in movies like Dumbo and Fantasia is quite obvious). All things considered marijuana should actually be encouraged not prohibited in these giant open air amusement parks when Americans of all walks of life rub shoulders under the hot sun. It keeps the friction down.
In fact, America’s favorite fun zones have often become scenes of violence and madness that mama marijuana would have nipped in the bud, literally. For example, a 50 year old man was filmed going berserk in Disneyland to the point where he had to be pepper sprayed and held down. More recently, video of a young buck going killer Jedi and taking out the whole cast and crew of the Star Wars show. CBD drops anyone? (Only joking!)
Even former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera flew off the handle and lost it after Mickey Mouse himself tried to take a break when it was her turn for a selfie with him. Poor Mickey had to be escorted to safety by security just to get away from the riled up Diva, showing that sometime a “Genie in Bottle” is really a lot of bottled up rage.
“Do you know who I am?”
she shouted, after calling Mickey an asshole in front of families and children.
Want more? There have even been stabbings in the parking lot of Disneyland that drew bigger audiences than the shows happening inside. And no, these were not staged sword fights between the “Pirates of the Caribbean”. In fact, there have been so many fights at the Disney theme parks that there are now fight compilation tapes circulating around the Internet that showcase the best brawls, although this three woman smack down at the Epcot Center has got to be the best of the bunch.
So what’s really happening here folks? Why are so many people wiling out when they are supposed to be chilling and enjoying themselves on vacation at Disney Theme Parks? How did the epicenter of family fun and the most popular vacation destinations in the country become such obvious examples of the worst of human behavior?
Crowding affects behavior
The answer is simple and is to be found in the effects of crowding on the behavior of not just humans but other animals as well. Studies on monkeys have shown that aggressive behavior is directly linked to crowded conditions, and can sometimes even result in behavior that would be considered psychotic in other situations. Psychologists know that while crowded events, like dance parties and concerts, are actually where humans experience the most joy and social connection, things can quickly take a negative turn if stressful situations arise or if co-operative conditions are replaced by competitive ones. Think of the lines for the rides at Disney World on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon and you see the perfect recipe for things to get out of hand.
People simply get more edgy when they are packed together in one place. The more contact with each other they have the more likely that both positive and negative interactions will happen. When it comes to mega-amusement parks like Disneyland, the possibilities are both highly rewarding and potentially terrifying, which is where nature’s most powerful herbal medicine comes into play with the potential to save the day and round off the edges. Quite simply, marijuana is a powerful social lubricant with the ability to lower aggression and violent behavior drastically, and should be considered as crowd control technique without equal in the world.
A July 2016 study conducted in Holland, for example, exposed three groups of people to tests explicitly designed to irritate, annoy and elicit aggressive behavior among the participants. The first group had been given enough alcohol to be intoxicated, the second group had smoked marijuana and the third was a control group that was perfectly sober.
Remarkably, the researchers found that while alcohol increased aggressive behavior compared to the control group, cannabis actually lowered it. This meaning that those who consumed cannabis were not only more relaxed than the boozers but that they were actually even more tranquilo than the non-smokers as well.
Other studies have shown that marijuana even lowers domestic violence rates among couples, meaning those furious family vacation fights would be toned down with a little cannabis thrown in the mix as well. In fact, we have known for decades that marijuana lowers aggression and violent behavior in a dose dependant manner, meaning that if after hitting the bong there is still some agro behavior going on simply hitting it again and again will eventually do the trick and put even a raging elephant down into couch lock.
So, when it comes to Disney’s new rules regarding marijuana use in its parks, especially since now it is legal in the states where both Disneyland and Disneyworld are located, it would be wise for them to rethink their position. Since both the visitors will have more fun and the staff will have less grief due to aggressive behavior, allowing cannabis use on a Disney vacation would be a win-win situation for everyone.
The legalization of marijuana has reached a turning point, with one in five Americans now having legal access to cannabis. But critics are still comparing marijuana to dangerous drugs, both legal and illegal, citing the concerns for addiction and overdoses.
Fortunately, the numbers are clear: there have been zero from cannabis.
The reason why there are none is it’s impossible to inhale enough cannabis to trigger a overdose. A DEA judge used this to make the case that marijuana should not be on the Schedule I list of substances, a list that also includes heroin.
“A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response,”
wrote Judge Francis Young in a 1988 ruling.
Eating enough cannabis to overdose is impossible as well. Edibles have received a reputation for being dangerous, and the tragic death of a 19 year-old student in Colorado made people question whether edibles should be legal at all.
But in order to fatally overdose on a cannabis edible, a person would have to eat over half of a gram of THC per kilogram of body weight, according to a recent study. For the average adult male, he would have to consume over an ounce and a half of pure THC.
“That’s far more than most people will consume throughout their entire lifetime,”
according to Jahan Marcu, chief science officer at Americans for Safe Access. In the case of the Colorado student, his cause of death was trauma from jumping off of a balcony, not overdose.
Whether it’s inhaling cannabis or eating it, the reason overdose fatalities are still at zero has to do with how the human body handles cannabinoids. The human brain has many receptors, but the specific neuroreceptors that control the respiratory system are found on the brainstem. Many substances that cause fatal overdoses affect receptors in this area, but cannabinoid receptors are found elsewhere.
While people aren’t dying of marijuana overdoses, they are dying from other substances. In 2014, heroin was the leading cause of lethal overdoses, almost double the number of cocaine overdoses.
Alcohol, a legal substance and minimally regulated, accounts for 2,200 deaths per year. That number is specifically for alcohol poisoning. The number of deaths related to alcoholism and heavy alcohol consumption is approximately 88,000.
There is still the issue of taking too much cannabis. “There have been some associations seen with heavy cannabis use and development of possible psychotic behaviors, for example, but we don’t know if it’s a causal pattern,” said Aggarwal, a clinical instructor at the University of Washington. “If it is, I can’t prove it.”
Anxiety, confusion, and psychosis are signs of marijuana over-consumption, but hospitals are treating patients with these symptoms by putting them in a quiet room and monitoring their vital signs. In extreme cases, patients can be administered a sedative if they appear psychotic or dangerous.
In cannabis culture where the goal finding the strongest products, microdosing is the counterbalance that takes a “less is more” approach.
The practice of microdosing is becoming a practical way to incorporate cannabis into everyday life, without the noticeable side effects typically associated with getting high.
“In all medicine, with all drugs, you look for the minimum effective dose. Period,”
said Dr. Allan Frankel, a preeminent Los Angeles physician.
Frankel was diagnosed with a heart condition in 1999 that doctors estimated would end his life within six months. His own patients suggested medical marijuana based on their experiences of coping with debilitating conditions. Today, Frankel attributes his survival partially to medical marijuana “I’d been depressed and cannabis stopped the depression,” he said. “It gave me something to look forward to. My brain was turned on.” Frankel has actively incorporated marijuana into his practice, helping patients determine their best dose, as well as the amount of THC and CBD for their conditions.
Finding an individual’s dose involves some experimentation. Just like any substance that pass the blood-brain barrier, each person reacts to substances that cross this threshold differently. A person’s weight, height, metabolism, diet, and overall health can affect their sensitivity to THC. Edibles are the product of choice for microdosing, as the amount of THC is easier to identify thanks to labels and packaging and allows for a more discreet delivery system during the day.
Being able to use cannabis to treat the symptoms of depression and anxiety can be crucial for those dealing with these illnesses in the workplace. Susannah Grossman, Principal at Verdant Communications and COO of Mountain Medicine, switched to a job where marijuana was not welcome in the workplace. After experiencing side effects from antidepressants, she tried microdosing after learning about marijuana’s ability to treat depression.
“I had a major fear that I wouldn’t be able to write or work,” she said. “But it’s been just the opposite. Microdosing has helped me focus and accomplish more.”
It took time for Grossman to find the best dose for her, but Dustin Sulak, a medical marijuana doctor in Maine, has developed a simple method for determining one’s dose: “Abstain from cannabis for two days. On day three, consume one milligram of THC and one milligram of CBD, preferably in a tincture or oil where they can be measured precisely. Before consuming, ask yourself three questions, and answer on a scale of one to 10: How easy is it to breathe, how comfortable and calm does your body feel and how easy is it for you to smile authentically, to feel content and grateful?” Sulak recommends increasing the dose milligram by milligram until the effects become just noticeable.
The concern with any medical marijuana regimen is developing a tolerance. Sulak recommends refraining from all cannabis consumption for 48 hours, “That’s all – that’s the magic time when tolerance gets re-set.” Grossman keeps tabs on her consumption and takes breaks to keep her tolerance low. She takes a balanced dose of 5mg CBD and 5mg THC, “But there’s something about the THC in sativa strains that I enjoy,” she said. “It lifts my spirits – gives me a sense of playfulness.” She added, “And I’m still getting a ton of work done!”