contentfeatured-contentmentIssue 19

Herb for Health

kristin and bella

By Alex Catatore

It’s easy to conjure up images of “reefer madness,” of aging hippies trapped in the ‘60s, of rappers stumbling out of the club in a cloud of smoke.

But what about a child whose body is wracked with seizures? Or a middle-aged man suffering from a debilitating nervous system disorder? Or an army veteran struggling with PTSD?

These medical cannabis patients are the new faces of marijuana. And they’re proof that this “demon weed” isn’t just a way to get high — it’s a medicine.

Even with the legalization of medical marijuana, it’s hard for many to look past the stigma. Few know that stigma better than Kristin Bowker, a Modesto mother.

“We encounter it all the time,” Bowker said. “My dad is a police officer and my mom is a nurse. We come from a family where we say, ‘We don’t use that stuff. It’s drugs.’”

FullSizeRender (2)Bowker’s daughter Bella suffers from Aicardi syndrome, a brain deformation which causes seizures and does not generally respond to pharmaceuticals. The Bowkers tried several different seizure medications, but Bella still had seizures every one to two hours, all day, every day.

When Bella was two months old, Bowker and her husband received an email from a man named Jason David. David, of Modesto, had a radical suggestion: Bowker should give Bella medical marijuana.

“We looked at each other like, ‘Who is this crazy guy telling us to put our daughter on pot?’” Bowker said.

David wasn’t just some yahoo. David’s son, Jayden, suffers from a seizure disorder called Dravet syndrome. And David developed a strain and formulation of marijuana called Jayden’s Juice, an oil which concentrates mainly the non-psychoactive cannabinol portion of marijuana, which has treated his son to tremendous effect.

The Bowkers wrote off David. But later, they saw a TV program on CNN, highlighting a strain of marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web.” This strain was developed specifically to be low in THC — the chemical which gets users high — and high in cannabinol. And it was helping hundreds of young seizure victims.

At this point, Bella was on five different pharmaceutical seizure medications and a special diet for seizures. Nothing seemed to have much of an effect. When she wasn’t seizing, she was nearly passed out, drugged up on pharmaceuticals. They thought back to that crazy man from Modesto, telling them to put their daughter on pot.

Then residents of Reno, Nevada, a state with medical marijuana but without CBD oil at the time, the Bowkers did what they previously found unthinkable. They moved to Truckee, Calif., so they could legally access California cannabis CBD oil for their three-year-old daughter.

“We were willing to do whatever it took to get our daughter the help that she needed,” Bowker said.

The effects were immediate. Suddenly, Bella had a 75 percent decrease in seizures. She was awake and alert, part of the family for the first time.

It was a bit of a learning process, the Bowkers admit. Some strains worked better for their daughter than others. And it took the help of a licensed medical marijuana doctor to help the Bowkers find out what worked for Bella.

Bella is far from the only person to benefit from medical marijuana.

Richard Miller suffered from a debilitating form of neuropathy. He was on 450 pills per month, the sort of heavy narcotics that come with their own debilitating side effects. In 2006, Miller’s doctor told him he’d be in a wheelchair within five years. The effects of the pills, of his disease, were already apparent; he weighed only 110 pounds, his hair was breaking, his skin turned to jello, and he could barely walk with a cane.

Then Miller turned to medical marijuana. Now he’s completely off of pills, gained a healthy 50 pounds, and walks cane-free. Jean Paul Ghazaleh left the U.S. Air Force a broken man. He was anxious, hyper vigilant, unable to transition into civilian life. At age 30, he spent 80 to 90 percent of the day, every day, thinking about killing himself.

Then he tried medical marijuana. And since that day, Ghazaleh says he’s found true peace and meaning.

“The closest I feel to killing myself now is dealing with AT&T and the phone bill,” Ghazaleh said. “… I don’t think I’m a patient anymore. I’m a person now. There’s nothing wrong with me now.”

And Karina Garcia’s son suffers from epilepsy and mosaic triploidy, a chromosomal disorder. Pharmaceutical medicines could not control his seizures, despite daily injections of expensive drugs.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be life. There’s something more,’” Garcia said.

After years of pleading with doctors for approval, Garcia’s teenage son took his first dose of cannabinol oil on Feb. 24, 2014.

“I was scared,” Garcia said. “I was scared because I didn’t know exactly how this works. I didn’t know if I was dosing him exactly the right way.”

Almost immediately, Garcia saw a marked decrease in seizures. She saw her son able to focus on things, for the first time in what seemed like forever.

“He was looking at me again, in my eyes,” Garcia said. “Some of the skills that took so long to learn were emerging again.”

Garcia’s son was able to go to school, to function. Though not completely seizure-free, he was suddenly meeting goals at school. And he was part of the family again.

“It’s given me my family back,” Garcia said

It’s stories like Miller’s, like Garcia’s, like Paul’s — and like Bella’s — that have changed the mind of the once marijuana averse Bowker. With such life-changing evidence, she sees no reason to keep quiet about the “devil weed” that has become a miracle drug for her daughter.

“Today, I have no problem telling everyone that I give my daughter cannabis,” Bowker said.

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