“Where Do You Get ‘It’ From?”
Most patients don’t get asked where they get their medicine. That’s because everyone knows people get their medicine from a pharmacy. But I have to get my medicine otherwise. I have to safeguard my “source” because my medicine is cannabinoid based – and that makes it almost illegal.
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But not today. Today I can answer the source question openly because it is my local pharmacy – with drive-thru service and open to dispense medicine 24 hours a day. I drive up and push a big, yellow smiley-faced button to gain access – a soft automated voice comes over the speaker to verify that I am in the right place in order to pick up my prescription. Next, the typical professional looking person – white coat with badge – slides open the window asking my name and what I need.
“I’m picking up a prescription for Publius.”
They return with a baggie and bottle containing 30 synthetic cannabinoid capsules dosed at 5mg each – that’s right, legal cannabinoids!
What are cannabinoids? Well, here is where things get interesting. As one learns in biology, the human body has many systems – the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems to name a few. Each system has parts: for example, the nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. By the late 1980s, science identified a new human system – the endocannabinoid system (ECS) – also referred to as the cannabinoid system. There is a cannabinoid system present in all mammals – to include humans and 15,000 other species. A mammal is any vertebrate animal distinguished by self-regulating body temperature, hair, and milk-producing females – as mammal means “breast” or of the breast.
The ECS has two main parts: cannabinoids, which are chemical neurotransmitters, and two receptors called “CB1″ and “CB2.” Cannabinoids activate receptors found throughout the body – in all organs, for example. In fact, all systems in our bodies are modulated by the cannabinoid system. This means that as a body system changes, it uses the ECS to do so.
Science and popular search sites like Wikipedia use three classifications of cannabinoids:
1. Endogenous cannabinoids (also referred to as endocannabinoids), which are produced by the human body
2. Herbal cannabinoids, the kind found in the cannabis sativa plant
3. Synthetic cannabinoids, produced and distributed by pharmaceutical companies
The third kind is what I am picking up from the pharmacy – 30 Marinol (Dronabinol) capsules. Marinol is a prescribed cannabinoid from my doctor – and I am going to test it against the herbal cannabinoids I have been baking into my brownies for five years now.
The pharmacist hands me a white paper bag containing the Marinol prescribed for my Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Stapled to the top is a typical handout with cautionary medical information. The small amount (150mg) of the synthetic cannabinoid THC costs $370 – or more than $69,000 per ounce!
I sign my name on a distribution sheet and pay my $3 Medicare co-pay. The government, meaning our tax dollars, pays the other $367 for my medicine. Now I am ready to go – but not before my ’synthetic cannabinoid’ dealer informs me of possible side effects. She warns me to be on the lookout for – “dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, feeling ‘high,’ an exaggerated sense of well-being, lightheadedness, headache, red eyes, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, clumsiness, or unsteadiness.”
Geez – sounds like a lot of potential adversity on my chemically sensitive body. From personal experience, I know that the herbal cannabinoids do not cause these side effects in my body. The pharmacist did mention one noticeable side effect that I have had with eating cannabis brownies: dry mouth – which is hardly a problem when considering the overall benefits of the medicine.
When I get home I open the bag to take a look at the Marinol. The pills are a deep maroon color and perfectly round. They remind me of Boston Baked Beans – as they look exactly like those candies. One thing is for sure: synthetic cannabinoids do not look anything like herbal cannabinoids – the ones from the plant itself. The distinct medical difference of popping pills versus the variations and qualities of consuming natural cannabis cannot be understated – and surely won’t be by me. After a week of taking one pill a night before bed, as the doctor prescribed, I do not notice any positive effects from the Marinol. It makes me hungry – but that was never a problem in the first place. However, it is my first legal cannabinoid and that is what counts, right? – Not whether it works, just whether it is legal, right?
Here is what I know. I have been self-medicating with herbal cannabinoids for five years to provide relief from MS, which I have had for 23 years. During that time I went through the long list of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The relief was minimal. The problem was (and is) the side effects, which became unbearable over time. I felt like a slave, dependent on a cycle of pharmaceutical use which abused my body and left me in the most depressed, hopeless, and flattened state.
I finally said enough of the pharma-tinkering with my body and the MS and tried baking herbal cannabinoids into brownies. In doing so, my alternative treatment made me a criminal. I began to eat a small cube of cannabis brownie three times a day. Within the first month my insomnia disappeared, my bladder issues calmed, nerve tingles of the arms, legs, and feet stilled. I was no longer breaking out in upper body tremors after being out in the world of loud noises, traffic, and the everyday racing of life. The MS was quieter. I found I wasn’t contemplating suicide and I felt hopeful about my life again – but realized I had become a chronic criminal.
Cannabinoids are clearly medicinal to our bodies. But there is a strange distinction between which cannabinoids are effective and which ones are legal. In the case of my MS, appetite stimulation has not been a problem – which is what the Marinol is usually prescribed for. Marinol simply did not work for me. There are other pharmaceutical cannabinoids – such as Nabilone and Sativex – available in other countries, but they remain expensive and less effective than herbal cannabinoids. Nature created cannabis and the mammalian ECS, not you or me – and it was through the use of herbal cannabinoids that I was able to wean myself from a life of pharma-cocktails and move toward a healthier life. – Just as nature designed.
This is the first chapter of book in progress titled The Cannabis Papers being published by Illinois NORML.
More chapters are available for review here.
By: Allen St. Pierre
February 21, 2010