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Cannabis + Epilepsy

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My name is Heather, and I am one of the 65 million people in the world living with epilepsy today. 

Epilepsy is a disease characterized by the unprovoked reoccurrence of seizures. Seizures may be caused by a traumatic brain injury or have an unknown cause. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the condition effects 65 million people worldwide and 3.4 million people within the United States—this makes it the 4th most common neurological disorder around the world. Epilepsy effects more people than Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Cerebral Palsy combined. The condition causes more than 50,000 deaths per year—more than those affected by breast cancer. An estimated 1 in 26 people will have a seizure at some point in their lifetime. 

Epilepsy is a spectrum condition and includes a wide range of seizure types and control which vary from person to person. I was diagnosed when I was a teenager with Tonic-Clonic seizures—previously known as a Grand Mal. This seizure is what most people commonly imagine those diagnosed with epilepsy experience. When I experienced a seizure, I would typically have a few seconds worth of warning: I would begin to feel nauseous or sick before losing consciousness and convulsing. 

As with many people diagnosed with the condition, I had several tests done to try to figure out what was causing my seizures. Epilepsy is very difficult to study, unless a patient is hooked up to an EEG machine to find problems related to electro- activity in the brain. The tests try to induce seizure activity in order to analyze the activity during occurrence, and it can be stressful for the patient. I had several conducted, but despite deprivation of both food and sleep, doctors could not produce a seizure to study. They also conducted a brain scan, which did not show any abnormalities. 

Since epilepsy presents uniquely in each person, it is difficult to treat.

An estimated one-third of the population with the condition cannot control their seizures. Millions of people taking medication with harsh side effects are still unable to control their seizure occurrence. Of those living without seizure control, 1 out of 1,000 will die from Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) each year and researchers have not yet found a cause for these deaths. Since the condition causes so many deaths, and the majority of people living with this condition have no seizure control with the harsh medications, cannabis has become a natural and effective treatment option. 

After all of my tests, the doctors told me that they could not trigger a seizure and had no conclusive evidence on correlation between a trigger and seizure occurrence. They also told me I could never have a seizure again, or I could risk them occurring every day for the rest of my life, without pattern or warning. Obviously, this left me—as well as many others affected by the condition—unsure of what my future would hold. The stigma and misinformation surrounding the condition also made it very difficult to cope with at such a young age. At times, public misunderstanding and challenges may be worse for the person than the seizure itself. 

I continued to have seizure reoccurrence into my early twenties. After researching the topic extensively, I decided to try cannabis for epilepsy and overall health and wellness. This was when I learned about the case of Charlotte Figi and how her seizure occurrence was dramatically reduced with Charlottes Web. I also learned about patent number 6630507 that the U.S. government holds on cannabinoids as antioxidants, neuroprotectants, and a powerful anti-inflammatory.  

Due to federal regulations and limited access to cannabidiol (CBD), it has taken several years to collect research on cannabinoids. Fortunately, evidence from laboratory studies, anecdotal reports and clinical studies have shown the potential of CBD to help control seizures. Many recent studies have also shown the benefit of CBD in treating specific groups of people with epilepsy who have not responded to traditional therapies. 

However, more research is still needed. The cannabis plant has over one hundred different cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and other phytonutrients. All of these plant compounds work together within each person’s own regulatory system, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is said to be the most important regulatory system within the body to promote homeostasis. 

Last year, the evidence on the cannabinoid CBD was conclusive enough for the FDA to approve a pharmaceutical drug called Epidiolex. The catch: it can cost over $32,500 per year. This wasn’t the first time a synthetic cannabinoid had been developed. In 1985, the FDA approved the synthetic version of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) in the form of a pharmaceutical drug called Marinol. This drug has been used to treat some patients undergoing chemotherapy or those diagnosed with HIV. However, due to high drug costs and with new research being conducted, many patients are choosing natural cannabis medicine that can be purchased from dispensaries. 

Patients using full-spectrum and whole plant products obtain additional compounds within the plant that act synergistically. This is called the Entourage Effect, and it is still being clinically researched.

I am a proponent of using the most natural state of the cannabis plant as medicine to obtain as many cannabinoids and other properties for medicinal benefits. 

I moved from my home state of Missouri and have lived in Colorado with access to regulated, legal cannabis for almost 4 years. I’ve been seizure-free for almost 2 years, and credit my overall seizure control to cannabis, food medicine, and physical and mental health practices. For those looking for seizure control for themselves or a loved one, I recommend incorporating cannabis. 

I think about cannabis as a daily vitamin. A vitamin that works with the natural ECS within our bodies and has minimal side-effects, especially when compared to the harsh side-effects of commonly-prescribed epilepsy medications. When looking to try a cannabis product, consult with your physician first. If they are not open to the medical benefits of cannabis, speak with another doctor willing to discuss your treatment decision. I recommend growing your own medicine, if possible, or obtaining it in a legally regulated market, which may mean moving to a legal state. Even with all the studies and research, dosage is the most unknown component about cannabis therapies. The answer is still start low and go slow. I recommend obtaining the test results to know exactly what’s in your medicine and record the effects and dosages on an app or journal to find what works best. 

With cannabis as a known option of natural treatment for those diagnosed with epilepsy, it is widely sought after by patients learning more about the benefits and wanting to try a less harsh medication with hopes of better results. This provides hope for those with conditions in which cannabis may help. 

Since medical cannabis has been proven to help many who suffer from epilepsy and has the ability to save lives, I urge you to discuss the topic and to get involved so we can make a difference to ensure people with seizures have the opportunity to improve their quality of life to the fullest! 

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Turmeric

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Turmeric is a root vegetable commonly used as a spice in various Indian and other cultures’ dishes. Turmeric is in the zingiberaceae family, as is ginger. The turmeric plant is native to the southeastern region of Asia and commonly harvested in places like India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. It is responsible for curry’s signature orange color, and its vibrant pigment will give essentially any meal an orange hue. 

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, and curcumin has been shown through research to offer anti-inflammatory and other therapeutic benefits. The scientific name for the turmeric plant is Curcuma Longa, and likely where the name curcumin comes from. When people are talking about the health benefits of turmeric, they are referencing curcumin so you may hear the two names used interchangeably. Curcumin is part of a group called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most active and the most beneficial for health. Flavonoids are another substance found in various plants and give these plants their color. Curcumin is a flavonoid and is responsible for providing that bright orange color to turmeric. In addition to providing aesthetic value, flavonoids are also strong antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry published a study done by Sanjaya Singh and Bharat B. Aggarwal of the Cytokine Research Laboratory at the world-renowned cancer hospital, M.D. Anderson. The study found that curcumin suppressed NF-κB, a protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory responses. In other words, turmeric shuts off the body’s inflammatory response. Anti-inflammatories can be beneficial for many different ailments, including chronic pain and digestive disorders. A lot of CBD companies even put curcumin in their products because of its benefits. It is believed to be a synergistic pair with complementary therapeutic properties. The thought is that the two plant medicines are powerful on their own; as a combination, they can deliver even more anti-inflammatory and medicinal benefits. 

Many people simply add turmeric to their dishes as a way to easily incorporate it into their daily routine. It is pretty mild in flavor and can be added to many dishes without changing the overall taste too drastically. Some say that turmeric isn’t strong enough on its own to receive the anti-inflammatory properties that curcumin provides, and therefore recommend a curcumin supplement. Research varies on that, so in the end it is just up to personal preference and your doctor’s approval. Curcumin supplements come most available in capsules. Pregnant women can safely use turmeric as an addition to their food, but should avoid taking high-dosage supplements. Those who are interested in supplementing with curcumin products should talk with their doctor first. 

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center did another study in 2007 exploring curcumin for cancer treatment. The study found that curcumin inhibits ovarian cancer growth and angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels). It does this by targeting and manipulating the NF-κB pathway, the same protein complex responsible for controlling inflammatory response. According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The nuclear factor NF-κB pathway has long been considered a prototypical proinflammatory signaling pathway, largely based on the role of NF-κB in the expression of proinflammatory genes including cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules.”  

The trend with curcumin seems to be it’s ability to control inflammatory responses in the body. It does this by multiple pathways, but a commonly researched one is the NF-κB protein complex. Because this pathway is able to be manipulated by curcumin to encourage anti-inflammatory expressions, its potential for successfully treating various ailments is there.

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Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms

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When many think of plant medicine, specifically those plants with psychoactive effects, they think of “magic mushrooms,” or fungi containing psilocybin and psilocin that can cause hallucinations depending on the dosage consumed. In many states, there are active efforts to decriminalize these otherwise scheduled substances, lowering penalties for their use and possession. But what value do psilocybin-containing mushrooms offer? New research suggests a range of therapeutic and psychological value ranging from the treatment of substance abuse to anxiety and depression management.  

What are Magic Mushrooms?

Magic Mushroom use dates back to 10,000 BCE and references continue throughout the era. Their modern popularity began when the term “magic mushroom” was coined by two etnomycologists who learned of a Harvard study on local doctors in Mexico using these substances, noting the substance’s ability to affect the nervous system. These findings were eventually published in Life magazine in 1957, and the term became the universal reference for psychoactive fungi and truffles, specifically those containing high concentrations of psilocybin and psilocin.

Psilocybin & Psilocin: The “Magic” in Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin and psilocin are part of a family of psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms. Psilocin is pharmacologically active, and psilocybin is converted into psilocin when consumed or activated. Similar in structure to serotonin, there are more than 50 species of mushrooms and a variety of truffles that produce both the precursor, psilocybin, and the psychoactive compound, psilocin. Unlike LSD, magic mushrooms do not affect dopamine receptors, solely targeting serotonin sites

How are Magic Mushrooms used?

Magic mushrooms are often used for recreational, therapeutic and medicinal reasons. “Effects range from mild feelings of relaxation, giddiness, euphoria, visual enhancement (seeing colors brighter), visual disturbances (moving surfaces, waves), to delusions, altered perception of real events, images and faces, or real hallucinations.” Recreationally, this is often known as “tripping.” As an alternative health option, these fungi are being used for anxiety, depression, PTSD, and trauma, as well as psychological disorders such as substance abuse disorders, and science is beginning to back the potential for these applications.

Research on Mushrooms

Evaluations of currently available scientific studies suggest a growing number of therapeutic benefits and treatment options. “In the past few years, a growing number of studies using human volunteers have begun to explore the possible therapeutic benefits of drugs such as psilocybin…looking at psilocybin and other hallucinogens to treat a number of otherwise intractable psychiatric disorders, including chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol dependency.”

Magic mushrooms have been respected as a “safe & natural healing sacrament for millennia throughout Mexico, Central America and the world,” and are known to be beneficial for depression, recidivism (the tendency to repeat past transgressions), and encourages openness, creativity, as well as personal and spiritual growth. UCLA and NYC have done studies on the applications of magic mushrooms in the treatment of end-of-life anxiety and other studies have backed up the use of psilocybin and psilocin in the treatment of substance use disorders, depression (especially in cases of terminal conditions like cancer as well as treatment-resistant depression), and reducing depression and anxiety overall.

Best way for people to consume?

When it comes to the consumption of mushrooms, advice on dosage is about as specific as it was with cannabis under prohibition. Consumers must purchase on the black market and are subject to whatever may be available. 

“Recreational doses range from 1–5 grams of dry mushrooms depending on the species and individual strength of the specimens… After ingestion, the psilocybin is enzymatically converted to psilocin. Absorbed from the gastro-intestinal tract, hallucinogenic effects usually occur within 30 minutes of ingestion with a duration of effect of 4–6 hours.” 

My recommendation as someone who has used magic mushrooms both for recreational and therapeutic purposes, is to grind the mushrooms into a fine powder and either encapsulate them in small increments and/or combine with lemon juice. Capsules will allow you to titrate your dosage as needed with a recognizable increment, while lemon juice will expedite onset time.  

The Legality of Magic Mushrooms

In the United States, psilocybin is a Schedule I controlled substance, with no accepted medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. In contrast, the Drug Policy Alliance states that “Physically, psilocybin mushrooms are considered to be one of the least toxic drugs known.” With that being said, local efforts such as Decriminalize Nature – Oakland and Decriminalize Denver have pushed for and successfully passed initiatives and legislation to reduce penalties and make enforcement a low priority, as was done in the early days of cannabis activism. This has spurred multiple local and international efforts to “Decriminalize Nature,” efforts that we learn more about in this month’s feature.

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Ginkgo Biloba

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Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree; its roots originate in China. The ginkgo biloba tree is also sometimes known as the maidenhair tree or the Japanese silver apricot, and it produces a foul-smelling fruit commonly harvested for its seeds known as “ginkgo nuts”. Ginkgo nuts are popularly used in Asian cuisine. 

The ginkgo biloba tree’s fan-shaped leaves are used to make ginkgo biloba extract, a supplement traditionally used in Chinese medicine, but has since garnered the attention of cultures worldwide. The supplement comes in liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets. The leaves can also be dried to make tea. The type of ginkgo biloba extract supplement someone takes is all a matter of personal preference, and depends on the user’s already existing regimen. If you do not already drink tea, a ginkgo biloba tea may not implement easily into your lifestyle, thus a greater chance for inconsistency or erratic results. But if you take vitamins or other supplements regularly, after a doctor’s approval you can easily incorporate an additional capsule or tablet into your daily routine. 

The 16th-century Compendium of Materia Medica or Ben Cao Gang Mu is revered as the most comprehensive text ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. This text reveals that ginkgo biloba seeds were used as a topical extract for antimicrobial purposes on the skin. Traditional Chinese Medicine also uses the leaves for tea and attributes it to soothing coughs and activating blood circulation, as well as other benefits like respiratory and digestive ailments. 

A common use for ginkgo biloba is to preserve memory and prevent cognitive decline. Dr. Hiroko Dodge of Oregon State University at Corvallis and his research team followed 118 people for three years aged 85 years and older, in good health, and showing no signs of dementia or memory loss at the beginning of the study. Half took ginkgo biloba and half took a placebo over three years. The patients taking it regularly had a 70% lower risk of developing dementia. According to the study, the other variables included considered “basic demographic variables including age, sex, years of education, and living arrangement (living alone vs living with someone).” 

The National Center for Biotechnology and Information published a study exploring ginkgo as a potential remedy for anxiety and, “The authors reported a significant improvement in psychopathological symptoms. Response rates were 44% in the high-dose group, 31% in the low-dose group, and 22% with placebo. Additionally, the percentages of clinically significant responses were 81%, 67%, and 38% for the high-dose, the low-dose, and the placebo groups, respectively.”2

A 2008 study reinforced the idea behind Traditional Chinese Medicine that ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation. The study shows ginkgo biloba extract to improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease. The study notes, “GBE (ginkgo biloba extract) treatment demonstrated a significant improvement in maximal diastolic peak velocity (MDPV), maximal systolic peak velocity (MSPV) and diastolic time velocity integral (DTVI) compared with controls.”3 In other words, ginkgo biloba extract is a great contender as a treatment to improve blood flow. 

Like cannabis and other medicinal plants, ginkgo has terpenes and flavonoids. Both of these compounds have therapeutic properties, and can provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well as being packed with antioxidants. Anti-inflammatory effects can serve many different ailments, especially relieving pain of various kinds. Antioxidants are thought to protect our bodies from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause harm to the body. Terpenes are also responsible for giving plants their unique and flavorful smell. Flavonoids are the compounds that give plants their vibrant and diverse colors, and are the largest group of phytonutrients. There are approximately 6,00 different types of flavonoids. 

A few years back, the National Toxicology Program released a detailed report on ginkgo biloba extract. It dissects the toxicity and carcinogenic properties of ginkgo biloba using rodent test subjects. The report made its rounds as proof that ginkgo biloba causes cancer, because the rodents developed cancer at high-rates over two year periods. Per the American Botanical Council, “Adjusted for bodyweight, dosage levels given to the animals were up to 55 to 108 times higher than levels of ginkgo normally ingested by human beings taking ginkgo supplements.” Many people have been using this report to warn against the supplement, but Bill J. Gurley, Ph.D., a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences, Little Rock said, “Almost anything will create cancer in rats and mice when it’s fed to them at high doses for two years.” The American Botanical Council also claims the ginkgo biloba extract used in the rodent experiment was of lesser quality, and not meeting European standards. 

Though this seemingly negative research on ginkgo can be explained, it is still important to discuss any kind of supplement addition with your doctor, especially if you are on other supplements or pharmaceutical prescriptions.

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