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Childhood Cancer

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A topic like cannabis usually pairs well with something benign like food. Not everyone smokes but everyone has to eat, especially cannabis users. Conversations become inflammatory when the controversial topic of cannabis is combined with something deeply saddening like childhood cancer. When we ask questions like “should we give children medicinal cannabis to help ease side effects of chemotherapy?” or “can we use cannabis alone to cure our children’s cancer” debates begins to rage.

An extreme case unfolded in St. Petersburg, Florida this year when the parents of a leukemia-stricken 3-year-old boy pulled the child out of chemotherapy after 10 days because his test results showed no sign of cancer cells. They were allowed to leave the hospital and went to Kentucky to get a second opinion on natural treatment options. The parents wanted to see if they could treat their son through medical marijuana, diet, and vitamins, instead of more rounds of chemicals.

Legal action was taken against the child’s parents after they went to Kentucky. The Judge finally ruled that the child was to resume chemotherapy immediately, but could also explore other methods of treatment, including medical marijuana, that received doctor’s approval. 

The controversial case has spread across the country and started a conversation about cannabis being used to fight cancer in children and the parents’ right to choose treatment.

Traditionally, medical cannabis is used during cancer treatment to help ease the side-effects associated with chemotherapy. Cannabis can help with nausea, pain, and loss of appetite that comes when the chemotherapy is working on the body. For adults with cancer, medical cannabis has become almost commonplace when recommended with cancer treatment, but it is still controversial when we talk about it being given to children.

Cannabis has been given to children to treat the side effects of chemotherapy for years now, but the growing conversation, parallel to the parents’ right to choose the method of treatment, is can cannabis be seen as an equal to conventional cancer treatments? Can it be used as compliment to conventional treatments to fight cancer? Should it strictly be used to relieve the side effects of conventional treatment?

Mothers are seeing the benefits in their children who are using medical cannabis as well.

So much so that some have started advocacy groups like the nationwide 501(c)(3) non-profit Cannamoms. On their website, Cannamoms.com, it states that they are “dedicated to raising awareness of and access to alternative and supplemental health care options for critically or chronically ill, medically complex, and special needs children.” 

This group of mothers saw cannabis have such positive effects on their children that they banded together in 2014 to, “fight diligently for common sense legislation, for rights and options for every parent in the care of their own children, and to provide other parents and their babies with hope, help, resources, and community.”

Even with the vast support system that medicinal cannabis has, it can be difficult for doctors to recommend anything to a patient that they feel hasn’t gone through sufficient study. While doctors may know the benefits that these children can see, they don’t know every long-term risk that a child may face associated with medical cannabis treatment. This is in large part due to the DEA scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, a drug that has no current medically accepted value. Drugs with this classification are very hard to study as they are illegal and need clearance from the DEA for each study. The climate is beginning to shift as more studies are allowed to be conducted and researchers are discovering more medical applications and are able to track long-term effects of cannabis use, especially in the developing brain.

The endocannabinoid system is all across the body. When cannabis is consumed, it can have multiple benefits for the patient.  The cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 are all over the body spanning from the brain and lungs, down to the liver, and all the way down to our skin and bones. So when cannabis is consumed and circulates through the bloodstream, it is absorbed in all the organs, so it can be beneficial in multiple medical applications.

Researchers conducted a study that was published in The Journal of Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics (1), that examined a common childhood cancer, neuroblastoma, which affects the pancreas. In vitro studies showed, “that both CBD and THC reduced the viability of NBL cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner.” This means that the cannabinoids made it harder for the cancer cells to survive once introduced, and that their success was dependent on the dose given and the time allowed for research.

They used mice for in vivo research, or research done inside of a living organism, in which they gave them daily injections of THC, CBD, or ethanol, into the thin lining of the abdomen, or gave them no treatment at all. These in vivo studies revealed that, “tumor growth in both the THC and CBD groups was significantly reduced.”1

A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that there is some evidence that, “cannabis-based medicines may be effective in treating the more difficult to control symptoms of nausea and delayed nausea and vomiting in children.”2

In this study, conducted by Shaare Zedek Hospital’s Pediatrics Department in Jerusalem, Israel, they gave children with cancer a less psychoactive form on medical cannabis during their chemotherapy treatment. “Two hours before the start of each cancer treatment and every six hours thereafter for 24 h, the children were given Δ8-THC as oil drops on the tongue or in a bite of food.”2

When their research concluded a total of 480 treatments had been administered. “the only side effects reported were slight irritability in two of the youngest children (3.5 and 4 years old)”2 In the rest of the children, no side effects were reported, and and nausea and vomiting were controlled.

It is extremely hard to see a child suffer the side effects of chemotherapy. A child might lose their hair or fingernails. Some suffer from insomnia. Some suffer from a lack of appetite and nausea and vomiting. Some have pain so severe that they feel their bones aching. The good news is that cannabis is a plant that is so complex and the branches of its tree of benefits stretch so far reaching that if can bring relief to many of these traumatic symptoms. 

As more studies are allowed to be conducted, we will know with more certainty the risks and full scope of benefits that children with cancer can receive from medical cannabis. We know that children with cancer can have their quality of life improved by using cannabis to ease effects of chemotherapy, but with more testing, we may also see cannabis recommended in lieu of chemotherapy, and and parents would have the right to choose.


References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165951/  

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7776837

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5473390/

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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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