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Holly Bell

Good News for Patients

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Recently GRAM sat down with Holly Bell, Director of Cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We wanted to learn more about her and the important job she performs for the state of Florida and for medical cannabis. 

Holly has not always been the savvy industry leader she is today. She has researched and spent time truly learning about the plant she now represents. A graduate of Perdue with a BS in Agricultural Economics, Holly spent the first part of her career in finance and consulting. 

“I am a retired banker, and for many years I specialized in entertainment banking. Through that niche, I was exposed to cannabis. Through that exposure, clients and some coworkers would bring me business plans and ask me to look at them. They would talk to me about my thoughts on them entering this industry. So, I had to start doing a lot of research and networking and that led me to Florida, eventually. A client/friend was interested in receiving licenses in Florida. So, I met the Commissioner on some calls during that time and got to know her. She then ran for Agricultural Commissioner. So I reached out and offered my assistance if she should ever need it.” 

That was the door that opened and brought Holly from Tennessee to Florida. She started in her position in 2019. “What I do for the most part, day to day, is run the hemp program. The medical cannabis program is run through the Department of Health. We at FDACS also assist with the edibles piece of that. So I do work with that side of the industry as well,” Holly explains. 

Speaking of edibles, can we talk about how great it is that Florida will finally have legal, medical access to cannabis edibles?! As a patient myself, this author could not be more happy for my home state. Edibles are one of the only things that help me sleep. Regulations in Colorado (where I transplanted to 10 years ago specifically for medical cannabis) regarding cannabis edibles have changed over the years and it made me wonder what Florida is going to look like when patients will have access. 

According to Holly, “There are two sets of rules. First, we have the food safety rules, which requires that the kitchens that the edibles are made in, must pass food safety standards that we set for any food manufacturer in Florida. Four of the companies wanting to make products reached out and had their kitchens approved as soon as our initial rules were rolled out in March of this year. They are pretty basic and straightforward in that there are no classes required. You just have to maintain your food safety permit the same way any food manufacturer would. Then, they have to be compliant with the OMMU’s (Office of Medical Marijuana Use) list of rules too. That is what everyone has been waiting on.” 

“Recently they (OMMU) released five pages of simple rules and guidelines. Holly tells us, “They can’t look like candy, or like recognizable treats, no frosting or sprinkles, they can’t be primary colors, or bright colors. They are pretty straightforward edibles, with the goal that they are not attractive to our youth. They also need to have a stamp on it, the high THC symbol, also known as the universal symbol for THC. Both the candy and the packaging must contain the symbol. There are also label sizing instructions and requirements as well.

Approved Edible ShapesApproved Edible FormsLegal Dosing Limitations
SquareLozenges Single serving dosing shall not exceed 10mg of THC
Circle Gelatins Multi serving edibles shall not exceed 200mg of THC
Rectangle Baked Goods
TriangleChocolates
Parallelogram Drink Powders
Oval
Diamond

Edibles are not the only big change for Florida’s medical cannabis program. Third party testing also has new regulations. This is more great news for registered patients. This means clean medicine for everyone, and patients have a right to clean plant medicine. 

“Up until two months ago when the emergency rules came out for third party testing, how the testing went was, whatever you submitted with your license application was what you were obligated to do. It was a very non-regulated, self-reporting type of system. There was no consistency about how things were tested from licensee to licensee, so it really was a huge disadvantage for patients. It was also hard for the patients to understand what anyone was testing for because these licenses have to submit literally thousands of pages sometimes. So, when the emergency rules came out, you now had to test using a OMMU approved tester. It has taken a few months to approve three labs so products can now be properly tested. Now, there is a set standard that everyone must fall under. There seems to be a situation right now where a lot of products are not passing testing,” Holly tells us. 

At the time of writing this article, GRAM submitted a records release to the OMMU requesting the test results for all the products that have been third party lab tested so far in Florida. When we receive that information we plan to publish it so patients can be safeguarded. “We have the consumer to consider, we are the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Commissioner I work for (Nikki Fried) has said all along that we need to consider the safety of the consumers,” Holly says. 

Safety for the consumers also includes knowing what pesticides are in use. Hemp farmers and medical cannabis cultivation centers have all been provided with a five page list of approved pesticides for usage. This is so incredibly important. Just because a pesticide is safe for tomatoes or oranges, does not mean that it is safe to mix with a solvent to make concentrated hash. The list of pesticides is considered a public record. Please feel free to share the information with anyone you know that is considering cultivating cannabis as a professional. 

What’s next for Florida’s cannabis program, you may wonder. The answer somewhat surprised me as Holly explained a situation that began a few months back. “High amounts of lead were found in various hemp products. Regulators want a better understanding on where this contaminant is coming from. Researchers are studying if it is possible that the lead is coming from the bottles and droppers the CBD is being placed into,” she explains. We at GRAM plan on keeping you informed with how the research unfolds. 

FYI: The symptoms of lead intoxication include –

  • Acute colic
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Encephalopathy
  • Lead seam along dental margin 

Medical cannabis patients often have compromised immune systems. These patients are at risk to become symptomatic if they were to ingest a cannabis product made with tainted CBD or hemp. If you feel you or someone you know may have experienced these symptoms from a CBD product, please report that product to the Florida Department of Health as well as the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This is one of the many reasons that third party testing is so incredibly important. In closing, Holly tells us she is “glad that the program is finally getting there; it’s a great day for the patients, and it’s going to make for better products for the patients in the long run.” 

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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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