Certified Nutritional Consultant Martha Montemayor founded Healthy Choices Unlimited, a medical cannabis evaluation clinic with locations across Colorado, in 2012. The next year, Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed” program aired on CNN. People from all over the world called her clinic asking about using cannabis to help sick children. Then hospitals started calling her saying “Help! All these parents are calling asking us about medical marijuana, but we don’t know anything about it.” Montemayor started speaking at hospitals. There, she discovered a huge knowledge gap: the average hospital doctor knew less about cannabis than the average teenager did. While speaking at Denver Health, a neurologist held up a research paper Montemayor had passed around and asked, “Do you think I could talk to this Raphael Mechoulam guy?” Since she already had Dr. Mechoulam’s contact information in Israel, she replied “Yeah, I think I can arrange that.” And the Marijuana for Medical Professionals Conference was born.
In 2014, Montemayor founded Cannabis Clinicians Colorado, a non-profit professional society dedicated to supporting health professionals and medical marijuana professionals through education and research. She and BFF, Sarara Corva, have now produced over 50 hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) certified learning through their Marijuana for Medical Professionals–known as MJ for MDs–conferences. This year, MJ for MDs is going international with a CME program at the CannAmerica conference in Uruguay in August 2019. She’s also curating an online learning program with Green Flower Academy. CCC’s first IRB-approved research study on retired athletes and CBD is currently underway in Denver, CO and Miami, FL with former Buffalo Bills linebacker-turned-MD,
Dr. Hervé Damas. Look for results to come out this fall.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Martha about her journey through healthcare and cannabis, and here’s what she had to tell us…
What are you doing in the industry right now?
Well, Healthy Choices Unlimited, the for-profit medical cannabis evaluation clinic that pays the bills, is still going strong. Since 2012, we’ve helped over 20,000 people join the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry. The non-profit I’m director of, Cannabis Clinicians Colorado, has the next MJ for MDs conference coming up in Uruguay at the end of August, 2019 and is working on an IRB-approved study on CBD and quality of life in retired athletes. The research is really exciting. It’s an unfunded pilot study on 5 different forms of donated CBD products. We want to see if quality of life improves in the areas of pain, sleep, and mood as collected by the MB Clinical phone app. We want to see if one route of administration is better than another and if results are dose-dependent. We’re using the WAVi quick EEG brain scan at each visit and the Roberto 6-minute cognition test for objective markers. Former pro boxer Mike Tyson, of the Tyson Ranch, donated the money for supplies and travel for the study; all the people are volunteers. Our lead physician is Hervé Damas, MD of Miami, Florida. We’re hoping to get enough data from the pilot to launch a full 2-year study with public and private funding.
How did you get started in your medical career?
I’m a serial entrepreneur. In 1998, I sold an international satellite systems integrator company I had helped found years before and moved to Denver. I walked into an acupuncture clinic looking for help for migraines, and the old guy at the front desk could not use the computer well enough to check me out. So, I offered to help him. I was the business manager there for 10 years. By the time I left, I had learned enough from the practitioner to take the certified nutritional consultants’ exam. And I was now business manager for a bunch of other clinics as well. I started in cannabis April 1, 2010, as GM for a medical clinic that also did medical marijuana evaluations. Two years later, I started Healthy Choices Unlimited.
What led you to get involved in the cannabis industry?
I was already familiar with cannabis as medicine, as both my high school roommate and my ex-husband suffered from epilepsy. Both used cannabis with some success to control seizures and stop pain and nausea following a grand mal. My ex actually applied for a Colorado medical marijuana registry card in 2001, the first year you could. But at that time, you had to get your meds from your friendly neighborhood drug dealer, so the quality and consistency varied widely. Starting the dispensary system in 2009 has been a boon to patients and a mountain of new information for the health professionals that care for them.
What do you hope to achieve moving forward?
CCC’s mission is furthering cannabis medicine through education, research, and responsible patient care. My dream is to someday have a foundation for CCC so we can fund a “consumer reports of cannabis” type research center for unbiased studies on things like pharmacokinetics of different routes of administration. I’m also working on an online physician training course with Green Flower Media to help more health professionals learn about a plant that as many as half of their patients have tried. Bridging that learning gap remains the main focus of
What advice do you have for other women wanting to get involved in the medical community?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I never went to college, save a single junior college accounting course in 1988, when I started the satellite networking company. (Somebody had to do the books.) I never believed college, much less medical school, was in my reach, as my father died when I was very young, so we grew up poor. That belief held me back. So, what I would say is to believe your dreams are possible, no matter what. Do not let self-limiting beliefs hold you back. Confidence covers a myriad of flaws.
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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.
Psilocybin + Magic Mushrooms
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.