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Tommy Chong

It’s cannabis time!

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Tommy Chong is an icon who continues to lead the cannabis community. His comedic career took off in the 1970s when the legendary Cheech and Chong characters were first born and lived out in their live performances, records, and trailblazing movies like Up in Smoke. Together, the duo began leading a generation and took the cannabis counter culture movement mainstream. They shined a humorous and positive light on cannabis consumers, which shed some of the fears surrounding cannabis and its use. Chong, now 81 years old, continues his journey helping people laugh alongside his longtime comedic partner, Cheech Marin. “Now it’s cannabis time. It’s gone mainstream,” says Chong. The duo went on tour this fall and audiences saw throwbacks from their classic work and heard their thoughts on cannabis legalization as it’s rapidly growing across the world. Chong says, “Oh I’m still in love with cannabis. She’s been so good to me. I love every bit of her. She’s still my best friend. She’s my lover. She’s my angel. She’s my everything.” He first tried cannabis at age 17 and has consumed cannabis his entire life, with the exception of 3 years. He recently overcame rectal and prostate cancer and says, “As far as everything goes, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.” 

At the beginning of Cheech and Chong, the country was fighting the Vietnam War, which continued through 1975. Chong currently serves as an Advisory Board Member for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which was founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup. Their mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of cannabis in the United States so the responsible use by adults is no longer subject to penalty. Chong says, “It really affected life, especially during the Vietnam War. It actually helped stop it, or at least brought people’s attention to it. I’ve always said marijuana will save the world, and I’m right.”

He became a leader during the 1970s and continues to advocate through comedy. Out of everything he’s accomplished he says he’s most proud to be, “Working with my family. My wife, Shelby, is my partner on stage and as a wife. When Cheech and I broke up she stepped in and she became my partner. That’s one of the proudest things that ever happened to me, because it’s very rare. So, my proudest accomplishment is being on stage with my wife every night. I’m very proud of that.” He continues working with his family and is starring in a new television show called, Tommy Chong’s Pipe Dreams. He feels the show is changing a lot of things and is among the most unforgettable shows of our time. Shelby stars on the show alongside him. Shelby doesn’t smoke cannabis and never did, but she does use edibles. “She loves her gummy bears and chocolates and has her own private stash that I better not go near. She also likes topicals and she’s planning on launching a line of her own marijuana based creams.” He’s excited for the future and says, “I just scratched the surface of my comedy, even though I’ve done all the movies. There was never a one and done, one always led to another. So the new show is a game changer for everybody that sees it. My aim is to reassure people that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Every one of us. There’s no one that’s out of place. If you feel uneasy about where you’re at. That’s a good sign. If you feel comfortable where you’re at that’s also a good sign. What it means is that we’re all alive and we’re experiencing it.”

In reference to the rise of cannabis use in seniors, Chong tells us, “We all have aches and pains and we all need to sleep and eat. Cannabis helps with all those areas. We all need to be healthy and we all need to forget our problems. So it just works perfectly for seniors.” For others interested in using cannabis, he recommends edibles at bedtime. “If they have pain they can use marijuana salve, which is also good for sleeping. You can put it on your head or the back of your neck and it works really well. If they’re smokers, they can smoke a joint or a bowl. I wouldn’t recommend dabbing right away. When you smoke you put your ‘worry brain’ on vacation. That’s what you want to do. You forget bad habits and that’s what it helps you do. I quit smoking because every time I felt like a cigarette I would light a joint and I would take a couple of tokes and I’d be fine. When I felt like a cigarette again. I’d light it up again. It took a year before the nicotine got out of my system, but I quit smoking with the help of cannabis.”

The plant continues to help Chong daily, and he smokes live with his fans on his Tommy Chong App once a day. He says, “Now you go to any dispensary, and it looks like a lineup to see Jesus to get healed. They’re on their crutches or on their canes. There’s MS patients and people with mental problems. There’s people with epilepsy and all those people with neurological problems. They need the cannabis. And it’s not a joke. It’s very serious to these people.” In addition to advocating for legal cannabis use for others, Chong knows the value hemp brings to the world. “We wouldn’t have all these plastic problems we have now had we kept hemp, because it made the best paper. Anything could be wrapped in hemp paper and it doesn’t hurt the environment. Hemp can also be used like plastic. Henry Ford made a car and the body of the car was made out of hemp and it ran with hemp oil.” He says having hemp in the supply line was beneficial, but they broke the chain and now we’re going through the climate crisis because of the fossil fuel industry and paying the price for it now.

I’ve always said marijuana will save the world, and I’m right.

Looking back on his life, some of the best advice he should’ve taken, but didn’t, was the warning he received in 2003. “We got the warning, but I figured, nah, they aren’t going to bust you for making bongs. But they did.” Chong spent 9 months in jail and says he really enjoyed his time there and learned a lot. This was during the time he was required to quit smoking cannabis for around 3 years. While serving his time in jail, he was often offered free cannabis. “They tried to bust me. They had snitches offer me free weed, and I turned it down each time. After each time, they drug tested me right afterwards. I would have been doing more time in jail had I fell for it, but I resisted.”

Chong has decades of cannabis experience and launched his own line of cannabis in 2016. “Cannabis works on the brain with our receptors. Cannabis and humans have a lot in common. Cannabis really reminds us constantly of who we are and slows the brain down and makes us appreciate life.” During his time consuming cannabis, one of the most surprising locations he’s ever smoked was at George Bush Sr and Junior’s house in Midland, Texas. He’s also smoked a joint on top of the empire state building. If he could introduce one person to cannabis, it would be Melania Trump. “I think she needs it.” He also fondly remembers smoking with George Harrison of the Beatles. “He was the only one of the Beatles I got to know personally. He played the guitar on one of our Cheech and Chong Basketball Jones. George played the introduction to it. I almost got high with John, but he was worried about his immigration status. Ringo was a recovering alcoholic. I haven’t got high with Paul yet. That’s on my bucket list, to get high with Paul.” Chong has a long list of memorable people he’s smoked with, “Cheech and I played basketball, and we smoked up with Bob Dylan.”

Throughout his life, one of the people who inspired him is Moses. He used to think it was Jesus, but his life was cut short. “Moses made it to the end. He was the one the burning bush talked to. Moses is my inspiration because he was raised in a royal family and he was taught all the secrets of the Pharaohs, and then he led his people out of bondage into freedom.” Chong says he’s a student of the Bible, both the old and new testaments. “The secrets are all there. I’ve been shown the proper way to interpret the bible and it has gotten me to where I am today. I went to Bible camp when I was 8 years old. I learned how to pray and that’s very important. Prayer is much like meditation. You’re really talking to yourself. That’s why you eliminate the thought of a far away God or some kind of god you can deal with. Like, hey God, you do this and I will do that. There is no such thing, it’s just you. I realized that early in life when I was very young and therefore I found the path to success and I’m still on it and I still will be on it. Part of the knowledge I gained was to forgive and let people live their own lives. As they say in yoga, stay on your own towel. That’s what I’ve done all my life, and I’ll continue to.”

It took a year before the nicotine got out of my system, but I quit smoking with the help of cannabis.

Part of Chong’s success comes from his superpower. “I have a superpower. I do, and I know it. The superpower really is keeping your mouth shut. That’s the superpower. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do, you know, because you can’t tell a spoiler for a movie. I have a bad habit. I see a movie and I want to tell everybody all about the movie. My son tells me, ‘Shut up Dad. Don’t tell me anything.’ That’s what life’s all about. My superpower is knowing that everybody’s on their own path. Everybody’s on their own journey and the best you can do is encourage them and help them when you can, but the best thing is to keep your mouth shut. That’s my superpower. Knowing that. Also knowing that you can’t help people. You know people have to struggle through life. Unless they ask you, but people have to learn the lesson, whatever the lesson may be. You’ve got to remember that we are eternal beings. We’re not just here the one time and then we’re gone forever. Nothing ever leaves this earth. Every drop of water that was here in the beginning is still in one form or another. We’re 90% water. We’ve always been here. We’re just like a thought in a mind of a god. That’s exactly what we are. All of us are just one thought. One grain of sand, each of us. Knowing that and then knowing you can’t give other people your experience. They have to experience everything themselves. It’s so maddening sometimes. But it all works out.” 

What we have to do is try to help the other person. That’s your only job on Earth is to help others.

Chong recalls his Bible studies and shares, “There’s all good, there’s nothing bad. The Bible says everything that God made was good and everything that God did not make was not made. You see, everything else is an illusion. You can’t have positive without negative when you live in a physical world. You’re going to have both. You’re going to have good and bad. Each experience that we go through is exactly that, it’s experience. And you know how they always say you only learn from your mistakes? Well, for instance, if you’re perfect like say Jesus was, because Jesus never made a mistake. Everybody else did. But Jesus could never make a mistake, because he was only here to show us what it’s like to be godlike on Earth. And that’s what he did. When it was time for him to go, he had to leave. He said something like, ‘If I do not go, the comforter will not come to you.’ In other words, if you keep looking to me for all your goodness, then you’re not going to be able. We are all gods, basically, but we’re all here to learn and learn what it’s like to be whatever everybody’s going through. We’re all going to experience it because eternity gives us the ability to go through every possible physical change that you could think of on this planet. Then, when that’s done, there’ll be another and another and another; it never ends. The only thing there is an ending to is our knowledge. A lot of us are limited. We are only shown so much and then we have to figure everything out ourselves. That’s the way it is with life. This is very advanced teaching by the way. There is no such thing as good or bad. There just is. And when you realize it like I do, then you do what you gotta do. You shut the fuck up and let everybody figure it out for themselves, because everybody will and can.”

Experience and figuring things out himself have clearly helped shape and define Chong’s career, and outlook on life. Another big influence in his life is obviously cannabis. He has love for the plant and believes in its ability to inspire others. “Cannabis inspired Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and they changed our world.” The movement isn’t just about cannabis, it’s other plant medicine and expanding knowledge. Chong even says cannabis legalization is leading the way for other psychedelic plant medicines and has been for decades. He isn’t finished and has a goal to be on stage a lot longer. “I’m 81. George Burns said he wanted to be on stage doing standup when he was 100. I want to get on stage and say, ‘Hey George, I beat you.” 

After he and Cheech took the stage for their comedy tour across the US and Canada in 2019, he’s already working towards that goal! More than just a comedian, we’re honored to share Chong’s knowledge and insight while he continues to lead a movement for freedom through comedy. Chong may have became an inspirational leader through his legendary comedy long ago, but he still continues to lead in advocating for the plant and making people laugh along the way. “What we have to do is try to help the other person. That’s your only job on Earth is to help others.”

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The Parkinson Association of SWFL

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Parkinson’s disease is one of the fastest-acting neurodegenerative diseases in the human population, yet the condition is largely avoided in conversation. Many people are afraid of the disease and the symptoms it presents, which results in those with Parkinson’s eventually isolating themselves from the world. The Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida has been working to overcome that fear for more than 20 years by bringing discussions about the disease into the open. Not only that, but they also offer a support group specifically focused on medical cannabis and its impact on Parkinson’s patients. I had the chance to speak with members of the Association’s staff and learn more about who they are, what they’re doing, how they’re handling medical cannabis, and the impact that their efforts are having on patients and the community at large.  

Who is the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida?

The Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida was started in Naples, Florida in 1997 by two retired school teachers. For much of the Association’s early years, it was a primarily grassroots, volunteer-driven effort, run from their living room. There wasn’t a formal structure or business organization, it was simply volunteers coming together to help patients in the community. The Association has since formalized as a nonprofit organization, but volunteers remain their heartbeat. It is entirely self-funded through the support of the residents of Southwest Florida and receives no government or national organization funding. They are supported by a variety of fundraisers that include the organization’s Step Up For Parkinson’s Walk (Previously Heart and Sole Walk) as well as celebrity visits from people such as Jimmy Choi of American Ninja Warrior and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. 

It’s one of those diseases that is very much misunderstood, and a lot of people become isolated with the disease.

According to Linda Goldfield, Executive Director of the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida, this allows the Association to concentrate its efforts locally, with more than 80 cents of every dollar going towards programming for patients, and 100% of all funds remaining local, supporting the communities of Southwest Florida. “The Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida provides programs that help people live well on a daily basis with Parkinson’s disease, from diagnosis through the progression of the disease … most of the national organizations are fundraising for a cure, and sadly there is no cure in sight,” remarks Linda. 

What does the Association do for patients?

As mentioned, they focus primarily on providing educational classes and programming that supports those living with Parkinson’s, their caregivers, and family members. They offer groups for patients ranging in symptom severity from early onset diagnosis all the way through stage 4 of the disease. “A lot of people don’t understand Parkinson’s, and they feel as though it is shameful to say that you have this disease, but it’s really not. It’s one of those diseases that is very much misunderstood, and a lot of people become isolated with the disease,” explains Tricia Leite, Outreach Volunteer for the Association.

The classes include educational groups focused on sharing research, treatments, insight, and anecdotal experiences. There are also movement groups to help patients stay as active as their bodies will allow, and support groups that allow patients to network with one another, speaking openly about their success, trials, and treatments, and finding support in a community that understands what they are going through. Additionally, three years ago, the Association joined the Struthers Parkinson’s Care Network to help train facilities and home healthcare providers in proper Parkinson’s care, expanding their efforts to create a Parkinson’s-friendly community. 

Why do they do it?

The Association was founded by two people who experience what thousands of others experience each year: someone close to them was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  The desire to fix a lack of understanding of what the disease is and how it impacts daily life drove them to create a grassroots movement that has evolved into a professionally led organization. 

As more people affected by the disease move to Southwest Florida, the need for services increases. “In the last three years, we have tripled the number of programming options to meet the growing needs of the community,” explains Linda, who has worked to ensure that access is not limited by a lack of funds or inability to travel to a specific location. “Unlike many Parkinson’s Associations, our programming is free. We never want money to be a barrier to access our programming. We take our programming into the community rather than hosting it in one central location. As the disease progresses, the burden falls on the caregiver to shuttle their loved one to and from programming, so we take the programming to them to make it less of a burden for them. In our community, you can find your programming within ten minutes, and we offer programming six days a week.” 

“Groups help patients: when you have someone that you know has the same ailments as you and you can speak freely about those things and know you aren’t going to be judged for it, that’s a good feeling,”  says Tricia. The Association forums create open discussions that help patients accept, accommodate, and communicate about their conditions as well as offering them a second family. “When you can see a smile on somebody’s face just because you actually talked to them … It has become like a second family. I see them at the grocery store and they come up and give me hugs.”

“These programming options have not gone unnoticed, even being cited by some as the reason for moving to Naples from other parts of the country. People have been moving here specifically based upon the support that they have here and the support system that we give them. We literally have had people leave reviews on realtor.com about us and why they have chosen to live here in Naples,” says Tricia. 

The Association & Cannabis

A medical cannabis support group is offered for PD patients who are registered in Florida’s medical marijuana registry. There is a cannabis industry professional present at each session. The Association recognizes the growing body of research surrounding the efficacy of cannabis use in the treatment of symptom management for those living with Parkinson’s. “When it first became legal in Florida, there was significant interest, and last year we did a four- part series on medical cannabis … for some in the medical community, they are more conservative and the jury is still out, but we hear from our members who have used it that they have had good results,” says Linda. 

Advice on Cannabis for Parkinsons

Linda advises members that they should speak with a medical professional before making the choice to use cannabis in treatment. “We first recommend that you consult with your neurologist or movement disorder specialist for their input on using medical cannabis.” If all parties feel cannabis could be an effective option, patients can be added to the registry and can then come to the Association’s cannabis meetings and learn what other patients in their community are using and how well it works.  

How to learn more about the Parkinson Association of Southwest Florida

For those patients or relatives and friends of patients looking to get more information on the Association’s programming schedule and volunteer opportunities, you can learn more at parkinsonassociationswfl.org or by visiting their location in Naples. The staff encourages patients, family, and friends to stop by if you’re in town, even if it’s only for a few days; you never know who you might meet, what connections you might make, and what you might learn.

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Josh Crossney

Quality + Education + Cannabis

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GRAM spoke with Josh Crossney, the founder of Cannabis Science Conference, one of the leading cannabis conferences in the U.S. brings together medical, analytical science, and cultivation experts. More on that in a minute.

A career in staffing and recruiting for some of the biggest biological labs across the U.S. gave Josh an in-depth understanding of the importance of quality control and testing. That is what drove him into the medical cannabis industry in 2014. “It really was kind of alarming to me that at the time there were no requirements or quality control testing for cannabis.” 

“I connected with some people who were using cannabis as medicine out in California and a couple people who were treating children with cannabis,” he says. “Everything, just about, that comes in contact with humans—from food to beauty products to even water and wastewater—has quality control standards or testing,” he says.

A passion for changing that was one of the things that drew Josh into the industry. Educating people about medical cannabis was another. “I realized there wasn’t a lot—really any—platforms at the time, that were really catering and creating a space for the world’s leading researchers and medical professionals and cultivation experts to come together and share their information with other like-minded people,” he says. In October 2016, Josh launched the first Cannabis Science Convention in Portland, Oregon. 

It really was kind of alarming to me that at the time there were no requirements or quality control testing for cannabis.

That first show drew about 800 attendees and 75 vendors. By 2019 the event was pulling in close to 3,500 people and almost 200 vendors. Last year, he launched the inaugural Cannabis Science Convention East at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland. 

“It really was a full circle moment for me when we were able to say ‘Hey, it’s been a few years. The East Coast has really developed when you look at states like Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York that have implemented medical cannabis programs since the time we launched the (Oregon) show.’” The move paid off, attracting over 2,000 attendees and about 110 vendors.

Josh is a voice in the cannabis industry for the LGBTQ community, and he regularly speaks about the importance of diversity and inclusion. “More so than most industries that I’ve been a part of, the cannabis industry, and the folks and the colleagues I’ve worked with are very accepting and open to all types of people,” Josh says.

He states that the cannabis community and LGBTQ community might have more in common than you would think. “A lot of people don’t realize how many intersections there are between the LGBTQ community and the struggle that we went through in the U.S. and globally, also with the cannabis community. These are both two communities that have been unfairly marginalized and stigmatized by society.” 

Josh said that both are human rights issues that have gained traction on a state-by-state basis. He also pointed out that when California implemented medical cannabis in 1996, it was “largely due to the advocacy, leaders, and pioneers who were pushing for this as an option for the HIV and AIDS communities.”

“There are a lot of crossovers that people don’t realize. Cannabis has been used and accepted as a medicine in society for far, far longer than it has been stigmatized as one.” 

A serious car accident in the winter of 2009 triggered Josh’s firsthand experience using cannabis as medicine. Returning home during a snowstorm from a sleigh-riding excursion, the car he was riding in crashed into the back of a state snowplow. 

More than a decade later, he still suffers from back and shoulder pain as a result. “I use cannabis as an alternative to the opiates that everyone gets prescribed when you have injuries like that,” he said. It also helps him with PTSD from the accident. “As a passenger, it was very intense. For me, it can be challenging to be a passenger in cars at times. Cannabis really does help me deal with that.” 

Josh also finds relief for his anxiety. “There’s not a lot of pharmaceutical options other than benzos, which really are just as bad as opiates; they really turn you into a shell of yourself. So I just found that cannabis, for me, was a much better, safer alternative that actually worked a lot better than prescription drugs.”

Knowing firsthand the benefits, Josh has big goals “to educate the masses and let people know this is an option.” He has his own Maryland-based 501(c)3 non-profit called jCanna—focused on advancing cannabis science and specifically cannabis quality control testing and extraction processes and standards. “Everything that I do, everything that I touch in this industry really is, at the core, trying to drive more normalization of this plant, acceptance of this plant.”

“We’re having to dig out of 50 plus years of misinformation and propaganda. It’s not a new conversation. Prohibition and reefer madness was really something that was based on racism and greed and the need and want to monopolize the American industry, like pharmaceutical and paper. A lot of people don’t realize the first draft of the Constitution was drawn up on hemp paper.” 

However, Josh doesn’t see cannabis advocacy as a blanket label and acknowledges people disagree. “I’m definitely all for adult use and recreational use, and this being legalized and normalized federally,” he said. “But I also am a major proponent of medical, and I would hate to see the government say, ‘Well, we’re gonna go ahead and legalize this for recreational use, but we’re not gonna call this a medicine.’ 

“If that was the case and this was regulated like alcohol, how would the 10-month-old babies, the 2-year-old children, the people who are using this as a medicine, how would they have access to this if it was regulated like alcohol, and it was a 21-or-over situation without any option for them? Yes, legalizing and normalizing this plant federally but also maintaining the medical term, and that this is a medicine.” 

We really feel that knowledge is power and empowered patients can make the best decisions about their cannabis care.

As a board member of the California based CannaKids, Josh cares deeply about pediatric cannabis use. “If this is legal in your state for an adult to use a medical condition, I think that it should not be any more stigmatized for a pediatric patient going through the same condition to have this as an option.” 

This brings him back to the importance of quality control and testing in the cannabis industry. “If you’re treating a sick pediatric cancer patient who’s going through chemo and radiation with a highly compromised immune system, contaminated cannabis with mold, heavy metals, or solvents can really negatively affect their health.” It’s not just about contamination, but knowing exactly what is in the medicine and how strong it is. “That is important when you are talking about trying to target and treat conditions. We just want this natural plant to be as natural as possible” he says. 

In fact, Josh has a quality control dream. “I would love to see this standardized and have quality control required and standardized all over the country and get it to a point where you can send a cannabis sample to five different labs and get the same result. The problem right now is if you sent a cannabis sample to five different labs, there’s not standardization. They’re using different types of instrumentation, different processes. Any of these factors can change the results of your certificate of quality.”

Josh is constantly busy travelling, speaking, and expanding the Cannabis Science Convention. 

“We’re continuing to grow the shows. We’re on the East Coast and the West Coast. We have been dabbling with the idea of a Midwest show at some point. We’re also really strongly looking at international markets. We’d love to, potentially, do a show in Germany where cannabis is just starting to develop.” 

“This year, one of the new things is in addition to our analytical science, medical cannabis, and cultivations tracks, we’ve also launched a whole 2-day hemp/CBD track.” 

Adding the hemp/CBD track is just one way Josh is continuing to educate medical professionals and patients. He is also involving the academic community by shining a light on their contributions to the cannabis science through developments in the curriculum at Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, and Northern Michigan University, and the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. 

“We really feel that knowledge is power and empowered patients can make the best decisions about their cannabis care.”

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Dr. Lisa Roark

Physician Shares about MS Diagnosis

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Missouri officially legalized medical cannabis in November 2018, with the passing of Amendment 2. The state first started accepting applications from qualifying patients and caregivers for medical cannabis cards on June 28th, 2019. Since then, the state’s list of registered medical patients has quickly grown into the tens of thousands, with the approval of qualified recommending physicians, like Missouri’s own, Dr. Lisa Roark. Her clinic, Roark Family Medicine, was the first in the state to offer telehealth options, where patients could meet with her office remotely. Because of this, Lisa quickly became one of Missouri’s leading recommending physicians.

“We were the first clinic to offer telehealth in Missouri, so we became very busy, very fast. I already had a full patient panel, so I had to do a lot of scheduling adjustments, work more hours, and adjust as needed.” It was during this exciting time of growth and expansion when Lisa was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which she first shared publicly on social media in October of last year. “For my birthday, I got a diagnosis. I have multiple sclerosis. I’ll follow up at Barnes next week to discuss options to help with my vision. Sucky birthday present, but better than not knowing.”

She may have MS, but she’s not letting it stop her, and she’s grateful for the incredible support she continues to receive. Lisa is a local doctor, with local values. Raised in Exeter, MO, she graduated from Exeter High School before moving to Kansas City, MO, where she completed her medical training at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. Afterwards, she completed her medical residency at Cox Family Medicine Residency in Springfield, MO, where she trained in all areas of primary care, including obstetrics, pediatrics, chronic illness management, women’s health, geriatrics, and many outpatient procedures. 

Don’t buy into the ‘there isn’t enough research’ crap.

Now she lives on a small farm with her husband and four children in Cassville, MO, where Lisa tells us they “Enjoy spending time outside tending to the animals, gardening, hunting, playing and making memories. We are fortunate to have a large number of family members in the Cassville area.” This is also where her practice is located, which she loves for many reasons. “I love taking care of entire families, from babies to great-grandparents. It is very fulfilling to not just know a single patient, but to also understand their home and family dynamics. Family practice allows me to know my patient as a person, not just a body. I also love that I actually have time for my family and community. I worked several years for a large health system, got paid well, but missed my kid’s parties at school. I didn’t get to take them to school or pick them up, and had absolutely no community involvement. Now my office is one block from the school. I can walk up the street and have lunch with my kids, or they can even walk to the clinic after school. I also enjoy how much time I get to spend with my patients. As a Direct Primary Care practice, I have no billing/insurance/coding and can spend significantly more time with my patients.”

Lisa was inspired to become a physician by her role as a middle child and problem solver in her family. “This led me to medicine in general. I view most medical cases as a jigsaw puzzle, and I just have to figure out how to put it back together.” This passion for helping solve medical problems for her patients lead to her becoming a recommending physician in Missouri’s new medical program. “Prior to Amendment 2 making it on the ballot in Missouri, I had a patient ask me to help treat her child’s seizure disorder with CBD. I had to admit, I had absolutely no knowledge regarding cannabis or hemp, so I agreed to do research. The more I read, the more I realized physicians have been duped. I found significant research showing the medical benefits of cannabis and many therapeutic uses for this safe, effective plant. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I attended several conferences, met Dr. Sue Sisley on several occasions, did medical education credits related to cannabis, and joined several physician groups who have helped educate me, so that I can help educate patients. I became a recommending physician because I believe that all people should have the right to utilize cannabis as medicine.”

“The process of choosing to do physician certifications was easy, the implementation not so much. With this being a new program in Missouri, I’ve had to spend more time educating patients than doing the actual certification. I try to educate them regarding the law, medical uses, as well as the process of getting their medical card. There have been A LOT of changes in our clinic in the last year.”

Lisa’s advice for other physicians in states who have yet to legalize, and those who now find themselves in newly legalized states is, “Get educated. Don’t accept what you’ve been taught or told to influence your opinion. Don’t buy into the ‘there isn’t enough research’ crap. There is a lot of research (much from Israel), you just have to read it.” She tells medical students interested in medical cannabis to “Talk to patients. Learn how this plant has helped people for millions of years. Learn everything you can about it, and don’t forget to ask why. Why was it taken away from patients in the 1930’s? Why was it replaced with expensive, dangerous, opiate medications? And why can’t patients pick it up in a pharmacy?”

As far as her MS goes, she was reluctant to share any updates since first making the announcement last year. “Mostly because I didn’t have anything nice to say. I was formally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in October, 2019. Since then, I’ve been on Tecfidera (crazy expensive MS med) with the hopes of keeping my disease in remission. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any slowing in the progression (just fantastic side effects like hives, hot flashes, and heat intolerance). I’ve had steroid shots in my eye sockets, also in my eyeball, IV steroids, by mouth steroids for Trigeminal neuralgia (crazy painful). Physical therapy for weakness in my left leg, a muscle stimulator to try to keep my muscles working. I’ve only been working part time and sleeping excessively. I’ve cut out wheat, dairy, sugar and go to yoga as much as possible. I’ve been exhausted constantly, depressed, tearful and have felt hopeless,” she bravely  shared, “for accountability. I choose to no longer be miserable or fearful. I have scheduled a stem cell transplant for March in Mexico. I will go through chemo, lose my hair, and Griff will have to go with me to care for me the entire month. I am hopeful this will put this monster in remission, and I will again be a functional mother, doctor, and wife. I am thankful to have a supportive family to help care for my babies, coworkers who will take care of my patients for the month, and a husband that will hold me up when I’m ready to fall.”

In the meantime, she is including cannabis as part of her treatment plan. “I am currently using cannabis as medicine. I make a cannabis smoothie for breakfast every morning,  (no THC, so no concerns about working under the influence) and then treat myself before bed. It has been immensely helpful with my pain (especially trigeminal neuralgia), muscle spasms, nausea, insomnia and anxiety.  It hasn’t cured my MS but it has given me reprieve.”

In her plan to help patients by becoming a recommending physician, Lisa never imagined also becoming a patient. “I didn’t plan to get my card, due to the risk of losing my medical license, until my MS diagnosis. There isn’t really a law that physicians can’t use cannabis in Missouri. It’s really up to the state licensing board. I took a huge risk, got my card, and have been very verbal about it. I believe it takes risks, as well as people questioning the system, to make change.”

GRAM couldn’t agree more with taking risks and asking tough questions to change the system. We also believe in the power of sharing personal stories to normalize cannabis and those who consume it, and we want to give a special thank you to Dr. Lisa Roark for choosing to share her powerful story with us. From everyone at GRAM, we wish you the quickest and most healing journey.

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