Monday, 13 June 2016

Rethink Forum on Medical Cannabis (April)

I was asked by the wonderful not-for-profit organization Rethink breast cancer to speak on a panel at a public forum and open discussion with a live Facebook feed around the topic of medical cannabis in Toronto. This came less then a week after getting home from Philly. I've realized that when I go on little sleep and go, go, go that I end up getting super run down and eventually end up getting sick. I didn't have time to get sick, but despite my strong wishes to not get sick...I got sick. Thanks to my easily accessible onc I was able to get a script for antibiotics before leaving for Toronto;).

I was excited about this trip, not only to speak about a topic that I am passionate about, but that my hubby was able to come along so that we could make it into a little mini trip! When we got to Toronto and got settled in we were both fairly tired, so we decided to head to bed. I had to resort to sleeping pills as my medicinals were at home. Well...this time I can say these sleeping pills may be fairly similar to Ambien...AKA: you will do things to which you will have ZERO memory of none, zip, zilch, nothing!!! I don't like any side effect that affects my mental capacity in any way. Well I learnt that when I "thought I was asleep" I was actually on my ipad. My hubby told me the next day that he had told me multiple times to go to sleep but I was not budging, and apparently at one point went into the bathroom to resume my ipad time. It wouldn't be until the next day when I realized what I was doing on my ipad...naturally I was online banking!!! I had credited myself thousands of dollars on my visa!! I'm hoping there were no purchases made on Amazon, however I guess that's something to be figured out in the coming weeks! Number one rule I'd like to tell anyone on sleeping pills: hide your electronics and DON'T resort to online banking at 2am. Lesson learned.

The next day I had a panel discussion in the evening. It was lovely to see the ladies from Rethink again, as the last time I saw them was just over a year ago. The ladies from Rethink are some of the kindest people I have met, along with being so warm and welcoming. The panel included myself, a grower and activist for cannabis normalization, an addictions specialist, and a palliative care specialist. I felt like the panel was a well rounded group, representing different areas which I feel are crucial when speaking about this topic. I must say, when the discussion around cannabis occurs, the stigma continues to prevail in regards to the public's perception on recreational users. Marcus Richardson, one of the panelists, also known as "Bubbleman," has been in this industry for 20+ years, however individuals with little to no knowledge around this topic don't understand the value and education he brought to the table. His knowledge base around this plant is extensive. He seems to understand this plant, and its medicinal properties better then most people I have ever met. I appreciated his ability to educate everyone with the knowledge he has garnered in his 20 plus years in this industry. The second component of this panel I liked was the fact that not one, but two physicians were able to speak up about cannabis and its medicinal potential. I say this is HUGE as most physicians either know very little about cannabis or are far too conservative to even speak about it (at least here in Alberta we are beyond conservative; unfortunately). THIS is a problem. This comes down to a very core issue. Individuals resorting to medical cannabis do so because the side effects from traditional supportive meds simply aren't worth it. Here's a little bit about living with an advanced disease such as MBC; we can have a multitude of symptoms from both the cancer itself, but many times from the harsh treatments we are receiving as well. Take into account our love/hate relationship with narcotics. Yes, it'll help with our pain but it'll also leave us foggy and drowsy, plus constipated. Lovely. The trade off is not super ideal. So now we are also constipated and require a stool softener to fix the side effect caused by our supportive meds. Each medication and therapy have their own host of side effects. In the end we can be taking half a dozen meds just to combat the side effect caused by the latter!!! Sadly, this cocktail may alleviate our pain or nausea but leaves us so tired and fatigued that we would spend our days in bed or on the couch. How is this LIVING??!! Palliative care is about quality of life, and yet we are simply allowing people to exist. There's a huge difference between existing and being able to actually enjoy life. Simply surviving day to day was never a way in which I wanted to live, hence medical cannabis' arrival into my life;). Our live FB feed for the panel discussion generated over 20,000 views!! I'd say there's a shift occurring as the anecdotal evidence increases, people are starting to become intrigued by its medicinal possibilities.

The panel discussion ended up being an informative evening with many in attendance, interested in obtaining medical cannabis and unsure of how to gain access. Here is the thing in Canada: We have legal means to obtain medical cannabis through a program the government introduced which is called the MMPR (Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation). This program is not without fault. For one, individuals such as myself, who were diagnosed over two years ago did not have access to cannabis oil which is some of the most potent, and known to be beneficial ways of taking it. This is what you take if you have that smidgen of hope that maybe, just maybe it'll slow the progression of the disease. Even the National Cancer Institute acknowledges its medicinal potential which you can read about here:  ( What I love is every time they claim to find a negative effect, further digging only contradicts this and states it's actually beneficial! Did you know that most the studies ever done in the United States were actually meant to prove cannabis' detrimental effects, however the only thing to ever come from these studies has actually been beneficial effects, lol. Therefore, many had to resort to the grey zone of dispensaries. This is also difficult as my concern with many of these pop up dispensaries is quality control. Whose growing it? Is it lab tested? What's their extraction process? These are all vital elements to consider and important factors, especially for those who may be immunocompromised. The MMPR set in place licensed producers (LPs) which ensured quality control. However, LPs only started making oils in the past few months and I have yet to find an LP who manufactures a ratio of THC:CBD oil with an equivalent potency to what I currently take. As well, what many don't realize is even when you purchase through an LP there's significant costs involved. It's not like getting a prescription for a narcotic where your provincial insurer will cover it. This is all out of pocket for patients. THIS is another huge barrier!! People who take cannabis oil as a complimentary therapy for their cancer care take a LOT. This adds up quite quickly. When individuals argue that "it's our choice to do marijuana and our insurance shouldn't cover it," I simply shake my head because these are individuals that have nillo knowledge around any of this topic. For those of us with cancer, we don't "choose" to be in pain...or to be nauseated from chemo... or to not be able to sleep...or to have no appetite and an inability to eat. Therefore, all we want is for our side effects to be managed so that we can actually enjoy living. I think this should be a basic human right in my eyes. Overall, this would cost insurers less as cannabis is very much like an umbrella medication. When on traditional pain killers, steroids, antiemetics; they all come with their own baggage which requires another med, then another, etc... How does this end up being cheaper? It doesn't, but the heightened stigma based on fear and propaganda has been so far perpetuated that many individuals in society won't change their mindset around this topic. Heck, even if it turned you into a darn unicorn in front of their eyes, they'd still remain deeply rooted in their opinions, and never conform to the notion this may actually have medicinal properties.

At this point, unless someone can show me evidence, SCIENCE, that there's a proven negative to this plant then their opinions remain exactly that: opinions that hold zero bearing on what I feel about cannabis. Considering this plant has been around for thousands of years and people have been using it for centuries in different cultures, makes me upset that we still know so little. Thanks to a completely unfounded prohibition it has cost us how many years of potential research??!! This upsets me as it has cost people suffering...needless suffering. There remains ZERO documented deaths from cannabis. ZERO. Yet, according to the CDC in 2014 alone, more than 14,000 people in the U.S died from a prescription opioid overdose. Deaths have literally quadrupled since 1999. Yet, where is the uproar over this??!!!! There isn't because we are still caught up with reefer madness and all fear that is based on ZERO facts. Here is a great article that was recently published in the National Geographic about cannabis that may be worth a read for any naysayers: ( Even in the March issue of Current Oncology (Vol. 23, Supp. 2), a reputable, scholarly journal notes: "CB1 or CB2 receptor agonists (or both) reduce the formation of distant tumour masses in animal models of both induced and spontaneous metastasis, and inhibit adhesion, migration, and invasiveness of glioma, breast, lung, and cervical cancer cells in culture." Further established in the publication it notes: "recent observations suggest that the combined administration of cannabinoids with other anticancer drugs acts synergistically to reduce tumour growth." Current Oncology went as far as to quote the necessity for further research:"Cannabinoids induce tumour cell death and inhibit tumour angiogenesis and invasion in animal models of cancer, and there are indications that they act similarly in patients with glioblastoma. Given that cannabinoids show an acceptable safety profile, clinical trials testing them as single drugs or, ideally, in combination therapies in glioblastoma and other types of cancer are both warranted and urgently needed" (Vol. 23, Supp. 2, March 2016).

I will say I am not a huge believer in many holistic/naturopathic methods myself, with the exception of cannabis. Would I ever tell anyone that it would cure their cancer? Absolutely not. But if someone asked for my advice as to whether they should take narcotics or try cannabis, I'd likely endorse cannabis. I can only speak from personal experience and from my own personal research. When a peer reviewed, scholarly oncology publication, notes its many medicinal and therapeutic uses plus speaks of its potential role in apoptosis in cancer cells (programmed cell death) then I think I'll keep on taking my cannabis oil, experience euphoria, and take my chances. This disease takes and takes and takes...if there's one thing that can, at the very least, improve a patient's quality of life, then I think for that very reason alone we should improve accessibility, offer clinical trials, and educate physicians about the medicinal potential of this plant.

          This was the actual advertisement for our panel discussion/public forum          

The following were a few pics from the actual panel discussion/forum

 Marcus Richardson..AKA "Bubbleman."Can't thank him enough for sharing his knowledge base around cannabis!

Me trying to spread the word at Princess Margaret on the MBC Project, and handing out pamphlets for them to distribute!

 Some randomness at the CN Tower...I'm apparently half the size according to this illustration, lol

 The view from the top of the CN Tower!

We even managed to check out a Toronto Blue Jays game...the only time my hubby would adhere to matching attire:)

We even got to experience Niagara Falls and it was beautifully breathtaking!