News Article Details

New to medical cannabis? Experts say start 'low and slow'

Times-Tribune - 5/2/2018

May 02--PHILADELPHIA -- In 2007, Erica Daniels' son Leo was diagnosed with debilitating autism.

Doctors told the Philadelphia mom he would need dedicated care for the rest of his life. "We did behavioral therapies for 40 hours a week for 10 years," she said. "It's really a hopeless situation for a lot of parents."

After typical treatments failed, she found cannabis calmed his tantrums, which before had lasted hours, and the once-nonverbal boy began linking words together.

She was protected under Pennsylvania's safe harbor provision in the state's medical marijuana law. Beginning in 2016, safe harbor allows parents to give the drug to their children without fear of arrest. But Daniels still risked legal trouble because she had to buy the medicine on the black market, she said.

"It wasn't perfect, and I didn't have access to what I needed, and I still don't have access to what I need even though we have the program up and running," she said, referring to Pennsylvania's Medical Marijuana Program.

Scientists are only beginning to understand how medical cannabis soothes pain and other symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, in chronically ill patients.

In the absence of extensive research, anecdotes borne of stories such as Daniels' show that it soothes a wide slate of illnesses, including fibromyalgia, migraine headaches and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as the most severe autism cases.

"Their language improves, they're just calmer, their appetite improves, they're a little more interactive, and I have seen it happen after being on (cannabis) for just four days," said Dr. Patricia Frye, medical director at Takoma Park Alternative Care near Washington, D.C.

She and Daniels joined anesthesiologist Dr. Debra Kimless for a panel discussion on Tuesday during the Cannabis Learn Conference and Expo in Philadelphia.

Frye said, in Pennsylvania, where licensed dispensaries only started opening two months ago, suppliers are still matching product types with the illnesses they treat best.

The virgin medical frontier means patients, physicians and producers are experimenting at the same time, and a key part of understanding how it works is balancing its active ingredients -- most commonly tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD -- depending on what they're trying to treat.

Patients and their providers also are learning that dosing plays a big part in how patients find a regimen that works for them.

"THC in high amounts is great for getting high," Frye said. "But it's not necessary for homeostasis or improving clinical conditions."

Daniels said one of her son's earlier doctors recommended starting with a high dose and pushing through side effects.

"I would not recommend anyone do that," she said. "Go low and slow."

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