One morning six years ago, Dr. Brian Dossey heard a thump on the floor above him. It came from where his wife, Kathleen, was changing clothes.
“I didn’t think anything could be wrong, because Kathleen had no health problems,” he recalls. “She’s a nutritionist and very healthy.”
Dossey, who managed multiple ERs in Northern California, was horrified to discover his wife of thirty years unable to rise, speak or function. She appeared to be having a stroke. He rushed her to the emergency room.
But tests and specialists couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Dossey was forced to bring Kathleen home, “where for a week, she didn’t even know who she was.”
Thus began Dossey’s multi-year quest to understand his wife’s condition. “What could cause seizures in someone healthy, out of the blue?” he asked. He found a connection between seizures and environmental toxins, so the couple eliminated aluminum, mercury and fluoride from their home.
As Dossey created a healthier environment, his wife’s condition improved. Her seizures reduced from three a week – to one every several months. “But she still continued to have them.”
Law and literature on cannabis
Dossey kept seeing references to medicinal cannabis’s ability to control seizures. He was skeptical.
“I myself had been absolutely against cannabis since I was 17-years old,” he says, “I felt it was not the way to solve your problems. And my wife had never, ever in her life come close to cannabis.”
Since the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, Cannabis has been classified as a “Schedule 1” substance by the federal government. This means that Washington determined cannabis has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment” as well as “a high potential for abuse” – akin to heroin, LSD and Ecstasy. In 2001 and 2011 the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) restated these conclusions when it denied petitions to remove marijuana from the Schedule 1 list.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires clinical trials of humans to determine the benefits and risks of medications. Thus far, the FDA says, there have not been enough studies on the medical benefits of marijuana. Instead, tests have largely shown negative effects, such as impaired brain function, impaired brain development, links to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts among teens – and addiction.
But keeping cannabis as Schedule 1 makes it difficult to get funding for research. As Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project says, “So you had that Catch-22, where marijuana is a Schedule I drug because there’s no evidence, and there’s no evidence because marijuana is a Schedule I drug.”
Desperate, Dossey investigated. “When your wife is having seizures,” he says, “the research consumes you.”
What Dossey learned
The Cannabis plant contains more than 450 individual chemical compounds and at least 85 “cannabinoids,” unique chemical compounds that act on cannabinoid receptors in the body.
Dossey says, “Every human being has canabanoid receptors in pretty much every cell.”
Only one cannabaniod, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces a psychotropic effect, or “high.” It does this by attaching to receptors in the brain, stimulating the release of dopamine and affecting thought, motor skills, time perception and the “munchies.”
But THC isn’t inevitable. It’s created only when marijuana is heated (by being smoked, for example,) or dehydrated. The process, decarboxylation has heat removing components from a (non-hallucinogenic) acid called THCA – and transforming it into the (psychoactive) THC.
When the plant is administered without decarboxylation, “You could eat the whole tree and not get high,” Dossey says.
Kathleen Dossey took her first dose of raw cannabis on April 28, 2012. She hasn’t had a seizure since.
Although Kathleen takes 2000 mg raw cannabis daily in a smoothie of cannabis leaves blended with fresh berries, coconut oil, maca and numerous other nutrients, “She has still never been stoned in her life,” her husband reports. Independent tests detect not a trace of THC in her urine.
History of medical use
Marijuana has been used medicinally for more than 3,000 years, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2008 it was found in the tomb or a 2,700-year-old Chinese man; in 2014 it was found with the remains of a 2,500 year old Siberian woman.
Pain is currently the most common condition for which medicinal cannabis is prescribed in the United States. Compared to opiods, it is less habit-forming and has no risk of fatal overdose. Internationally, 25 countries have approved it for treatment for multiple sclerosis, and strains have been shown remarkably effective in reducing seizures in children and actually fighting cancer.
US Government takes out patent
On October 7, 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged marijuana’s potential in the abstract it wrote for a patent.
“Cannabinoids,” the government said, “have been found to have antioxidant properties” making them “useful in the treatment” of diseases such as “inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.” Its statement further noted the usefulness cannabinoids have in “limiting neurological damage” following “stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
CNN Chief Medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has researched medicinal cannabis since 2013. Gupta discovered, “emerging science that not only shows and proves what marijuana can do for the body, but provides better insights into the mechanisms of marijuana in the brain, helping us better understand a plant whose benefits have been documented for thousands of years.”
He has also become critical of “a Draconian system where politics overrides science, and patients are caught in the middle.”
With so many changes in medical and governmental perception, observers feel it’s inevitable cannabis will be reclassified from Schedule 1 in upcoming years. 24 states have now legalized cannabis for medical use, and 9 states have legislation pending to do the same.
In 2004, Robert J. Meyer, M.D., Director of Drug Evaluation at the FDA, said, “FDA will continue to be receptive to sound, scientifically-based research into the medicinal uses of botanical marijuana and other cannabinoids.” The FDA has approved two drugs containing ingredients from marijuana.
What Dossey does now
Brian Dossey now uses his medical degree to assist patients in Oregon (including Salem’s 1st Step Clinic) and California heal with cannabis. “My job,” he says, “is helping people. Cannabis is only one aspect of better health – but for many it’s a credible starting point.”
Most of his patients are over 55 and say they don’t want to get high. They suffer from severe pain, seizures, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, MS, glaucoma, PTSD, severe nausea, and HIV.
“We don’t give a [medical marijuana] card to just anyone,” Dossey says. “They must have a qualifying condition, and the evaluation is stringent. These people are signing up for medical because they don’t want to be associated with recreational.”
Not only can non-psychoactive results be obtained from raw cannabis, but also from strains being bred to reduce THC. Peter Gendron, Salem Cannabis Industry Association says, “There are varieties of cannabis that can be smoked without getting high… What makes these strains unique is that the ratio of THC to CBD [cannabidiol, the other most common chemical in cannabis besides THC] is essentially reversed. The content of one of our oils… is only 0.7% THC. This is a strong therapeutic product that will not get you high.”
Dossey’s satisfactions now come, he says, from relieving pain and symptoms many thought couldn’t be avoided, and from helping people get off prescription drugs that have debilitating – or lethal – side effects.