Author Archives: Chela Fiorini

Unleash American Ingenuity and Help People with Dementia

Unleash American Ingenuity and Help People with Dementia

“In any civilized society, it is every citizen’s responsibility to obey just laws. But at the same time, it is every citizen’s responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remove Cannabis from the CSA Today!

This is an exciting time in the world, to say the least. If we focus, it could be one where we begin to make meaningful progress in our fight to end the suffering of people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. It’s time to be bold. In addition to helping millions in relationship with dementia, what we’re proposing has the potential to revitalize the US economy by opening up a brand new industry and unleashing American ingenuity.

Cannabis medicine was the only medicine that ever helped ease the toughest behavioral symptoms of my mom’s (and our family’s) nearly decade-long journey through Alzheimer’s, but it was illegal for her to get it in the nursing facility she moved to because cannabis remains on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) Schedule I of Drugs. 

The most restrictive drug schedule in the US is reserved for drugs that are known to have:

    • – no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S. 
    • – a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision 
    • – high potential for abuse 

Cannabis does not fit this definition, yet it remains on the CSA:

    • – cannabis is medically legal in 41 US states and territories. 
    • – cannabis therapeutics have never been proven to result in serious harm, nor death
    • – a “high potential for abuse” is not a scientifically proven claim about cannabis

It’s time to simply remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act to allow patients to maintain access to this relatively harmless plant while science catches up with what is happening in practice in more than 2/3rds of states. The President has the power to do this by Executive Order. 

The Science

In Northern California , Upstate NY and in  Florida, there are care facilities currently using cannabis medicine for their residents. But most care facilities are too afraid to use a “Schedule I substance” because they risk losing funding and licensure. Additionally, cannabis science is only taught in ten medical schools and there are no legal requirements for medical professionals to learn about this valuable tool. Not even in California. 

There are studies that show the potential benefits of medical cannabis, but due to the CSA, it is very, very difficult to research. Despite this, there are enough studies that show how beneficial cannabis is for people living with dementia for two review articles and a US Department of Health patent:

Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience review article: “Cannabis Therapeutics and the Future of Neurology” by Dr. Ethan Russo 

[FTA] “…Initial trials of herbal cannabis for AD have begun sporadically, with a more focused effort in a California nursing home (Hergenrather, 2017). Patients were treated with a variety of preparations: THC-predominant (2.5–30 mg/dose), CBD predominant, and THCA, mainly in tinctures and confections. Marked benefit was reported on neuroleptic drug sparing, decreased agitation, increased appetite, aggression, sleep quality, objective mood, nursing care demands, self-mutilation and pain control.

Based on its pharmacology (Russo and Marcu, 2017), cannabis components may provide myriad benefits on target symptoms in this complex disorder:

    • Agitation: THC, CBD, linalool
    • Anxiety: CBD, THC (low dose), linalool
    • Psychosis: CBD
    • Insomnia/Restlessness: THC, linalool
    • Anorexia: THC
    • Aggression: THC, CBD, linalool
    • Depression: THC, limonene, CBD
    • Pain: THC, CBD
    • Memory: alpha-pinene (Russo, 2011; Russo and Marcu, 2017) + THC
    • Neuroprotection: CBD, THC
    • Reduced Aβ plaque formation: THC, CBD, THCA

Thus, an extract of a Type II chemovar of cannabis (THC/CBD) with a sufficient pinene fraction would seem to be an excellent candidate for clinical trials (Lewis et al., 2018).

Journal of Pharmacopuncture “A Review on Studies of Marijuana for Alzheimer’s Disease – Focusing on CBD, THC” by Korean research Drs. Kim, Yang, Yook

[FTA] “…These results implied that the CBD components of cannabis might be useful to treat and prevent AD because CBD components could suppress the main causal factors of AD. Moreover, it was suggested that using CBD and THC together could be more useful than using CBD or THC alone…”

US Patent 6630507B1 – Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants

From the US Department of Health Patent: “…The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia…”

The MORE Act + Social Justice

Passed in the House of Representatives in November 2020 and sponsored in the Senate by Vice President (elect) Harris, though not taken up by McConnell, The MORE Act would completely remove cannabis from the Federal Schedule I of Drugs. This would allow those who are currently benefiting from cannabis medicine in 35 States, to continue to do so while the relevant research studies and science can catch up with what’s happening in daily practice. By now, we all know that cannabis was not placed on the CSA Schedule I because of science, it was put there for racist, political reasons. It’s time to finally undo this generations-old wrong.

Green Future

The clean, renewable cannabis-hemp plant can replace dirty fossil fuel petroleum to make plastics, oil and gas. Hemp can replace trees for paper and biomass. Hemp can be building materials. Hemp is also an excellent source of nutrition and it’s a bioaccumulator that can clean the soil. Hemp can literally save the world, but it must be completely removed from the CSA to allow development. We must be bold in ways we never have been before.

The question is: will President Biden be bold enough to cut through the red-tape and sign an Executive Order to remove cannabis from the CSA? Or is he going to let people suffer needlessly while the congress further argues over out-dated, racist, prohibitionist policy? 

There is nothing like a new industry to inspire hope and deliver relief to millions of Americans in this exceptionally difficult time. There is nothing like cannabis medicine for people living with dementia. Let all dementia sufferers have access to this life-changing plant. De-schedule cannabis today.

Chela Fiorini-Coennen, Farmacann Education & Outreach

#BeBold #CannabisHelpsDementia #dementia #care #economy #hemp

How Cannabis Eased Our Family’s Decade-long Journey Through Mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease

How Cannabis Eased Our Family’s Decade-long Journey Through Mom’s Alzheimer’s Disease

By Chela Fiorini-Coennen

Although it’s been a devastating year for everyone, it’s fair to say that people living in senior care homes with a dementing illness have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic more intensely than the rest of us. Beyond the fact that people living with dementia are at higher risk for coronavirus for several reasons, the isolation caused by public health measures and rules designed to protect them from the virus have led to rapid decline in many, as well as “Death by COVID Isolation”. Isolation itself is a risk factor for dementia, and is known to worsen the symptoms. Our loved ones are isolated for their protection, but how do we explain that to one who can’t remember. 

Lisa_Seagram_Art

There were times in her journey when my mom was in medical isolation where I couldn’t see her for a few days to a couple weeks, and even that short period was tough. After her long journey, my mom passed before the pandemic, and I can only imagine how hard it’s been for those of you who haven’t been allowed to support your loved one in assisted living the way you once did. We are all being asked to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good. And hopefully 2021 will bring better days and deeper connection.

In our first Farmacann Newsletter for 2021, we want to give you our backstory and explain why my husband and I became passionate advocates for cannabis therapeutics.

Cannabis medicine has been used by humans for centuries, and long before racist policy and corporate interests created “Reefer Madness”  spinning this healing herb into the Devil’s Lettuce throughout the 20th Century. Although they are very hard to do because of the highly restrictive drug scheduling of cannabis, there are studies which indicate that medical cannabis could be helpful in easing, isolation related depression anxiety and fear. Some researchers believe that “…THC and other cannabinoids may have an anxiolytic role in central mechanisms of fear behaviors…” and that cannabis “modulates subjective anxiety (Sethi et al., 1986; Wachtel et al., 2002; D’Souza et al., 2004).” 

Cannabis medicine really helped ease my mother’s anxiety and aggression throughout her Alzheimer’s dementia journey. I know personally that CBD and cannabis medicine have calmed my anxiety, caregiver stress, and helped ease my pain from IBD and migraines, and a 1:1 ratio of CBD:THC helps prevent my night sweats from symptoms of menopause. Of course, I’m only one person. But for my mom, and our family, cannabis became essential long before the pandemic.

Our journey began suddenly in 2010

Sure, my husband and I noticed she was forgetting stuff, but nothing too weird. “Wait ‘til you get old!” she’d say. Sure, she hadn’t been cooking much, “I’ve cooked for people all my life, I’m done!” She was getting lost driving, but that wasn’t so unusual, she always had a bad sense of direction. Finally after a fall, at the hospital the doctor said flatly, “Ms. Seagram, you have dementia.” In another room, the Social Worker told us, “You know she can’t live alone, right?” And just like that, the whole world turned upside down. 

But we’re “lucky,” they say, a diagnosis of dementia rips most families apart, and somehow it’s brought us closer together. Dementia is still a great mystery to science. They know little more today than they did 115 years ago when Dr. Alzheimer named the most common type. That’s probably why it’s the most feared diagnosis. Dementia affects more women than men, more people of color than whites. 

That night, near the hospital, we were just a couple of film crew workers sitting in a red vinyl booth at the world-famous Formosa Cafe. Colorful twinkling Christmas lights festooning the walls, surrounded by an audience of vintage, autographed black-and-white headshots: Brando, Bogart, Marilynn, Elvis all looking on as we tossed back martini’s crying in our mac and cheese about how our fun-loving, child-free, carefree lifestyle had suddenly been destroyed: Mom has Alzheimer’s Disease.

We were totally clueless, self-centered and lacked practical skills. Though I’ve worked props on medical shows, I’m not a doctor, nurse or medical professional! So we started to study: read all the books on Alzheimer’s and related dementias, did loads of internet research, went to support groups and every doctor visit with research and questions. We were still clueless, but so were the doctors. They know little more than Dr. Alzheimer knew in 1906. The leading Alzheimer’s organizations have nearly given up on a cure and are now focused on prevention and promoting brain health as the solution to these incredibly complex diseases. But it’s hard to prevent a disease the cause of which we don’t fully understand and what research there is points to a massive overhaul of our diet/nutrition, exercise regimen, sleep hygiene, and stress management. We don’t know the exact cause, and there’s no pill to fix it. 

Triage

We cared for my mom at home the first four years. Initially, it was complete triage. Constantly reacting to the major changes in all our lives. Including having to live with my narcissist mother who had been intent on breaking us up since before our first date. As the disease progressed, and our resources were drained, we had to move mom into a facility despite our absurd preference to keep her with us at home. She lived there for five years. The last two, spent crumpled and contracted, tortured and betrayed by her broken brain, trapped in her body at the mercy of a society that discards its elderly. Especially after she became non-verbal in the facility, she was frequently ignored, force fed, left wet for hours – until I was off work, and could get there to fix it. Every day. For years. It was a nightmare that only her passing could alleviate. After a nearly decade-long odyssey through dementia, my mom died February 1st, 2019.

When we began this journey in 2010 we only knew “Alzheimer’s” was a terminal disease that was bad news for your memory. Any form of dementia is no joke for all concerned. The irony is that the only way to get through it is to laugh and find the positive aspects out of the contrast, after all your dreams have been crushed – but that took us quite some time to figure out. Little did we know the answer was in our stash box all along. 

“It’s bad for her memory!”

My mom had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day from 13-50 and she also smoked small amounts of cannabis medicinally for severe pain from gallstones for nearly 40 years at bedtime. When she was diagnosed with dementia the docs were very much against her using cannabis at all. In fact, they seemed to blame it on her condition. “She can’t have Marijuana, it’s bad for her memory!” Her neurologist held us hostage for Namenda and said she couldn’t have the prescription if she used cannabis, because he said, “marijuana is a drug of abuse, it has no medical efficacy.” And they put her on five new powerful medicines, so we kept cannabis away from her for most of the first year. Primarily because we hadn’t researched the drug-drug interactions and thought her doctors must know best, this is their specialty.

For a while, it was hard to tell what was a symptom of the disease or side-effects from all the new prescription medication. My mom had been rather hard to deal with even before she got sick. They prescribed Ativan for her relentless anxiety and agitation which worked great the first day. But she had an adverse reaction the day after when she totally freaked out and called me terrible names, wildly accusing me of trying to kill her. They prescribed Zyprexa, an antipsychotic, for her severe aggression – they called it “dementia-related psychosis”. There’s a notice on the bottle that has a black box around it that reads:

WARNING: Increased Mortality in Elderly Patients With Dementia-Related Psychosis. Elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs are at an increased risk of death…not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis.” But Medicare paid for it. She was much nicer on the antipsychotic for a few days, but then, back to the name-calling freak outs. 

They prescribed Seroquel, a different antipsychotic with the same warning, to replace the Zyprexa. They prescribed Lexapro for depression, because she was terribly depressed that she was losing her mind, her freedom, herself. They prescribed Depakote, a powerful anti-seizure medication that also has a black box warning, to relieve mom’s restlessness, and the cyclical, constant questions. She never stopped asking the same questions over and over, and she developed a tremor, an ironic side effect of the anti-seizure medication. They prescribed Trazadone to help mom’s insomnia. And of course, they prescribed Aricept and Namenda to try to slow down the disease process. All these drugs have serious side effect warnings  that include kidney and liver damage, organ failure, stroke and sudden death. Which wouldn’t be so bad, if they actually worked and provided a decent quality of life.

Mom fell frequently on the meds, taken as prescribed, on their lowest doses  –  some of the lesser side-effects of these drugs include nervousness, restlessness and inability to sit still, particularly troublesome when there’s also weakness, loss of balance, and dizziness.  She experienced all those side effects and worse, the meds didn’t do anything for the symptoms we were trying to treat. The falls forced me to take time off work, which is when we finally wised up. Mom refused to get out of bed for three weeks. Somehow she remembered she had fallen several times and was terrified to fall again. Her new doctor was calling it “failure to thrive.” We thought for sure, this was it. 

In her room, her TV on, I was researching side-effects and drug-drug interactions. Mom turns to me and says, “I want a joint.” I call her new doctor and she says, “Look, she won’t get out of bed, give her anything she wants.” So I rolled us a joint and we smoked it together. Before we finish Mom says, “Let’s go to the living room and watch TV!” This began the discovery. 

Our Research Begins

I learned the U.S. Department of Health has held patent #6630507B1 on cannabis since 1998 as “…neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease…”  And that led us to discovering the mountain of evidence that cannabis actually helps ease the symptoms and slow the disease process of dementia.

A simple Pub-Med search reveals study after study after study that cannabis eases the terrible symptoms of dementia better than anything else available on the market. A documentary called “The Scientist” shows that every nursing home in Israel uses cannabis medicine for their elderly. Mainstream media sources show that there are a few facilities in Northern California and New York state  that are also currently using full-spectrum cannabis oil with people living with dementia. 33 State Departments of Health list Alzheimer’s Disease or other neurodegenerative diseases on their qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. How is it that a film worker turned family caregiver can uncover this life-changing information, but doctors seem willfully ignorant? 

We stopped going to the doctors who had advised so strongly against cannabis and prescribed all the deadly, ineffective, off-label black-box drugs. They were obviously not aware of the most current science, nor did they seem interested. This was tricky because we didn’t have many assets to speak of and mom was on Medicare and Medicaid. But her new, fresh out of medical school, vegan doctor was really open-minded. I guess she believed in the power of plants, because she certainly didn’t learn about cannabis in her formal training. 

How Cannabis Helped Mom

We weaned off five harsh prescription black-box drugs that were covered by insurance to find we only needed one plant-based medicine that we had to pay for out-of-pocket. It was obvious that Mom had greater focus and interaction when she was medicated with cannabis: she laughed, smiled and communicated with us, she was no longer agitated or aggressive. Cannabis helped mom have a carefree attitude about losing her mind. 

Cannabis oil helped my mom so much that I made sure that she had it every time I saw her. Quietly, however, since the Nursing facility told us they would throw us out for using cannabis, a “Schedule One” drug.  The first facility mom was in actually DID throw her out. After drug testing her for cannabis, and telling me to “knock it off” or they would ask us to leave. They kicked mom out after she drew the foul when another woman pushed her from behind and mom spun around and slapped her in the face in retaliation – my mom was the leader of the girls gang growing up in Brooklyn. The facility was not medicating her agitation and aggression at all and wouldn’t allow me to medicate her either…what did they expect?

Cannabis helped ease my mom’s symptoms from the moment we started using it, until her last breath – a couple drops of full spectrum CBD oil every hour eased her intense death rattle, and made it smooth like the sound of the oceans ebb and flow. 

Schedule I of Drugs

Perhaps the reason there is no widely known effective treatment for dementia, nor it’s terrible symptoms, is because of the Controlled Substances Act Schedule I of Drugs? Maybe, at least part of the answer to complex brain issues is in complex plant medicine. Maybe all plants should be allowed to be studied before the cost of caring for people living with dementia surpasses the GDP. 

In January 2019, The World Health Organization called for cannabis to be rescheduled internationally & admitted that it was erroneously put on the CSA in 1971 – that they have been wrong for decades. At the end of 2020 the WHO finally rescheduled cannabis and officially classified it as a less dangerous drug, hopefully paving the way for more research and greater access. Cannabis has been proven to help all of the difficult symptoms of dementia. 

Western Medicine is failing millions of people living with dementia and has not come up with anything promising in more than 100 years.  We don’t have to be restricted by draconian ideas on plant-medicine any longer. However, because cannabis remains on the Controlled Substances Act Schedule I of Drugs, doctors are uneducated and afraid of losing their licensing, and researchers have a very hard time funding studies and getting the plant material from the one and only government approved grower in Mississippi (NIDA). Public pressure can change this. We could ease the suffering for millions of people living with dementia today, with education and policy change.

If the government studies under prohibition taught us anything, it’s that this plant has  low risk of harm – it certainly does not have a black-box warning. With no end in sight for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias, we must expand where we search for solutions to one of the greatest threats to human health and our national and global economy. More studies with real-world cannabis products need to be done. 

After all the devastating losses from the COVID-19 pandemic this year, we must drop old racist policies that have held back cannabis research and prevented people from realizing the benefits from this plant that acts on so many different pathways simultaneously. Cannabis could even potentially help fight COVID-19 complications. We need to be able to freely study the potential of this vital plant. Call and write to all your elected officials and tell them to open up cannabis research, implement education and normalize the cannabis industry across all 50 states.

We must be bold. If not now, when?

#CannabisHelpsDementia

Chela Fiorini-Coennen

Chela and her husband Dave, working with Farmacann doing Education and Outreach, are Family Caregivers Turned Advocates who were so inspired by her mother’s journey they wrote a movie, launched the “Cannabis Helps Dementia” podcast , and started AlzNotes.com Crash Course for Caregivers under the umbrella of  Coennen Creative: Wellness Marketing Solutions. It’s their mission to improve the lives of those in relationship with dementia through care gap training and plant-based education. They specialize in private Zoom/phone coaching as well as provide a Community Intensive featuring the Virtual Dementia Tour all over Southern California, until COVID-19 put in person learning on hold. You can find them on all the socials @AlzNotes