Author Archives: Chela Fiorini

Could Cannabis Improve Long Term Brain Health?

Could Cannabis Improve Long Term Brain Health?

By Chela Fiorini

Cannabis herb and leaves with oil extracts in jarsMy mom died with complications from Alzheimer’s and so did my paternal aunt and grandmother. When they were diagnosed the mainstream thought was that there is nothing you can do to slow or stop the progression nor could we prevent it. Now, we know better. We know that we can do many things to fight off the onset of debilitating cognitive decline if we have an early diagnosis. But I say, why wait?

Particularly interested in preventing cognitive decline, I learn from many functional medicine doctors and practice a healthy diet and lifestyle that includes eating vegetables, minimizing starchy carbs, lean toward low glycemic sweets like berries; doing regular moderate exercise; getting quality sleep and managing stress with mindfulness and meditation as well as using cannabis medicine. Two new studies released in March validate my personal working theories. 

In Georgia, a mouse study showed that two weeks of high doses of CBD “…ameliorated the symptoms of AD, and retarded cognitive decline…” Cannabidiol Ameliorates Cognitive Function via Regulation of IL-33 and TREM2 Upregulation in a Murine Model of Alzheimer’s Disease

Also released last month,  a computer simulation employing all atom molecular dynamics simulations showed that “…THC molecules disrupt the amyloid-β protofibril structure by binding strongly to them.” And referenced that “…Δ-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a cannabinoid, which can bind to the receptors in the brain, and has shown promise in reducing the fibril content in many experimental studies…” 

 There is a new drug in the Korean research pipeline showing some hope for Alzheimer’s on the thing that cannabis seems to do, but cannabis is available to Californians and many others right now, and has an established low risk of harm in the low doses that seniors and people living with dementia are using. 

Combining these interesting new findings with Dr. Russo’s Frontiers article, also below, I’m seeing a picture that research should do a hard pivot and look for how cannabis is and can help in dementing illnesses and so many others.  

Hope you enjoy reading the studies, and please share what you’re doing to support your long term brain health in the comments.

Cannabidiol Ameliorates Cognitive Function via Regulation of IL-33 and TREM2 Upregulation in a Murine Model of Alzheimer’s Disease

“Our findings suggest that CBD treatment enhanced IL-33 and TREM2 expression, ameliorated the symptoms of AD, and retarded cognitive decline.”

Destabilization of the Alzheimer’s amyloid-β protofibrils by THC: A molecular dynamics simulation study

[FTA]

“…Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of dementia in the elderly population for which there is no cure at present. Deposits of neurotoxic plaques are found in the brains of patients which are composed of fibrils of the amyloid-β peptide. Molecules which can disrupt these fibrils have gained attention as potential therapeutic agents. Δ-tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) is a cannabinoid, which can bind to the receptors in the brain, and has shown promise in reducing the fibril content in many experimental studies. In our present study, by employing all atom molecular dynamics simulations, we have investigated the mechanism of the interaction of the THC molecules with the amyloid-β protofibrils. Our results show that the THC molecules disrupt the protofibril structure by binding strongly to them. The driving force for the binding was the hydrophobic interactions with the hydrophobic residues in the fibrils. As a result of these interactions, the tight packing of the hydrophobic core of the protofibrils was made loose, and salt bridges, which were important for stability were disrupted. Hydrogen bonds between the chains of the protofibrils which are important for stability were disrupted, as a result of which the β-sheet content was reduced. The destabilization of the protofibrils by the THC molecules leads to the conclusion that THC molecules may be considered for the therapy in treating Alzheimer’s disease.”

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

[FTA] “…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…”

Connect with me on LinkedIn @CoachChela

Caregiver Advocacy: Engaging Lawmakers To Expand Access, &  Right to Try Plant Medicine

Caregiver Advocacy: Engaging Lawmakers To Expand Access & the Right to Try Plant Medicine

Remove Cannabis from the CSA Today!

February 19th was the last day for bills to be introduced in the CA Legislature. There are several bills pertinent to California medical cannabis patient access. I’ve written to my Assembly Member and CA Senator and left messages in their offices. Including what I wrote to them, below, for inspiration. 

If any of these issues are important to you or a loved one, please contact your elected reps. Remember, they work for you. Let’s end the failed policy that is also bad for medical cannabis patients. To find your California state representative you can use this website: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

In Solidarity,
Chela

AB 527    (Wood D)   Controlled substances: cannabinoids.  

Impacting physicians and medical cannabis patients

MY CONCERNS:

What medical cannabis patients really need is cannabis to be removed for the CSA Schedule I completely, DE-scheduling. It was erroneously put there for political reasons. The science that the  LaGuardia (1930s) & Schafer Commission (1970) presented was ignored and the CSA Schedule I was codified. It’s time for this to stop. 

I would love to see mandated endocannabinoid system education ADDED to this bill.

AB 384    (Kalra D)   Cannabis and cannabis products: animals: veterinary medicine.

Impacting veterinarians and consumers. 

MY CONCERNS:

We all have an endocannabinoid system and plant cannabinoids found in cannabis help to keep it balanced. Medical cannabis users often want their pets to feel better, too. I would love to see mandated endocannabinoid system education ADDED to this bill.

[NO!] AB 1034  (Bloom D)   Commercial cannabis licenses: free cannabis. 

Compassion/patient access.

MY CONCERNS:

Why would anyone want to limit compassion? DO NOT LIMIT COMPASSION PROGRAMS. The modern cannabis movement is alive only because of medicinal cannabis. If anything more compassion and easier access is what’s needed. Do not punish patients and small business owners. Never limit compassion. Especially for microbusinesses. Compassion is often why a microbusiness owner got into cannabis to begin with.

AB 1256  (Quirk D)   Employment discrimination: cannabis screening test.  

Patient access/doctor patient relationship. 

MY CONCERNS:

Many studies are coming out that show medical or “adult use” cannabis reduces the need for opioids. And another study showed places that have access to cannabis have fewer workers compensation claims. If anything, I would loosen the restrictions on this bill. Stop screening for “marijuana” period. 

SB 311    (Hueso D)   Compassionate Access to Medical Cannabis Act or Ryan’s Law. 

Patient access. Dignity in dying.

MY CONCERNS:

But imo, too many barriers to be in alignment with federal law. I had to do this for my own mom. We would have been lost without cannabis on her deathbed. But, as you know, this one Gov. Newsom VETO’d last session over concerns about the Fed. Schedule I. He needs courage. The people want freedom of choice.

SB 519 (Weiner D) Controlled substances: decriminalization of certain hallucinogenic substances.

MY CONCERNS:

End failed policy, allow for sharing and research. Israel is researching how psilocybin and cannabis could help in dementia.

My letter to representatives.

Dear [Elected CA Assembly Member and Senator] – 

As a family caregiver turned advocate for people living with Alzheimer’s & related dementias, I urge you to vote YES for things that support more patient access and freedom, and NO on things that will limit access to cannabis and other potentially life changing plant-and-fungus medicines.  Seniors, especially those in long term care have particular difficulty in accessing safe, tested, legal medicinal cannabis due to current banking laws and the plant’s CSA Schedule I designation, which was not actually based on science (See Shafer and LaGuardia Commission Reports). Doctors still face dire consequences due to the same federal policy. There are many people living with dementia in Northern California who are in long-term care facilities getting this remarkable medicine in low dose capsules in blister pack pill cards, compliant with Title 22, but it is a labor of love that is not easy to sustain. These people need this medicine. And so many others could benefit when policy changes. 

Below are a few bills proposed this session that warrant your support and attention. Please don’t hesitate to call if you would like to discuss any of these further, or if you have advice for me. I know you’re extremely busy, thank you for all you do for people.

Sincerely,

Chela

Benzos, Depression & Alzheimer’s During Pandemic Isolation

Nerd Land: Benzos, Depression & Alzheimer’s During Pandemic Isolation

Benzodiazepines are frequently prescribed to ease anxiety, insomnia and agitation. Anxiety and insomnia are risk factors for developing dementia. 

As one who’s mom, paternal grandmother and aunt all died with complications related to dementia, and one who knows they all suffered with anxiety and insomnia, I am particularly interested in these kinds of stories. Additionally, anxiety has been my ongoing medical issue since I was a kid, really. I sucked my thumb til I was 12 and only stopped after my best friend blabbed it to her boyfriend. 

For a long time, doctors recommended benzodiazepines to treat my anxiety, along with recommending exercise and mindfulness practices. After reading that the FDA-approved, prescription meds I was on could cause sudden seizures, I swore to never take them again and leaned into plant medicine, despite the societal stigma in the early 1990’s. 

Anxiety and isolation related depression are having a devastating impact on our seniors and the people who love them.

Below are some recent stories and research that I found particularly interesting:

Benzodiazepine Use and the Risk of Dementia

[FTA] “…Concluding Thoughts

Available evidence indicates a positive association between the use of benzodiazepines and the development of dementia, although causality cannot be inferred from this data. Despite the lack of evidence proving causality, the association between benzodiazepine use and the development of dementia is a major cause for concern given the prevalence of benzodiazepine use among older adults. The prescription of benzodiazepines to older adults must be carefully reviewed given the lack of data regarding their long-term efficacy and their significant adverse effects including the risk for developing dementia.”

Cannabidiol: A Potential New Alternative for the Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Psychotic Disorders

Preliminary clinical trials also support the efficacy of CBD as an anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and antidepressant, and more importantly, a positive risk-benefit profile. These promising results support the development of large-scale studies to further evaluate CBD as a potential new drug for the treatment of these psychiatric disorders.

Alzheimer’s deaths skyrocket as patients’ lives ‘upended’ by pandemic

[FTA] “…In September, Bettie Pitchford, 76, who had been an accomplished quilter, occasional clown for children’s parties, active member of her church and the NAACP and director of special education for the Pontiac School District outside Detroit, became one of thousands of Americans with dementia to die unexpectedly, succumbing not to the infection of COVID-19 but to the way it upended their already off-kilter lives.

Nationally, about 259,250 people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia were expected to die last year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Federal data analyzed by the association shows that the number of dementia deaths, at least through the end of November, was 16% higher. More than 38,000 people died unexpectedly…”

Study Finds Older Adults Using Cannabis to Treat Common Health Conditions

“Pain, insomnia and anxiety were the most common reasons for cannabis use and, for the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain,” said Christopher Kaufmann, PhD, co-first author of the study and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego.

Pandemic isolation has killed thousands of Alzheimer’s patients while families watch from afar

[fta] “…Overlooked amid America’s war against the coronavirus is this reality: People with dementia are dying not just from the virus but from the very strategy of isolation that’s supposed to protect them. In recent months, doctors have reported increased falls, pulmonary infections, depression and sudden frailty in patients who had been stable for years…”

Believe in Science? Cannabis medicine creates homeostasis in body and mind

Believe in Science? Cannabis medicine creates homeostasis in body and mind

By Chela Fiorini-Coennen

Inner harmony

through balancing chemistry 

healthy happiness

It’s impossible to understand that cannabis is medicine without knowing that our bodies have an Endocannabinoid system (ECS; eCB). A vital system that is maintained by cannabinoids we make on-demand in our bodies. By eating leafy greens and a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and reducing stress we help balance our ECS. We can also nourish our ECS by consuming phytocannabinoids like those found in cannabis and other plants. Sounds a little like crunchy-granola-hippie-talk, but it’s actually science. The first cannabinoid receptor was discovered in 1988 and further research over the next decade, led to understanding of the network that came to be known as the “endocannabinoid system.” 

All vertebrates have an endocannabinoid system. It’s essential in maintaining balance in our body and brain. Our ECS keeps us steady. If it’s not working properly, we experience dis-ease. 

There are a number of systems in the human body including: the circulatory, digestive and excretory, endocrine, integumentary/exocrine, immune and lymphatic, muscular, nervous, renal and urinary, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal and the endocannabinoid system.

The existence of the ECS is well-established in scientific literature. Although more needs to be learned about it, the existence of the ECS is currently only taught in 10 US medical schools. And in my home state of California, where Medical Cannabis has been legal since 1996, it’s not required for healthcare providers to learn about it at all. What if the nervous system or skeletal system were only taught in a handful of medical schools? Would you be comfortable seeing a doctor that didn’t know about all the systems of the human body? Has your doctor studied the importance and role of the endocannabinoid system?

In her incredibly accessible and illuminating 2020 book, “Cannabis is Medicine,” Dr. Bonni Goldstein writes, “The endocannabinoid system is the most widespread receptor system in the human body. It regulates many of the most important physiologic pathways, including: 

    • Gastrointestinal activity
    • Cardiovascular activity
    • Pain perception
    • Maintenance of bone mass
    • Metabolism control
    • Immune function
    • Inflammatory reactions
    • Inhibition of tumor cells

As you can see, your endocannabinoid system is involved in just about every chemical process in your body!” (p.30)

In a 2013 study published in Cerebrum, Bradley E. Alger, Ph.D. writes, “…Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind…” 

So, the question is, if most healthcare professionals aren’t getting the complete picture because of outdated policy and lagging professional requirements, how can we get symptom relief or even hope for a cure to so many illusive illnesses? 

World-renowned neurologist, researcher and psychopharmacologist, Dr. Ethan Russo theorized that a deficiency in the endocannabinoid system could be the cause of many hard to treat issues “…that lack objective signs and remain treatment resistant. Foremost among these are migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome…with possible common underlying pathophysiology suggests that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency might characterize their origin…” 

Dr. Russo has also proposed that Alzheimer’s and other intractable conditions may be related to endocannabinoid deficiency. More studies are obviously needed. 

On the subject of Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome, Dr. Goldstein writes, “…Chronic stress, poor diet, poor sleep, and chronic pain have all been shown to negatively impact endocannabinoid system functioning and can lead to endocannabinoid dysfunction…” (p.38)

It’s well established that endocannabinoid dysregulation leads to anxiety, depression and many other disorders. So, be sure to tone your endocannabinoid system. Eat your greens, get regular exercise, quality sleep and reduce stress. Consider cannabinoid therapy if you’re having trouble. Science is real. 

#cannabisismedicine #scienceisreal #endocannabinoidsystem #ecs #cbd #thc

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5812699/ CB1 & CB2 Receptor Pharmacology Drs. Allyn C. Howlett and Mary E. Abood

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997295/#:~:text=Endocannabinoids%2 0and%20their%20receptors%20are,bridge%20between%20body%20and%20mind. Getting High on the Endocannabinoid System Bradley E. Alger, Ph.D.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28861491/ Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other Treatment-Resistant Syndromes by Dr.Ethan B Russo 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30405366/ Cannabis Therapeutics and the Future of Neurology by Dr.Ethan B Russo 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21916860/ Endocannabinoid system dysfunction in mood and related disorders by Drs. C H Ashton, P B Moore

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3808114/ Role of Endocannabinoid Signaling in Anxiety and Depression by Drs. Sachin Patel and Cecilia J. Hillard

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22123166/ Contributions of endocannabinoid signaling to psychiatric disorders in humans: genetic and biochemical evidence by Drs. C J Hillard, K M Weinlander, K L Stuhr

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22804774/ The endocannabinoid system and the brain by Drs. Raphael Mechoulam, Linda A Parker

 

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