By: Jessica Skinner
This is a subject with great controversy, and while I don’t claim to be an expert, I do have personal experience.
In 2012 I answered an ad for a private caregivers position. I was told “Ms. Ellen” had dementia, the beginning stages of Alzheimer disease and frontal temporal lobe aphasia. As I sat looking at the sweet Grandma sunbathing, I thought…”so what? We got this.” Then I was informed she probably had 6 months to live…and I had to take the position. When I first began working with Ellen, she was still capable of speech, dressing and feeding herself, and basic bathroom needs. She was a quieter woman, who enjoyed physical closeness and affection most of the time. Our worst fears simply being that we needed to add a slide barrel bolt on the doors, to prevent our Lady wandering unattended. There were times however, that uncertainty in her world would cause what I called “the huff.” She would start huffing rapidly and relentlessly pacing, as if looking for someone or something. During our first anxious encounter, I asked her son what is usually done to calm her, wanting to keep with familiar routine.
Now came the blow to my pharmacy technicians mind. This woman who struggled with short and long term memory, critical thinking skills, and cognitive awareness was on enough pharmaceuticals to silence Charles Manson! Drugs like Seroquel, Haldol, Ambien, Aricept, and Namenda. On top of Coumadin, Thyroid, and heart meds. I was dumbfounded. They were taking what little was left of this woman who raised children, owned a fashion company worth millions, survived WW2 in Berlin, traveled the world, and shoving it in the trash heap of Big Pharms pockets.
During this time, I was enrolled in some Biology courses, and had access to a wonderful library, and two phenomenal professors that enjoyed nerding out as much as I; my biology professor and a psychiatric professor. We began meeting in the library on their lunch to spit-ball ideas about Alzheimer disease as well as Autism. With Alzheimer, we decided to dig into the research that leads to the hypothesis that the “glial cells” or degeneration of, is a leading cause of this infection that ravages the brain and neurological system. Glial cells are primarily, like a “glue” holding together all the great pathways In our brain. The closest reference I can make is that they are the roads our messages are sent on. Research has found that a large number of Alzheimer sufferers also have a degeneration of this “glue” or pathway, making it difficult for messages to be sent from one part or another. So as an example, a person with a degeneration of the neuro-pathway might be thinking “peanut butter” quietly but end up screaming out “Jelly!”
Taking this into account, I started thinking about all the benefits of cannabis. Or what I knew of it at the time. Time to read and bother professors again.
I started medicating Ellen on my own when she would have her “huffs.” Her son had previously informed me she was a regular cannabis user her whole life. How could I not? I perfected a light dosage and heavier dosage of medicated tea and coffee…she loved both. After about 2 weeks of very diligent observations, I went back to the library. Can this help her be more comfortable?
All 3 of us were indeed active cannabis consumers, because we understood our own personal benefits, what about a course of treatment?
We started digging deep. Our neurological system has more cannabinoid receptors than any other, making it difficult to convince me we are not supposed to be using cannabis. Our body actually works on an endocannabinoid system, when this system is compromised, so is health. When ingesting cannabis, we introduce the cannabinoids our body can use for a smoother, happier, healthier self. The most common misperception is that cannabis is only used to become intoxicated. Cannabis is medicine.
Imagine if you will a road (the brains glial cells) with pot holes (excuse the pun) and you need to get your vehicle (neuro messages) from one place to another. If you take your vehicle over this torn up road, you will bounce around, have to dodge, reroute and possibly break an axle. Now imagine a friendly road paver go first and fill in the pot holes, making for an easier journey. Your vehicle will be more stable, quicker to maneuver, and most likely you will get where you’re going without incident.
This is only one of the benefits of medicinal use of cannabis. I also discovered regular cannabis use can correct a Thyroid or metabolism issue as well. So many issues can be maintained with cannabis.
Going back to Ellen armed with more knowledge, I decided we were going to medicate. I spoke to her son of my research and observations…speaking of my own use to battle depression instead of the arsenal of poison a doctor wanted to prescribe me. With his blessing we began a new regimen.
We stopped the Haldol and Seroquel at first and began to medicate for anxiety. The horror show of withdrawal from Seroquel being no joke, just reinforced my belief she shouldn’t be on that. This was 4 months in, in the morning with her breakfast, she would have a lightly medicated tea or coffee with breakfast. We then would go through our morning activities, which could be anything from the beach (our backyard), to entertaining friends. We were around people we could be open with in Florida, and everyone we were around happily shared in Ellen’s life. We had a standard regime of medicating at each meal, and before bed, with some recreational use as well. I routinely introduced edibles, CBD oils, and inhalation methods, all of which you could see she benefitted from. Making her life more enjoyable and my job easier. Six months came and went, and we ate a medicated cake to celebrate. No huffs that day.
One year, then two years passed… of course my lady was in a non-stop degenerative, nose dive. We just made adjustments and new recipes along the way. There were times she was completely unresponsive, I would medicate her and her eyes would light up, and she would call her son by name. On more than one occasion, in the throws, of a huff she would grab my box of meds and throw it at me. I took that as a sign that “Jessica, I need meds”… and I would eagerly comply. Immediately providing relief to us both. We bonded very deeply. She became my regular smoke buddy and companion. Four wonderful, terrible years later, I was by her side as she left this world. The only one holding her as she passed. Just so you know, the last thing we did together was smoke a blunt, and she was smiling as she went despite her pain and fear.
So, do I believe we need to explore into medicating Alzheimer sufferers with cannabis? Heck Yes! I, through my personal experience, can say I know of the possibilities. I also am kind of biased in my thinking it is incredibly cruel to give hard core pharmaceuticals to an already confused and frightened individual. It is also cruel to leave them with no relief. I believe cannabis therapy regimens can be very beneficial for most afflictions. One being Alzheimer disease….I implore you to do your own research then ask your doctor questions. Love your loved one enough to explore all options before settling for one course of action or another. I will forever be grateful to my “old lady” she saved my life and opened my future to a whole new path, while I was helping her let her life go. Cannabis definitely helped us both through one of the roughest times in our lives….research, ask, do what feels right.