Cannabis: Food and Medicine
Cannabis is simply a food — not a substance, not an illicit drug, not an herb, and as with all superfoods, it has a myriad of healing properties, according to Mark Pedersen of the eCS Therapies Center, an organization that concentrates on cannabis education.
Pedersen has been a cannabis patient for more than 20 years and intimately involved in trying to change state laws in the United States for the past 10 years. “What I have been about over the last 10 years is I've traveled the country, I've interviewed cannabis patients throughout, and I've interviewed scientists and doctors, as well as different people in different levels of government, all talking about cannabis — and cannabis particularly as medicine,” he said.
“Over the course of the last four and a half to five years I have been producing cannabis oil for the chronically and terminally ill while I've been living here in Colorado and of late, that has moved to where I pretty much deal with end-of-life cases, Stage IV cancers and such. ”
Discovering cannabis therapy
A native of Missouri and father of three, Pedersen has his own testimonial on the effectiveness of cannabis as medicine. “At one point in my life I was working 80-plus hours a week,” he said. “I was a certified welder and pipefitter. I worked in power plants — a heavy-metal worker. I worked with very toxic and noxious things like asbestos and such. I also had a small computer consulting business with about 12 to 13 business clients. And I had a benevolence ministry. I did counseling, both spiritual and financial counseling, as well as a lot of hospital visitations. That is when I first experienced spending a lot of time with people who were dying. I also had a food pantry, which then grew into a pantry association that covered three counties. This is where my life was. Quite literally, I worked 80-plus hours a week. Then I became ill.
“The community where I grew up and later worked in, the principal industry there was lead smelting. The pollution was in our air. It was in the dust that blew in from the roads. It was everywhere in our home. We had our home tested by a consulting firm and found it off the charts for lead, arsenic, and the different byproducts of the lead industry. I had purchased a house in that small community and proceeded to add some rooms to it, opening up the walls and pulling up the carpet, and I exposed my family to 100 years worth of those carcinogens. That really pushed me over the edge.”
Pedersen's health declined to the point where he was unable to work, lost his home, cars, careers, and marriage. He also lost his oldest daughter when she was 20 years old. Pedersen noted she had been sick most of her life, probably due to the same types of toxic exposures.
“My original diagnosis was severe migraines and fibromyalgia,” Pedersen said. “That's pretty much what it amounted to. My disability happened in 1997, and that's when I rediscovered cannabis in a blip in a fibromyalgia newsgroup — if you remember the newsgroups. I saw that cannabis can be effective in treating fibromyalgia and the pain.”
Pedersen continued delving into the benefits of cannabis until his learning journey became a crusade to educate others in 2006. “More people need cannabis because cannabis is actually a neuroprotectant and it helps people with memory and cognitive function,” he claims.
According to Pedersen, common perceptions of cannabis having the opposite effect of enhanced memory and cognitive function is largely due to the difference between how cannabis is used recreationally versus medicinally. “It has to do with the quantities they use and the methods they use in taking it,” he claims.
Endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids
“All humans, actually all mammals including some invertebrates, have what is called an endocannabinoid system,” Pedersen said. “So, basically what this means is that we produce within our bodies chemicals that are very similar to the chemicals that are produced by the cannabis plant. This is particularly important. The phytocannabinoids produced by cannabis are not the same thing as the endocannabinoids, but the similarities are what makes it so vitally important as a medicine.
Cannabis is food; food is medicine
According to Pedersen, in most cases when we talk about cannabis, people see through the eyes of pharmaceuticals or prescription drugs and this puts major limits on the cannabis discussion.
Pedersen added that our endocannabinoid system is a major part of our primary endocrine system and is a crucial part of modulating the chemicals that control and maintain the body's homeostasis. The phytocannabinoids actually mimic the body's own endocannabinoids.
Cannabis and cancer
In addition to his commitment to changing both laws and perceptions, Pedersen plans to continue to utilize cannabis to help the people who come to him.
“Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where when we had these terrible, terrible illnesses come about, like cancer, we chose the least volatile treatment first? And, why not choose the least volatile treatment first? Why not treat cancer with food first? Then, if you don't see any development — if you don't see anything positive within a short period, then move on to the toxic substances.”
“I wish more newly diagnosed cancer patients would try non-toxic cannabis first before moving onto toxic, neuro-damaging chemotherapy. However, most of the patients whom I treat with cannabis oil are taking it in addition to conventional therapies.
Utilizing cannabis therapy
There is a myriad of ways to utilize cannabis therapy including oral ingestion, suppositories, topical application, smoking, and vaping, according to Pedersen. But not all methods are created equal.
Cannabis is not marijuana
The term marijuana is actually a derogatory, slang term, according to Pedersen, and one he never uses. Hemp and cannabis are one and the same thing, according to Pedersen.
“Some years back, they began trying to change the vernacular so you'd hear the word hemp — understand that back in the 40s and before, it was all called hemp,” he said. “It was all hemp because it was all one plant. Now there are three different designations we find within cannabis. Basically, it's cannabis Sativa, cannabis Indica, and cannabis ruderalis. But, when we talk about cannabis as medicine, it quite often is a blending of all three. The reasons for that are because different strains grown for different purposes grow at different rates. Different stages have different levels of different cannabinoids and once they realized this, they began cultivating it to basically concentrate those particular products or benefits within the plant.
“From an industrial hemp level, we are talking about a product that can be used to produce a wide range of different things, everything from plastics to food to building supplies, it just goes on and on and on. But, it is not a separate thing as they have tried to make it out to [be]. It's insane. It's all one thing. It's all cannabis.”
The legislative battle
Much of the battle to change legislation boils down to education, according to Pedersen.
“This is part of what I'm seeking to change legislatively in the work I'm doing in drafting state policy, but it all comes back to education and understanding about what we're talking about when we're talking about cannabis,” he said. “Ignorance is people who don't understand what they're dealing with — what they're talking about when they are drafting state policy, and then you end up with all this twisted logic.
“Understand, that there is no state in the country where cannabis is actually legal. Cannabis is not legal in Colorado. Cannabis is highly regulated here. It's still considered by law to be a harmful, dangerous drug. That is very important. The federal government has, since 1971, a controlled substance list which basically rates them from Schedule 1 to Schedule 5. Every state in the union has its own list, and some states look to the federal government for that list. The state of Colorado is one of those states. It's actually in its revised statutes where it says that when it comes to controlled substances we look to the federal government. That's really important because we have a state like Colorado where people think cannabis is legal.”
However, that is definitely not the case, according to Pedersen. In Colorado, cannabis is rated as a Schedule 1 drug. As a comparison, heroin is also considered a Schedule 1 drug.
This stark contradiction in law and drug scheduling is one thing Pedersen has been addressing in his legislative initiatives for the past seven years.
Battle of public perception
One of the major challenges facing Pedersen's efforts in getting cannabis legally reclassified is one of the public perceptions. But, it is changing.
“In the events that I have held around the country, particularly in the Bible Belt, I'd say that 70 percent of those people are Sunday, go-to-church Christians,” he said.
“So, what we have here is we have a disparity in people's concepts. We have people who are within the cannabis community who truly don't think the rest of the world really would understand. But the fact is, the only reason people don't understand is because they just haven't received the education.”
From Mark Pedersen:
The legal circumstance that I have seen and documented affecting patients across this nation has now reached me as well. I have been served with civil forfeiture for personal property seized from my home, and I am currently facing five felony charges for the production of medicinal cannabis oil.
Cannabis shows some promising preliminary results in the areas of immune stimulation, pain relief, nausea, oncology, and other areas. Additional studies are needed to fully understand the effects of cannabis on the entire body.