Pubdate: Sun, 20 Dec 2009
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2009 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Jennifer DePaul


LYNDEBOROUGH -- Carl Hedberg calls himself a "cannabis  care coach," 
and he's on a mission to help others  reduce their pain.

Four years ago, Hedberg, 53, had exhausted all methods  to try to 
alleviate his chronic migraines.  Over-the-counter and prescribed 
medication weren't  working. In an effort to find a successful 
alternative  that would also decrease his use of pharmaceutical 
painkillers, he began to do research.

He discovered Dr. Lester Grinspoon's books, which  outlined the 
positive and negative uses of medicinal  marijuana. After meeting 
with him, Hedberg, who said he  had used marijuana recreationally in 
college, decided  to take small doses of it for his headaches. It was 
a  success.

Within the last year, Hedberg has worked with 11 people  from all 
walks of life in New England. Most of his  clients are middle-age 
women with a range of ailments,  including migraines, menopause, 
multiple sclerosis and  cancer. He meets his clients through 
marijuana advocacy  events or referrals, and he said most of them 
already  grow the illegal drug.

Hedberg will make a casual home visit and spend two to  three hours 
with patients to teach them how to  administer marijuana in other 
ways than smoking it.  He's then "on call" for any follow-up 
questions clients  may have.

Hedberg says smoking isn't optimal. The son of a former  surgeon at 
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston,  Hedberg grew up in a 
medical household. After  experimenting for several years, he has 
created beeswax  salves, vaporizers, tinctures and ways to eat it in foods.

He charges $120 for his guidance, but it's a negotiable  rate. This 
includes helping clients to make a tincture  -- a solution of grain 
alcohol, water and marijuana --  and understanding how their body 
will react with  marijuana, depending on weight, desired strength of 
the effect and tolerance to different drugs.

There are some drawbacks to the various ways of  consuming marijuana.

"The challenge is it's in an illegal environment and  virtually 
impossible to make tincture affordable,"  Hedberg said.

He says the underground market price for one-eighth of  an ounce is 
$60 to $80. One ounce yields about 200 eye  drops full of the 
solution, which equates to 10 to 30  doses depending on each client, 
he said. The tincture  solution can cost up to $300.

Hedberg said his method is cost ineffective and that he  primarily 
works with plant growers because they're  supplied internally. 
Vaporizing, on the other hand, has  increasingly become more popular 
among users because  it's a fast delivery of the drug, he said.

There is a wide range of vaporizers on the market,  according to 
Hedberg. When the active ingredient in the  plant cannabinoid is 
heated to a temperature below  burning, the plant material doesn't 
burn, but the  cannabinoids are stripped away and released as a vapor.

Federal law bans the use and distribution of marijuana,  although 13 
states have legalized marijuana use for the  severely sick whose 
doctors approve the drug.  Neighboring Maine approved access to 
marijuana for  individuals with medical conditions last month.

In July, Gov. John Lynch vetoed a bill that would have  made New 
Hampshire the 14th state to approve it. The  New Hampshire House of 
Representatives failed to  override Lynch's veto in October. Lynch 
expressed  concern over the potential for unauthorized  distribution 
and the amount of drug allowed to be  dispensed.

Hedberg is careful not to get involved with the supply  aspect of his 
newfound business.

"I don't supply it," he said. "The grower piece of the  dispensary 
system already exists. If someone asks me  where to get it, I tell 
them to go to the growers."

The freelance entrepreneurship writer and editor keeps  a low volume 
of the drug, never more than one-eighth of  an ounce, in his home.

"I am hoping that New Hampshire law enforcement has  better things to 
do than come down hard on me for using  small amounts of cannabis for 
headaches or helping  patients learn how to reduce the smoking aspect 
of  their use," Hedberg said.

"I am not aware of anyone doing this before in New  Hampshire," 
Hillsborough County Attorney Robert Walsh  said. He said if Hedberg 
were caught distributing it,  then local police would follow the law 
and brings  charges against him.

In October, the U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire, John  Kacavas, said 
he wouldn't prosecute people using small  amounts of marijuana for pain.

Hedberg is cognizant of the dangers involved with his  work and 
worries he could be caught. But he's willing  to take the risk. If 
he's caught and sent to jail, he  would bring a guitar and a write a 
book, he jokes.

"I'm putting myself out there," he said. "I think it's  fine for 
people to do this and put themselves out there  in small ways."

Dennis Acton, of Freemont, a cancer survivor, advocates  legalizing 
marijuana for medicinal uses in New  Hampshire. He found small doses 
of the drug to be more  successful during chemotherapy than the 
prescribed  $1,600 anti-nausea Zofran pills.

Now he wants to convince a female family member, who  experiences 
debilitating migraines, that small doses of  marijuana could be a 
positive experience and alleviate  her pain. (He didn't want her name 
to be used to  protect her anonymity.) She has tried every type of 
treatment, including Botox injections into her scalp.  Nothing has 
yielded successful results.

The family member fervently opposes the drug because of  its 
illegality and won't try it.

"We really want to try and do something for her," Acton said.

Acton recently discovered Hedberg and met with him. He  has persuaded 
his family member to speak with Hedberg.  Within the next week, the 
two will sit down for an  informational session on the positive and 
negative  aspects of medical marijuana.

Hedberg says medicinal use of marijuana isn't for  everyone and may 
not be a guarantee to ease pain, but  that it's safe enough to try.

"We, as citizens, have discovered there is a safe and  effective 
medicine that has never killed anyone," he  said. "Yet, we are not 
permitted to use it. Even if you  took too much, it won't require 
anything more than  fruit juice and a good night's sleep.

"The dangers are low, and some people have gotten off pharmaceuticals."

Unlike some pharmaceutical drugs that can inhibit a  patient's 
functions, marijuana leaves a patient  functioning and almost in a 
euphoric state, Hedberg  said.

"I don't think the government has a right to tell us  what we can use 
for medicine if we do it safely," he  said.

Hedberg hopes to expand his client base and make a  living in this 
illegal industry.

"I believe I can help," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart