Pubdate: Fri, 10 Apr 2015
Source: Standard, The (St. Catharines, CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 St. Catharines Standard
Author: Karena Walter
Page: A1


It's not a head buzz, Zita Brown explains. It's a body buzz.

The 31-year-old mom says when she inhales the vapours of medical 
marijuana, the pain that has racked her body for more than half her 
life subsides. She can sleep through the night. Finally.

"It's basically my last resort," the Beamsville woman says.

"I've tried everything else. Why not try this?"

Brown says she was never a pot smoker. After reading about the 
opening of Canadian Cannabis Clinics last September in Th e Standard, 
she decided to weigh her options. So did many others. The clinic is 
the first in Niagara focusing solely on patients who might need 
medical marijuana. In its first six months, it has attracted 600 
patients from across the region and beyond, many of whom, like Brown, 
were banking on that "last resort."

"I think all of us, actually, have been quite moved by what kind of 
impact it's had on patients," said Ronan Levy, one of the clinic's directors.

"The general feedback we've received from most is just how life- 
changing the medical cannabis has been for them."

The company, which recently opened clinics in Etobicoke, London and 
Ottawa, got in on the ground floor to fill a niche as more and more 
people turn to medical marijuana.

Health Canada said 15,000 people in the country are registered with 
licensed producers. The number of medical marijuana users is 
projected to rise to more than 430,000 over the next decade. Health 
Canada says the industry could be worth $ 1.3 billion by 2024.

Th e King St. clinic has attracted patients from more than 100 
communities as far away as Timmins. Thirty-three percent are from St. 
Catharines, 15% from Niagara Falls, 9% from Welland and 4% from Thorold.

Most were referred by 130 family doctors who may not have the 
knowledge, comfort-level or desire to prescribe medical marijuana 
themselves. The clinic's own doctor does an assessment of the patient 
and their medical history to determine if marijuana is right for them.

Chronic pain is the most commonly referenced condition, followed by 
anxiety, depression and insomnia, Levy said.

There are no drugs on site. Patients who receive a prescription have 
to order cannabis online from one of 17 licensed producers authorized 
by Health Canada, like Tweed Inc. in Smith Falls, which is Brown's 
go- to company.

Diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue 
disorder, Brown said she's been on every medication for pain 
imaginable, including morphine and percocet.

She has seen doctors and pain specialists in Hamilton and Toronto 
since the aching began when she was 14.

Two years ago, she took herself off morphine because it made her head 
feel cloudy and "she was physically there, but not mentally there."

But being off medication was unbearable. For 2 1/2 years, the care of 
the household with three kids fell to her husband.

A family doctor suggested medical marijuana, but Brown said smoking 
made her cough. When that happens, she pops ribs. She didn't know 
marijuana could be vaporized until she read the article.

Now she has a pen-sized metal wand that looks like an e-cigarette. It 
holds a pinch of chocolate-flavoured marijuana that is heated up by 
battery to a temperature just before combustion.

The active ingredients are inhaled, without the byproducts of smoke.

The device is discreet enough to use in the backyard without the 
neighbours wondering what she's doing. She takes the medicinal 
marijuana before bed, and it lets her sleep through the night and 
play with her kids the next day.

"It's brought me more to a life," Brown says.

Life-changing is the phrase used by single mom Christina 
Adkin-Smithers of Brantford.

On Oct. 22, she drove to the St. Catharines clinic with her 
15-year-old son. She calls it their "potiversary."

Her youngest son, one of three siblings with autism, also has 
epilepsy, developmental delay and aggression issues, which she 
believes are triggered by seizures.

For six years, she said, he punched holes in walls, broke dishes, 
didn't sleep. His outbursts could be triggered by anything, from his 
mom wearing bangs to a change in routine. Police pulled her car over 
because he was screaming so loudly.

"There isn't a knife within arm's length in this house," she said.

Her son was sent to various doctors and psychiatrists. At one point, 
he was on 11 medications a day. She said nothing was helping.

Adkin-Smithers took to the Internet searching for anything that might 
work and discovered some parents were advocating marijuana. The St. 
Catharines clinic saw her without a doctor's referral.

Levy said prescriptions for people under 25 are not common, because 
there is a potential of long-term psychological harm.

A parent must show the doctor they've exhausted every possible avenue 
before going down that route.

Adkin-Smithers said the possibility of her son hurting himself when 
he hit his head against the wall outweighed the possible harm from 
inhaling marijuana.

Since he started inhaling the vapours, she said, his seizures have 
decreased from 10 to 20 a day to only one since October. He remains 
on two other medications and a vitamin regimen.

She said he's calm and he sleeps. The family has been apple picking, 
Christmas shopping and even sat through a Hamilton Bulldogs game.

"It gave us a quality of life back - all of us, and only one of us 
was on it," she said.

The cost of $200 to $300 a month is expensive, but she said they make 
do, cutting back on groceries and turning the heat down.

She has become a big proponent of medical marijuana and is willing to 
take any negative pushback.

"I have friends saying, 'I can't believe you're doing this to your 
kids, see ya,' and others say, 'Tell me more.'"

While patients may believe in the product, debates rage over its use. 
A negative image is something the medical marijuana industry still 
has to overcome.

"When you say we're in this industry, this is what we're working on, 
people still are a little bit shocked, think it's a little bit of a 
joke," Levy said.

"Our focus is really trying to change the impression of it being pot 
smoking hippies just writing prescriptions and really focusing on 
this being medicine and actually helping people."

Levy said the clinic is medically focused, and that's the key message 
he wants to get out to doctors who tend to be skeptical of the whole 
area and to patients worried they'll be perceived as "potheads."

"That's not the case. It is medicine. It's being treated like 
medicine and it should be looked at as medicine."

Patient Sonny Friskey said he wishes people would have an open mind.

"It's hard, because some people who are doing that (negative 
stereotypes) drink every weekend. I don't drink alcohol," he said. "I 
believe this is helping."

He said traditional prescribed medications weren't working for his 
anxiety, insomnia and depression. He suffered adverse side effects, 
like a loss of appetite and a rash.

The 30-year-old St. Catharines man had been trying to find a doctor 
to prescribe medicinal marijuana since 2009.

"There were nights when I would not sleep. Not sleep at all," said 
Friskey, who has to get up at 4:30 a.m. to build foundations. "It 
would be time to get to work and you get down on yourself and depressed."

Like Brown, he read about the clinic and made an appointment. He now 
uses a vaporizer at night before bed and said the weight of the world 
is off his shoulders.

His employers have noticed a change and he's showing up to work earlier.

There's no negative side, he said, other than dry mouth and red eye 
once in a while.

"I'm happy now. I feel like the quality of life is much, much better."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom