Pubdate: Sun, 04 Sep 2016
Source: Middletown Press, The (CT)
Copyright: 2016 The Middletown Press
Author: Ed Stannard


Doctor Becomes Believer in Healing Power of Medical Marijuana

Dr. Stephen Brown has become a believer in medical marijuana.

Since registering as a certifying physician 15 months ago, Brown has 
seen about 700 patients, and he believes it has helped a majority of them.

While certifying patients is required under state law for patients to 
buy medical marijuana, Brown takes pride in his physician's role. He 
spends time with each patient, takes a detailed medical history and follows up.

Brown was a reconstructive surgeon who retired from surgery when it 
became too physically taxing. He had started his career in the Army, 
repairing cleft lips and palates in a Saigon field hospital during 
the Vietnam War.

"I realized what I missed was patient contact, caring for people," he 
said. So when a colleague invited him to a seminar on medical 
marijuana given by Dr. Mark Ware of the McGill University Health 
Centre, he said yes. Ware is executive director of the Canadian 
Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids.

"I just felt as if I was talking to somebody who knew what he was 
talking about. He was a real doctor" who was promoting marijuana as a 
medical tool, Brown said.

Brown began to hear accounts of patients who had positive experiences 
with medical marijuana: reduced anxiety in those with post-traumatic 
stress disorder, fewer seizures in patients with epilepsy. He decided 
to give the field a try.

"It's an opportunity to be a healer again, and I think that's what 
the program has been ... These are really horrible diseases," Brown said.

It helps that Connecticut's medical marijuana program, overseen by 
the Department of Consumer Protection, is run on a pharmaceutical 
model. "Connecticut's program is the best program I think in the 
country," he said. "I really feel that way."

Under the state program, patients who are certified by their doctor 
must register with one of the eight dispensaries - a ninth has been 
approved in Milford - which are run by pharmacists. Patients can buy 
up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis a month in several forms, including 
smokeable marijuana, oils, sublingual strips and cookies.

"These are not head shops, OK? ... These are pharmacies that have one 
product," said Brown, one of 512 doctors registered with the state 
Consumer Protection Department.

About half of Brown's patients have PTSD, and only about 10 percent 
of those are veterans who have seen combat, Brown said. The rest face 
all-too-common traumas: "a lot of rape, a lot of assault, people 
getting shot in front of them. ... The amount of violence that we're 
seeing out there is horrific."

Symptoms from PTSD include anxiety and sleeplessness, symptoms that 
medical marijuana is able to treat. Brown talks of "their 
gratefulness to just feel better for the first time in ages."

But Brown doesn't see marijuana as the only treatment for PTSD. He 
encourages his patients to go into psychotherapy as well.

While clinical studies are not plentiful, Brown has heard plenty of 
stories from people whose symptoms from PTSD or other conditions have 
been reduced or even eliminated.

He tells his patients, "Just stay in touch with me. Let me know how 
you're doing. I want to stay in touch with you."

He told the story of a patient named Peter, 89 years old, with 
Parkinson's disease, who suffered what is called "Parkinsonian 
freeze," rendering him unable to take a step. As Brown describes it, 
Peter "holds up his hands; they don't shake anymore." Brown said 
Peter told him, "Doctor, look at this. I'm not hesitating. I don't 
freeze anymore. I have a progressive, neurological disease and I 
don't seem to be progressing."

Brown said that of almost 20 patients with Parkinson's that he's 
seen, only one wasn't helped by medical marijuana.

Another condition eligible for the program is epilepsy. Brown related 
how a patient who was suffering up to 100 petit mal seizures a day 
found relief by using marijuana. Having followed up with the patient, 
Brown said, "I believe he has not had a seizure in a year."

Other diseases for which medical marijuana has been helpful include 
Crohn's disease, whose sufferers report increased appetite and 
reduced symptoms such as diarrhea and intestinal bleeding, Brown said.

While it is widely accepted that marijuana reduces nausea from 
chemotherapy, cannabis may have other benefits for cancer patients. 
It appeared to reduce one patient's "major lymphedema" - swelling in 
the legs, Brown said. "Nobody is saying this cures cancer," Brown 
said. But he's heard of patients "being treated by two different 
oncologists [who] are doing better and the only thing they can 
attribute this to is cannabis."

Marijuana also "decreases intraocular pressure" in patients with 
glaucoma and, when used as a topical treatment, in oil form, improves 
the itchy, dry skin caused by psoriasis.

Because it reduces pain by up to 50 percent, cannabis has the 
potential to replace addictive opioids, Brown said. "Some of them get 
off of opioids totally," he said. "Does cannabis have a bad effect? 
Nothing that I've seen.

"Clinically, it seems to make a tremendous difference in the quality 
of someone's life," Brown said. "If I can improve the quality of 
someone's life ... then that's good. I'm doing my job as a physician."

Brown pointed out that there wasn't always a stigma about marijuana 
but its use was greatly curtailed by the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. 
Then, in 1970 the federal government listed it as a Schedule 1 drug, 
along with heroin and cocaine. That was because cannabis "allegedly 
had no health benefits," Brown said. However, he contends, "It's got 
tremendous health benefits."

Brown, whose practice is called Advanced Wellness Concepts and has 
offices in New Haven, Westbrook and West Hartford, charges $200 for a 
30-minute visit, which includes taking a medical history; follow-up 
visits are also included. Patients must be recertified each year. 
Brown charges $100 to recertify his own patients. His practice can be 
found on the website www.

Dr. Andrew Salner, director of the Hartford Health Care Cancer 
Institute, called Brown "a highly regarded plastic surgeon" who 
decided "to apply his skill set to an area that was needed." He 
described Brown as "somebody who is going to singularly devote 
themselves to using it appropriately for patients."

Both Salner and Brown said they've heard stories of doctors who spend 
little time with patients before certifying them. Also, Salner said, 
"We've heard that from other states where the programs are not 
well-controlled ... Connecticut has thoughtfully created a program 
that I think is as fraud-resistant as it could possibly be.

"I've certified patients from the very beginning of the program and I 
think there is a sense now that there is a growing interest in it," 
Salner said. He told the story of "a lovely elderly lady who could 
not tolerate nausea medications" while being treated for colon cancer 
that had spread to her liver.

At first she said "there's no way" she would use the drug. 
"Ultimately, they persuaded her to try it because none of the oral 
medications that we use worked for her." She finally became an 
advocate for medical marijuana.

"That really resonated with me because I do think there are cancer 
patients who have problems with either nausea or pain issues who 
could really benefit from medical marijuana."

Starting with California in 1996, 25 states and the District of 
Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use (four states plus 
Washington, D.C., have legalized it for recreational use as well).

According to the Consumer Protection Department, as of Friday there 
were 12,671 registered patients in the program that was passed by the 
General Assembly in 2012 and launched in September 2014.
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