Living with Multiple Sclerosis: Deanna’s story

Photo by Matt Dayak

Photo by Matt Dayak

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. The latest research reveals that nearly 1 million people are living with MS in the U.S. In Pennsylvania, MS is one of 21 conditions that qualifies patients for medical marijuana.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society “supports the rights of people with MS to work with their MS health care providers to access marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with legal regulations in those states where such use has been approved. In addition, the Society supports advancing research to better understand the benefits and potential risks of marijuana and its derivatives as a treatment for MS.”

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an immune-mediated disease where the immune system mistakenly perceives myelin, which is the protective sheath around nerve fibers in the central nervous system, as an intruder and attacks it. Overtime, repeated episodes of this inflammation cause scar tissue to develop around the nerve cells, which results in slower, or blocked, nerve functioning. Human functions and processes such as vision, speech, walking, writing, and memory, can all be impacted by this breakdown, though symptoms manifest differently from patient to patient.

In recognition of MS Awareness Month, we are honored to support the work of our local chapter of the National MS Society, and to help raise awareness by highlighting one of our own team members. Deanna was diagnosed with MS in 2016, and has bravely shared her story with us below.

Tell us about how you got from diagnosis to becoming a patient in the PA program:

“I actually had never consumed cannabis before I got this diagnosis. But as soon as I heard Pennsylvania was legalizing a medical program, I registered, because I wanted to be sure to try every possible thing that was available to help me. Cannabis is part of a larger, holistic plan for me which includes Tecfidera, which is an immune modulator, as well as meditation, diet, and sleep.

The thing about MS is most of the traditional pharmaceuticals that are available in the US are immune modulators, but there really aren’t a ton of treatment options for symptom management. There are some pharmaceuticals like Sativex that have been approved in other countries, but from what I’ve found, medical marijuana is one of the best options for symptom management available in the US right now.” 

What’s working for you so far?

“I’m still on my cannabis learning journey figuring out which strains are best for me. I started out with Indica strains but have actually found that Sativas seem to work better for me, especially for my depression.

I’ve found that I like vape cartridges the best. Because of my spasticity issues, titrating with tinctures just didn’t work well for me. I like Raspberry Cough as a general once a day vape in the morning to help me get going. I also like the Strawberry Fields and Mowie Wowie cartridges. I haven’t tried Harlequin yet, but it’s a big one in the MS community.” 

It’s great to hear medical marijuana is working for you. What makes you want to recommend it to others living with MS?

“I love the control and flexibility I have with medical marijuana, because MS is one of those diseases that really varies in terms of how it affects people. It’s nice to have a remedy where I can control the strains I try and dosages I administer, because there is no predictability of which symptoms will face me at different times.

This disease is just so unpredictable. You never know when an exacerbation will happen. You never know what days you may be challenged with mobility, or have these random cognitive issues where you can’t think clearly. The cognitive issues can be horrible - sometimes I just can’t find the right words to use in a totally basic conversation.

Just as everyone’s MS experience is unique, so is medicating with medical marijuana. There are so many strains that affect all of us differently.”

What’s been your biggest win since starting medical marijuana?

“The most significant thing for me has been being able to wean completely off of Zoloft, the SSRI I was on for my depression. Depression is one of the most common symptoms affecting MS patients. Some studies show that it’s even more frequent among people with MS than it is in the general population or with many other chronic illnesses.”

 I know you’re an avid researcher. What’s struck you most the more you read about MS? 

“There are so many interesting things. For many years, research showed that a lot of the people diagnosed with MS are middle aged, Caucasian women. But more recent research indicates there are possibly up to twice as many people in the US living with MS than previous studies indicated. So, the demographics of who is affected by the disease may be more diverse than previously believed.

What’s also interesting is a lot of people who have MS live in more northern latitudes, so there is some belief in the research community that environmental factors could be a contributing factor to root cause. Because of this, a lot of us in the MS community regularly take Vitamin D. Pittsburgh is actually a hot spot for MS, and considering how little sunlight we see here compared to other US cities, it’s another thing that, to me, points towards there being environmental influences on the disease.” 

What’s been your biggest challenge since being diagnosed?

“The unknown is the worst part. It’s scary to think that I don’t know what the future of this disease is, that I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know if I will develop worse cognitive or physical challenges. There is no natural progression with MS that researchers have identified.  

The other thing is that MS is considered an invisible illness. Sometimes when I’m out in public dealing with day-to-day stuff, I wish I could just tell the person at the grocery store or wherever I am that I’m struggling because of this disease.  It’s a reminder to treat others with kindness because you have no idea what they are privately dealing with in their lives.”  

Is there anything you want to add?

“If there is one thing I’d say in closing, it’s just that we are so fortunate in Pennsylvania to have a medical marijuana program and access to this medicine. It’s helping so many of us dealing with this disease and many others.”

Lastly, a word from our Pharmacist:

“There’s a large body of international research and anecdotal reports coming from the clinical trials that were done on Sativex that informed Maitri’s development of a customized dosing and titration regimen specific to patients with MS,” said Terri Kroh, Maitri’s Director of Pharmacy.

Further reading and research on multiple sclerosis and marijuana

●      A 2012 study by the MUSEC group demonstrated the superiority of cannabis extract over placebo in the treatment of muscle stiffness in MS.  Adverse events in participants treated with CE were consistent with the known side effects of cannabinoids. No new safety concerns were observed.

●      A 2018 study concluded that THC:CBD oromucosal spray provided better and clinically relevant improvement of resistant MS spasticity compared with adjusting first-line antispasticity medication alone.

●      The National MS Society prepared this 2017 Cannabis summary which includes additional research and key points relevant to MS and cannabis

New study reveals therapeutic benefits of THC

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A new study out of the University of New Mexico has created a buzz around the wide range of medicinal benefits THC may offer marijuana consumers. The study was published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, and can be read in its entirety here.

The researchers reviewed 20,000 user sessions and 27 symptom categories entered into the popular app, ReLeaf, the largest database of the effects of marijuana in the U.S.

“Despite the conventional wisdom, both in the popular press and much of the scientific community, that only CBD has medical benefits while THC merely makes one high, our results suggest that THC may be more important than CBD in generating therapeutic benefits. In our study, CBD appears to have little effect at all, while THC generates measurable improvements in symptom relief. These findings justify the immediate de-scheduling of all types of cannabis, in addition to hemp, so that cannabis with THC can be more widely accessible for pharmaceutical use by the general public.” — Jacob Miguel Vigil, study co-author, via EurekAlert

The study also revealed that dried flower was the most commonly used marijuana product, and generally associated with greater symptom relief than other types of cannabis products.

Read the full study

On Black Balloon Day, Maitri remembers those lost to opioid overdose

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Black Balloon Day is a national day of remembrance of not only those lost to the disease of addiction, but the friends and family of the loved ones left behind. The event was originally organized by Diane and Lauren Hurley in remembrance of Greg Tremblay, a father of four and brother-in-law of Lauren, who died of a drug overdose at 38 years of age on March 6, 2015

Maitri is joining communities across the nation to publicly display black balloons outside of our dispensaries. The balloons are a sign that an individual or community have been affected by drug addiction or an overdose death. The balloons also symbolize that “we are all in this together,” while generating greater awareness of the opioid and heroin epidemic. The Maitri team is no stranger to this issue, having lost many of our own friends and loved ones to the crisis.

At Maitri, we hear stories every day from patients who are weaning off opioids with the help of medical marijuana. Contrary to the popular misperception that cannabis is a gateway drug, we see it acting as an exit drug for many patients of all ages and backgrounds. Below is a list of links with more information about the epidemic, and some studies that point to cannabis as an effective treatment option for those struggling with addiction.

Further reading and links to studies

Click here to read the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Response to The Heroin and Prescription Opioid Crisis. Medical marijuana is discussed starting on page 44.

Click here to read Pennsylvania House Resolution 90 declaring March, 6, 2019 Black Balloon Day.

Click here to watch a video produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Health demonstrating how to administer naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone is available at all Pennsylvania pharmacies, and per the standing order issued by Dr. Rachel Levine, no prescription is needed to purchase it.

Click here to read the 2010 study by Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD; Brendan Saloner, PhD; Chinazo O. Cunningham, MD, MS; Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP that showed states with medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws.

Click here to read about the trio of recent studies that bolster the argument that legal marijuana can help combat the opioid epidemic.

Click here to watch The Exit Drug, a documentary created by Weedmaps that investigates how cannabis could play a major role in ending the opioid crisis, a public health emergency that kills an average of 115 U.S. citizens a day.

Click here to learn about how to join the battle in removing the stigma associated with the chronic disease of addiction.

Marijuana listening tour to visit Westmoreland, Fayette Counties on March 4-5

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Maitri Medicinals CEO Corinne Ogrodnik at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Photo by Matt Dayak.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Maitri Medicinals CEO Corinne Ogrodnik at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Photo by Matt Dayak.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman will visit Westmoreland and Fayette Counties as part of his statewide marijuana listening tour. Fetterman has committed to visiting each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to get public input on the possibility of Pennsylvania legalizing recreational use of marijuana, also known as adult use.

In a news release announcing Fetterman’s listening tour, Gov. Tom Wolf said, “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, especially those surrounding Pennsylvania, and we should learn from their efforts, and better understand the potential fiscal impacts of this reality before taking any collective action.”

The times and locations of next week’s events are below. Maitri encourages those who are able to attend and make your voice heard on this important issue. Those who cannot attend can submit feedback online at www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback/.

Westmoreland County 
Monday, March 4, 2019
6-7:30 PM
Greensburg Garden & Civic Center
951 Old Salem Road
Greensburg, PA 15601

Fayette County
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
6-7:30PM
Penn State Fayette
Swimmer Hall
2201 University Drive
Lemont Furnace, PA 15456

Marijuana listening tour to visit Washington, Greene Counties on February 18-19

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Maitri Medicinals CEO Corinne Ogrodnik at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Photo by Matt Dayak.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Maitri Medicinals CEO Corinne Ogrodnik at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Photo by Matt Dayak.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has announced stops next week in Washington and Greene Counties as part of his statewide marijuana listening tour. Fetterman has committed to visiting each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to get public input on the possibility of Pennsylvania legalizing recreational use of marijuana, also known as adult use.

In a news release announcing Fetterman’s listening tour, Gov. Tom Wolf said, “More and more states are successfully implementing marijuana legalization, especially those surrounding Pennsylvania, and we should learn from their efforts, and better understand the potential fiscal impacts of this reality before taking any collective action.”

The times and locations of next week’s events are below. Maitri encourages those who are able to attend and make your voice heard on this important issue. Those who cannot attend can submit feedback online at www.governor.pa.gov/recreational-marijuana-feedback/.

Washington County 
Monday, February 18, 2019
6-7:30 PM
The CENTER on Strawberry
59 E Strawberry Ave
Washington, PA 15301

Greene County
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
6-7:30PM
Waynesburg University
Alumni Hall (3rd floor of Miller Hall)
51 West College Street
Waynesburg, PA 15370

Erik Asher: From Disabled Veteran to Medical Marijuana Trailblazer

Erik Asher waiting outside Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary at the grand opening. Photo by Matt Dayak.

Erik Asher waiting outside Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary at the grand opening. Photo by Matt Dayak.

On Saturday, January 26, hours before the Maitri Medicinals grand opening in Pittsburgh, one passionate medical marijuana patient was determined to be the first through the dispensary’s doors. He arrived at Maitri hours before the ribbon was cut. He greeted Maitri CEO Corinne Ogrodnik and her team, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, and several fellow patients who had begun to line up. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. A disabled veteran and passionate marijuana advocate, this is Erik Asher’s story.

Life after Desert Storm

When Erik got out of the US Army in 1992 after fighting in Desert Storm, he was experiencing a range of health challenges, including PTSD, depression and many physical ailments.  By 1994, he ended up homeless, and sought refuge in the old VA on Highland Drive, where they began treating him.

“I was on tons of pills—opiates, antidepressants, you name it. And yet I still felt terrible; nothing was improving.”

His health continued declining through the 90s until he started self-medicating with cannabis. At this point, he had moved to Florida, and it was there his real cannabis journey took off. He became an advocate, and even participated in Florida’s legalizing Amendment 2, their medical program.

A new beginning in Pennsylvania

Erik Asher and his father, J Asher. Both are disabled veterans and proud MMJ patients.

Erik Asher and his father, J Asher. Both are disabled veterans and proud MMJ patients.

In 2016, Erik returned to Pittsburgh, just in time for the state’s legalization of Act 16. J Asher, Erik’s father, was also a veteran, having served in the US Marine Corps in the 1960s. He and Erik shared many of the same symptoms. J inspired Erik to get his card, and overtime, Erik went from being on 10 different medications to just two.

“I haven’t had to take an opiate or anti-anxiety pill since becoming a medical marijuana patient. I can’t overstate how dramatically cannabis has improved my life.”

Erik eventually translated this passion into work. He began studying solventless extraction and discovered he had an aptitude for it.

“As a disabled vet I don’t work, but I don’t want to sit around doing nothing. Becoming a part of this program has honestly given me a new purpose. I love promoting the health benefits and freedoms it offers people.”

Erik says his favorite strains tend to be heavier indicas because of their effects on his arthritic pains and insomnia. He loves Afghan Double Chunk, Dark Blue Dream and many of the OG strains because of the pain relief they offer.  

Why Maitri?

Erik making the first ever purchase at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Also pictured: Maitri Patient Advisor Robert Fazzolare.

Erik making the first ever purchase at Maitri’s Pittsburgh dispensary. Also pictured: Maitri Patient Advisor Robert Fazzolare.

Erik first heard about Maitri’s Uniontown location from a friend who had noticed the large flower selection on the menu.

“I went online to look at your menu and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t pass it up! On New Year’s Eve, I made the drive to Uniontown, and when I experienced the environment, between the staff and the design and the prices on the menu, I couldn’t believe it.

More than anything, it’s the amazing group of people working for you—in both locations—that set you apart. This is what I feel makes or breaks a dispensary: the staff. No one ever rushes me at Maitri. I always feel valued and important. This is what distinguishes Maitri the most in my eyes.”

Maitri thanks Erik and J for sharing their stories with our community. 

Learn more about Erik

Follow Erik on YouTube to learn more about his medical marijuana journey.

 

Pittsburgh Grand Opening Announcement

GRAND OPENING ANNOUNCEMENT

We are thrilled to announce our grand opening is this Saturday, 1/26/19. Doors open at 10am at 5845 Centre Avenue.

PARKING

Maitri is pleased to offer free parking to our patients two lots down from our dispensary at 5803 Centre Avenue. Look for the lot with the big grey building. See the below image.

PREPARING FOR YOUR VISIT

To expedite your visit, we recommend downloading and filling out the Patient Intake Form and Consent Form prior to arrival.

APPOINTMENTS AND PATIENT REGISTRATION

While appointments are not required, we strongly recommend those who are new to medical marijuana call ahead at 412.404.7464 to schedule an appointment with one of our pharmacists.

HANDICAP ACCESSIBILITY

Maitri staff are happy to assist patients with special needs. Patients can be dropped off in the loading zone in front of the dispensary and a Maitri team member will assist them into the building. Please call ahead at 412.404.7464 for more information.

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Pennsylvania Department of Health Application to Submit New Conditions to Qualify Patients for Medical Marijuana

Members of the public, and physicians, can now petition the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to add new qualifying conditions for patients to access medical marijuana.

Read the official announcement from the office of Governor Tom Wolf here.

Download the application to submit to the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board here.