Cannabis: Food and Medicine
Cannabis is a food — not a substance, not an illicit drug, not a herb. It is simply a food, and as with all superfoods, it has a myriad of healing properties, according to Mark Pedersen of the eCS Therapies Center, an organization which concentrates on cannabis education.
“My life mission is to change the cannabis law throughout our country and the world, and see cannabis treated like any other agricultural crop, the same as spinach or lettuce or any other product,” Pedersen said. “[Cannabis is a] food, it's a superfood, and that's the way it should be.”
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. I've worked with children as young as the age of 8 months, [as well as] with adults and seniors.”
“When we deal with treating illness with prescription drugs we're dealing with poison, plain and simple.”
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 pipe fitter. 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 great deal 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 which 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 principle 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. I went to a friend of mine and got some poor quality cannabis and started treating myself with it in the best way I knew how which was smoking it. I discovered that in three weeks my fibromyalgia symptoms were subsiding substantially. My migraines, which had been sometimes two to three moderate to severe migraines a week, down to practically nil very quickly. I still had migraines, but they weren't nearly as severe. A lot of the different issues I had were subsiding and I thought ‘What's the deal here? Is this real?' Why, if this is real, why aren't more people experiencing it?
“But, the amazing thing I discovered was the change in my memories. I started remembering things — important things — things you aren't supposed to forget like the birth of your children. So I started investigating further.”
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 noted.
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 explained. “I can tell you first hand, if you were using large quantities, you would find that cognitive function would go up, and the euphoria [experienced] would go away.
“What I can tell you is that it also comes down to other factors. The quality of the cannabis that people get can make a lot of difference as far as the effects that we see. Understand, when we talk about the euphoria that people experience from cannabis, this is a side effect. This is actually an endogenous side effect, and the reason I say that is because it's why and the way it's affecting the body and to explain that I have to jump back and explain the cannabis plant has what is called a phytocannabinoid system.”
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 make it so vitally important as a medicine.
“To give you an idea, the cannabinoid THC, in your bloodstream, and the endogenous chemical that you produce called anandamide — you cannot tell the difference between the two. The effects would be the same within your body, and that's particularly important because THC is the only active ingredient found in the cannabis plant. There are many other cannabinoids but they don't have the same effect as THC does because THC so accurately replicates the function of anandamide within the human body that's why it's particularly important.
“The effects of THC are felt when that chemical makes its way to those receptors within the brain, according to Pedersen. “The euphoria we experience is basically identical to the experience we have, what people call ‘runner's high',” he said. “Basically, that happens whenever anandamide is released into your bloodstream because you've exerted yourself and because one of the responsibilities of your endocannabinoid system is modulating the chemicals that repair our cells and strip away the waste and deal with the cells like cancer cells. That is part of the functioning or main functions of our endocannabinoid system.”
“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.”Mark Pedersen
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.
“When we deal with treating illness with prescription drugs we're dealing with poison, plain and simple,” he said. “When we deal with cannabis, cannabis is non-toxic and cannabis is actually a superfood even more nutritious than flax. So when we deal with cannabis, we're actually treating illness with food — nutrition, essentially. We're providing nutrition to our primary endocrine system — to our endocannabinoid system. So when we talk about what illnesses are we treating, basically what illness is in your body? What is it that your immune system is called into check?
“People have asked me, ‘Does cannabis treat Parkinson's disease?' I say ‘Yes.' They say, ‘Does it treat multiple sclerosis?' Yes. ‘Does it treat brain cancer? Stomach cancer? Prostate cancer?' ‘Yes' They go through the whole gamut and it's like, what is it that affects your body? What are the things that your immune system must deal with? Well, these are all the things that cannabis can assist us with because by fortifying our endocannabinoid system, we are aiding it in dealing with all of these issues. We produce cancer throughout our whole body throughout our whole life. We deal with cancer cells, you know, even in our mother's womb.”
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.
“If we produce cancer cells throughout our life, why is it at some point in time that suddenly now cancer is allowed to take — to run rampant?”, he asked. “And, we believe that the cause [of most cancer] is man-made — caused by the chemicals we ingest within the food we eat, prescription drugs, and other toxins we are exposed to. So, something affects our endocannabinoid system — throws it out of whack, it doesn't work the way it should — and then when we take large doses of phytocannabinoids, it's kind of like giving a super-charge to that system to kick it into working again. “And then we start seeing tumors shrinking — we start to see people responding remarkably.
“Cannabis as medicine hasn't come anywhere close to seeing where it's going to be from a commercial standpoint. Cannabis has the potential to replace upwards of 90 percent of the known pharmacopia — in so many different ways, because we are talking about a non-toxic substance treating terminal illness — treating debilitating illness. I have seen incredible miracles. I have stopped pediatric seizures in three minutes in my living room, when there was no drug on the market short of general anesthetic that could accomplish that task. Now, you may say that's bragging, but, I don't care. It's not me, it's the cannabis.”
Did You Know?
More on cannabisFrom The Cannabist: In 2016, we saw some important cannabis research published in top medical journals — research that flips the script on previously held beliefs and research that backs up what we’ve already seen anecdotally with medical cannabis. Here are some of the year’s most important scientific studies on cannabis:
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.
“I truly want to deal with legitimate illnesses, particularly terminal illnesses, that has become my focus, particularly children,” he said. “When patients come to me they are most often at Stage IV [of cancer], and at Stage IV they are already on chemotherapy and/or radiation. So, I'm not only dealing with the issues of the cancer, I'm also dealing with the issues of the traditional therapies the patient has already been undergoing. Treating the side effects of the chemo and radiation quite often eclipses the cancer.
“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 the 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. Why? Why not? Well, I'll tell you why not. And, the reason is because of expense. It's how much money our medical community rakes in from cancer therapy. A lot. This is really, truly the reason why we are not talking about the least volatile treatment first. Really, that's what we're talking.”
Cannabis can not only be an effective, valid cancer treatment, but also a first-line preventative measure, according to Pedersen.
“Cannabis affects a weakened and/or damaged endocannabinoid system, essentially supercharging it,” Pedersen explained. “The endocannabinoid system is responsible for dealing with cancerous tumors, as well as basic cell health. Cannabis has actually been found to stimulate the production of endocannabinoids. Because it works with this endogenous system, it is effective in treating all forms of cancer – albeit, with varying levels of success based on the condition of the patient's heath, current damage from the cancer and conventional treatments, age, etc. Of course, cannabis oil is an excellent preventative treatment. I have a family ravaged by stomach cancer. After losing one, too late to save him, I am now successfully treating a twin brother…preventative for another brother and sister.
“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. The fact that cannabis is nontoxic, makes it the perfect adjunct.
“Cannabis is a valid treatment for cancer — through the entire range of stages of cancers. Even at Stage IV, we are seeing miracles. We see the most astounding things. But the biggest factor I see with the patients I treat is improved quality of life. To be able to spend your remaining years, whatever number of years they be, with some quality of life — you enjoy your family and be able to go out peacefully, this is a very important factor, too.
“But, the real value that we are going to see in cancer cannabis therapies is going to come about when we really start seeing cannabis as food, because once cannabis is truly legal, and we can work with the amount — basically we get the price down on the plant material so everyone can afford it, we can start changing these things. Imagine a world where cancer is no more than an inconvenience. We know that patients can consume cannabis over extended periods of time because of the fact it's non-toxic and the fact it's a superfood and highly nutritious. They can consume it indefinitely. You can't do that with prescription drugs. You can't do that with these other therapies. Your kidneys and liver give out. I think cannabis stands the potential of replacing all cancer therapies. All cancer 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.
“When we smoke or vaporize cannabis, we take into our bodies upwards of 15 percent of the cannabinoids found in the cannabis,” Pedersen said. “When we eat cannabis, we take it orally, sublingually, or however, by mouth — we take into the body upwards of 30 percent of the cannabinoids that actually have medicinal value. When we take it orally, we also experience a great deal of euphoria, particularly if you don't take it regularly. Now, with suppositories, we get upwards of three times what you would get orally. You get 70 percent plus of the medicinal benefit from the cannabinoids. But, the other benefit you get from this is you get a dramatically reduced amount of euphoria and this has to do with the way it passes through in our rectum. Basically, the majority of the medication is making its way into the system, avoiding our liver, and by doing so we avoid much of the euphoria. So, you can understand that with the patients I'm working with, which are mostly end-of-life, Stage IV type scenarios, I'm really pushing the suppositories.
“When you are talking about topical applications, we have seen some really remarkable things with that. Much depends on the strength of the salve. We have seen a lot of salves you get in dispensaries that really aren't potent enough to do anything effectively. If the salves are potent enough, we see some remarkable benefits. It's perhaps one of the easiest ways to show patients the benefit of cannabis, particularly with people over the age of 50 or 60 years old. If you just allow them to apply a little bit to a knuckle, in 15 to 20 minutes they'll be back for more to apply to their hands and their other joints. The benefits are quite remarkable, increased mobility and much less pain with the topicals.”
“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.”Mark Pedersen
Cannabis is not marijuana
The term marijuana is actually a derogatory, slang term, according to Pedersen, and one he never uses. “It's a derogatory term given to cannabis back in the time when certain people — the powers that be — were seeking to make cannabis illegal for financial benefit,” he explained. “That is the reason why cannabis was made illegal in 1937 was because of that very reason. The term marijuana was adopted because they wanted to confuse people so people would not make the association with cannabis. In 1938, the American Medical Association petitioned the federal government to get a medicinal waiver for medicinal cannabis. Of course, Congress refused.
“It was all a smokescreen. Its original reason was because certain players had the opportunity to make many many millions of dollars by displacing an entire industry, and the industry we are talking about is the industrial hemp industry. DuPont had just come out with nylon a couple of years before and when we think about nylon, we think about clothing, but looking through 1930s eyes, when we are talking about nylon we would be thinking about synthetic rope. Well, in the 1930s they couldn't compete with hemp because hemp was a superior product all the way around.”
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 their 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 it's 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.
“So, now we see this huge disparity in the law,” he said. “[In Colorado] we have a controlled substance Schedule 1 drug that is being sold by 21-year-olds in retail stores. Think about what it would be like if a store opened up down the street from you and started selling heroin. You would see the bars on the windows and bars on the doors. You would see the big armed guard that stands out front. Just like we're seeing with cannabis in Colorado. The only difference is, cannabis is non-toxic. If you were to consume a cannabis regimen of 60 grams in one sitting, you would have a very uncomfortable experience followed by a very long sleep. Then you would probably have a couple of days you would be walking around in a cloud, then you would feel like a million bucks. You would not die from it because cannabis cannot kill you. Cannabis is food. It's food.”
This stark contradiction in law and drug scheduling is one thing Pedersen has been addressing in his legislative initiatives for the past seven years. “Why we treat it this way is because these states continue to maintain that cannabis is a schedule 1 drug,” he explained. “If you read the initiatives that I've written, in every one of them the very first mission is the removal of cannabis entirely from the controlled substances because food doesn't belong on a controlled substances list.”
Drug scheduling is not the only hurdle facing Pedersen in his legislative journey, another major problem is what he calls “baby steps.”
“The problem we have encountered all along is that baby steps do not work,” he said. “When it comes to issues like cannabis, the problem is that with each step that you make you create ancillary industries that exist only because of prohibition. Now, let me explain. Where Colorado is can be considered a baby step. They are on their way toward full legalization, some would say. But, the problem is that maintaining cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug is imperative so they can maintain the same level of controls. There is special packaging that has been developed and endorsed by the state. It's always money. It's always money. So, we have companies that their only purpose is designing special packaging. That's why I call my bills — my initiatives that I've written, the latest one for 2018 — a reset button because if my initiative was to go into place, all of this would go away. We would go back to square one; cannabis would be treated as a food, as it was prior to 1937.”
Did You Know?
ECS Therapy CenterThe startling evidence of the ECS and the plethora of resulting scientific evidence that has followed has failed to morph the public dialogue about cannabis use from harmful, illegal substance to low-risk, non-toxic, potential health therapy or simple nutritional supplement for most, if not, all human beings. Nor, has public or professional education been a focus of policymakers. In short, the prohibition of cannabis has failed to become an issue of public health. Our mission is to develop a public health model for cannabis therapy.
• Learn More
Battle of public perception
One of the major challenges facing Pedersen's efforts in getting cannabis legally reclassified is one of public perception. 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. “I have taken and provided oil to a Kentucky Baptist preacher for his son. I have counseled with a Baptist preacher in a small town in Nebraska. I had a preacher in the middle of Oklahoma who his congregation was pooling cash to send one of their congregants who had cancer out to Colorado to get medication. I just met with a pastor here in Colorado who is hugely supportive of the work that I do.
“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. How do we counteract that? We counteract it with education. We do it the same way in which cannabis was made illegal. It began becoming illegal in 1927, I believe it was, with California, and then by 1937, there were 20-some odd states that had pushed for these laws. And again, it all came about because of the fact that the people had no control in their own government. The lawmakers were determining these laws and passing them in the states' statutes. That's how cannabis became illegal.
“So, how do we change it back? We do it by working, particularly within those states that can do a direct initiative, where the people can truly decide their future and what the future of cannabis is, not crooked lawmakers.”
Changing cannabis' reputation as a drug that provides a “high” is another battle of misinformation and public misconception, according to Pedersen.
“People falsely compare it to the response we receive when we are talking about alcohol, but they are two completely different things,” he said. “When we consume alcohol it's held in our liver, as it's converted into a non-toxic substance — a substance that won't poison us. You know, even a spoonful of alcohol into our bloodstream will kill us. It has to be converted into a substance that our body can tolerate, and so when we consume vast amounts of alcohol what do we see? We see our liver swelling as it seeks to try to hold that alcohol — that poison — in there and not release it into the rest of our system. But, at some point, it cascades into our bloodstream and then it makes its way into our brain. What happens there? It begins killing our brain cells. That's poisoning.
“Well now, let's talk about cannabis in our systems. When we consume cannabis, it passes through our liver. Our liver sees it as food because that's rightly what it truly is. It's not only food, it's a substance that is familiar to our bodies. It's familiar because we produce these chemicals, endocannabinoids. OK, so what does our liver do? Cannabis passes right through the liver, and we consume what we need right then and then it stores the rest in our fat cells. This is why when in later times we exert ourselves and we need to call upon our endocannabinoids to repair our cells our body releases those phytocannabinoids stored up in our fat cells into our bloodstream. This is also why we can still test positive for cannabis sometimes weeks after we've consumed it — it's been stored away in our fat cells because our bodies naturally realize that cannabis is food.”
According to Pedersen, the book “The eCS Therapy Companion Guide: A Reference Source for Your Endocannabinoid System”, written by Dr. Regina Nelson with contributions by Pedersen, is a great place to start if you want to learn the truth about cannibis. “It's available on Amazon,” he said. “Basically, what we sought to do with this book is to show the world the truth – to identify a lot of the falsehoods about cannabis, and to help people to understand that cannabis truly is food.”
But what about our children if cannabis becomes legal, or a “food”?
“We have a responsibility as parents to teach our children how we believe they should grow up,” Pedersen said. “And when we talk about cannabis, I can tell you that cannabis is non-toxic — that the euphoria we experience with cannabis does not harm us in any way, and that actually the longer we consume cannabis the less euphoria we experience — so, basically, it's negligible — it doesn't exist. Particularly among our children. Our children actually respond less quickly than we do as adults.
“So, the question comes down to, if you have an issue with your child experiencing euphoria, whether it's because of cannabis or any other substance, this is your personal duty as a parent to bring it up, to discuss it and also take and make sure your child adheres to those tenets that you personally subscribe to as a family. This is not something that is the duty of law enforcement or our court system because we are talking about food.
“Our schools and our law enforcement are not the ones who are supposed to teach the values to our children. We are supposed to teach values to our children,” Pedersen said. “We are supposed to instruct our children what is right and what is wrong. Laws are not in place to make children obey them. No. We instill those values in our children, as parents.
“You know, I raised three children. Not one of my children drank bleach or ammonia — none of those things. We never had a lock on the cupboard where those things were contained. Our kids knew where the Tylenol was in the medicine cabinet. They didn't go take it without talking to us first. They never even thought about doing that.”
The myriad of health and disease-fighting benefits of cannabis are almost impossible to comprehensively list, but it is clear it is an amazing weapon in the war against cancer. Cannabis, which is non-toxic, is proven to be an immune stimulant, an effective pain reliever, anti-nausea, cancer-fighting, and appetite-stimulating nervous system tonic and superfood.
The battle to reclassify cannabis as a food and not as a scheduled drug is an ongoing and crucial one. Pedersen and others who share his views are fighting to bring cannabis to a place in our society where it is an available, affordable superfood that can help people successfully fight and prevent all manner of serious illnesses, including cancer.