By Mary Lou Smart www.medicalcannabisart.com
“Thinking back on it now, that pot increased my standard of living, and so I guess it was medicinal use. There can be a fine line between recreational and medicinal, and at some point many of us realize that cannabis has the ability to improve the quality of our lives.”
Salvatore Sodaro might want to consider a career in law or public service after college. The University of Connecticut history major has a way with words. Sodaro, who suffers from Crohn’s disease and the related chronic issue of arthritic pain in most joints, spoke at the final hearing a few months before Connecticut’s Public Act 12-55, “An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana” was signed into law by Governor Dannell Malloy.
After more than 15 years of hearings, legislators finally said yes. While Sodaro was at the podium, long-time State Senator John A. Kissel remarked that until Sodaro and the other speakers at the 2012 legislative session spoke, he had been unconvinced. In his eyes, most of the advocates from earlier years, those who had taken time from work, driven hours for an unfa-miliar task, and waited hours to speak were somehow “out in left field,” not really suffering from any discernible illnesses, pursuing other agendas. Sodaro’s presentation was well composed and believable, he said.
“I didn’t expect that,” Sodaro said later. “I would love to dispel the lazy stoner stereotype because it is so offensive and silly. Honestly, I wanted to tell him that nine days out of 10, maybe I also look like the fringe element he was referring to. I just dressed up on that day because I was going to speak with legislators.”
Senator Kissel also told Sodaro, “If this alleviates your pain so that you can go on and do all of the other things in your life, then I’m completely in support of that.”
Granted, the earlier advocates might have spoken too soon. Public opinion had shifted over the years. A March 2012 Quinnipiac University poll revealed that a whop-ping 68 percent of Connecticut citizens polled approve of medical cannabis.
Sodaro is a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), a grassroots international organization that push-es for drug reform and an end to the Drug War. For Sodaro, the battle is personal. When testifying, he men-tioned that he is tired of having to break the law to find the only remedy that relieves several of the conditions he faces on a daily basis. He does not want his parents to worry anymore about him risking arrest either.
SSDP members do not condone or condemn drug use. They believe that education is preferable to incarceration, and valuable when dealing with drug policy. Sodaro’s experience with SSDP has contributed to his strong inter-est in activism. In his upcoming and final semester at the University of Connecticut he plans to teach a course about the history of youth activism that will delve into the role of education in dispelling the many myths that fuel the War on Drugs.
The pro-Drug War contingent, on the other hand, depends on the uneducated falling for the tall tale.
In Connecticut, during many years of testimony as medical cannabis bills bounced back and forth between the Senate and House, Senator Toni Boucher, a long-time opponent, became known for rambling, flat-earth filibusters. Certainly no fan of the House Bill 5389 that Sodaro championed, the Senator seemed to be channeling America’s first Drug Czar, the crazed Harry J. Anslinger, with her ambitious litany of horror stories that bore little, if any, resemblance to fact as it relates to medical cannabis. In 2012, for example, her anti-cannabis testimony stated that 80 per-cent of the state’s foster children come from homes plagued with addiction, but omitted the detail that crack, oxycontin, other toxic meds, or alcohol are most likely the demons causing the statistic, if it even exists.
Anslinger was also given to blurting unfounded procla-mations such as “this marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others,” and “marijuana is an addictive drug which pro-duces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”
Boucher boldly declared, “I have reams of data which speak to the unhealthy effects of marijuana on the heart, lungs, immune system and brain. Doctors tell me that it is partic-ularly harmful for post-traumatic stress disorder. Going over that data with you could literally take me days.”
In fact, United States Patent # 6,630,507 B1, owned by the
United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human
Services, entitled Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants documents
the usefulness of cannabinoids in treating myriad oxidation-associated
diseases, including inflam-matory and autoimmune diseases, and as
neuroprotec-tants, which could mean anything from stroke or head injury or
Altzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or dementia. Numerous studies show that cannabis is
beneficial in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, important consid-ering
that suicide rates among combat veterans are sky-rocketing and the United
States Department of Veterans
Affairs is embracing alternative therapies.
When testifying, Sodaro spoke about his primary condi-tions. Crohn’s disease and arthritis involve inflammation, which cannabis has been proven to help. He struggles to maintain weight, and cannabis boosts his appetite. He suffers from arthritic pain and related stress headaches, and cannabis relieves both.
Overlooking the many serious side effects that the chron-ically ill face with prescription pain pills, Senator Boucher plowed on; “If, in fact, this is about helping the afflicted manage pain, there are many alternative drugs that would keep patients alert and functional as they look for-ward to recovery from a serious illness.”
Sick people, cheer up and take your meds! Seriously, though, Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition with no known cure.
“The way Toni Boucher describes it is that you just get so high that you forget you are in pain,” he said. “That is her charac-terization of the way that cannabis works, and I think that that is an evil way to characterize the absence of suffering.”
Sodaro was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 12, but he suf-fered with the condition for as long as he could remem-ber. “Most people were not even aware of Crohn’s back then,” he said. “We’re only getting our first television commercials now; you know what I mean?”
Crohn’s is considered to be an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system goes after the gastrointestinal (GI)
tract, resulting in inflammation. A type of inflammatory bowel disease, the condition causes abdominal pain, diar-rhea, vomiting and weight loss. Malabsorption in the small intestine deprives the body of essential nutrients. Conditions stemming from Crohn’s are many and include arthritis, fatigue, rashes, malnutrition and depression.
“I do not have the worst case that I’ve come across.” said Sodaro. “I have never had to have a part of me surgical-ly removed. On the other hand, Crohn’s can be quite excruciating for anyone. This is no picnic.”
In earlier years, Sodaro’s doctors prescribed a regimen of dozens of pills daily, some of them opiates. As a student, he could not afford to be knocked out by multiple meds when he needed to concentrate and study. In high school, while his friends enjoyed drugs, marijuana and alcohol recreation-ally, he did not feel the need to partake. He never liked cig-arettes either. After graduating from high school, he gave in to curiosity and smoked marijuana. He enjoyed it.
“In the parlance of our time, I just wanted to smoke pot, and I would classify that use as recreational,” he said. “Thinking back on it now, that pot increased my stan-dard of living, and so I guess it was medicinal use. There can be a fine line between recreational and medicinal, and at some point many of us realize that cannabis has the ability to improve the quality of our lives.”
Now 21, he copes with the disease on
a daily basis, and tries to avoid extreme flair-ups by maintaining a healthy
diet without junk food. He considers cannabis, which boosts his appetite, to be part of his healthy diet.
Numerous preclinical studies show that cannabinoid receptors exhibit reactions on the GI tract. Incorporating cannabis therapy with modulation of the endocannabi-noid system to treat the tract has shown such promise that programs currently available in more than one-third of the states in the United States usually include Crohn’s disease as a qualifying condition for a cannabis card.
“From my perspective, the cannabis obliterates the aches and pains, the acid reflux feeling, and the nausea,” he said.
For delivery methods, Sodaro enjoys the immediate relief that comes with smoking. He also finds prepared or infused edibles to be extremely beneficial. Building blocks for cooking that he recommends include canna butter or canna oil, which he uses in place of peanut butter or cook-ing oil. He reports that Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread, mixed with cannabis makes a delicious treat in a s’mores-type preparation, wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the oven according to any standard s’mores recipe.
“It is up to each individual to experiment and obviously different strains of cannabis will respond differently in a wide range of preparations,” he said. “Digestion is a fan-tastic means of using medical cannabis. It takes longer to onset than smoking, but it will last longer and hit harder. If you are looking for pain relief, and you have a good indica strain, edibles can be extremely beneficial.”