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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 Medical Marijuana Doctors & Medical Marijuana Cards.

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.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Connecticut Doctor Becomes Believer In Healing Power Of Medical Marijuana
Author: Ed Stannard
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Photo Credit: New Haven Register
Website: New Haven Register