hope

Medical Cannabis & Autism: Kali's Story

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Kali of St. Cloud, Minnesota is a junior at Apollo High School. She loves camping, swimming, traveling (Duluth is one of her favorite destinations), art and pursuing her new-found passion for photography. Kali has an older brother, loves to visit her grandpa Marvin in Sleepy Eye, and enjoys spending quality time with her family; their go-to activities include camping trips, bowling and trips to Denny’s.

When Kali was a baby, she didn’t start crawling until she was nearly eight months old; she didn’t start walking until she was two. She would never look at people--even at daycare. She didn’t interact with her peers and would sit by the corner of the fence and watch. As she grew up certain things improved but there were always new issues popping up.

In 2007, Kali was diagnosed with autism and severe anxiety; in 2019, she was officially diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

The day-to-day for Kali and her family was difficult at best. She would have meltdowns that lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, and typically had several per day. At a certain point in time, they could not go anywhere or do anything with Kali--the simplest things would set her off, from the weather to attending school.

Kali was aggressive toward herself and others; she would often pull her own hair and hit herself. Once on a trip to Target on a busy afternoon, Kali had a meltdown and was kicking and screaming--she bit through her dad’s winter coat and drew blood. The anxiety and aggression sparked a lot of difficulties at school for Kali with peers and teachers.

In order to help her deal with symptoms of her diagnoses, they tried everything. Occupational therapy, speech therapy and in-home therapy. Over the years she took 23 different medications; Kali hated taking them, she didn’t like the way they made her feel. Every option they pursued, including her prescriptions, provided less-than-ideal results. Eventually, they discovered through testing that all of the medications were not absorbing correctly through the main pathway in her liver.

Exhausted and wanting to find relief for their daughter, Susann and Adam began to research alternative forms of treatment. A friend of Adam’s recommended a physician who certifies patients for the medical cannabis program in Minnesota. They were hesitant at first and took their time weighing the benefits before they made a decision, but Kali was still having trouble getting restful sleep at night, even with Trazadone and six other medications, and her aggression and anxiety still persisted. Something needed to change.

On a Thursday in October 2018, Kali’s condition was certified by her new doctor. Prior to their initial consultation, her parents stopped by the LeafLine Labs patient care center in St. Cloud for a run down of the process; they were pleased with how welcoming, friendly and informative the staff and overall visit went. “It was professional, like a doctor’s visit,” Adam and Susann shared. The next week, Kali and her parents met with a pharmacist and purchased medication for the first time.

Since beginning medical cannabis, Kali’s issues with aggression and harm toward herself and others has become non-existent; the family had an outing in Bentleyville not long after on a busy, crowded Saturday night and Kali did great--she had a blast and was in a fantastic mood throughout. Over the Holidays, Kali and her family were able to take shopping trips to the Mall of America, something they never were able to do before. There were many instances in the past where she would constantly cry about everything--there haven’t been any instances like that since October.

“I wish we could have done this a long time ago,” Susann said, “It would have made her life and ours a lot easier...It’s nice to to do simple things like go out to dinner and not have to worry.”

Now, Kali has a part-time job. She can tolerate being around people. She goes to, and stays, asleep without the help of Trazadone or other sleep aids. Most incredibly, she has been able to wean off of every single medication from before medical cannabis, including her Xanax extended release and Gabapentin. Kali feels like herself again, more so than ever.

Adam and Susann used to regularly receive emails and calls from school with concerns about relations with other students and poor performance in classes. Now, Kali is earning all As and Bs and she enjoys going to school. She is able to refrain from getting involved in the typical high school drama she used to not be able to stay away from.

She enjoys seeing her case manager who is helping to teach her new life skills; teachers at school have remarked about how focused she is and how they can tell she is able to think before she acts. A few months back, the principal pulled her aside and told Kali how proud she was of her.

Kali’s parents describe her as happy, loving and giddy these days. They are elated to see their daughter thriving and truly coming into her own. Before medical cannabis, Kali and her family’s quality of life was anywhere from a 1 to 3. Now, they say most days are an 8 or 9.

Adam and Susann are grateful for the profound impact medical cannabis has made on Kali and their family’s lives; they are more aware of, and are able to enjoy and appreciate the seemingly simple things in life yet again. They are hopeful and excited for Kali as she finishes high school and continues to reach important milestones in her life. They couldn’t be more proud of how far Kali has come.

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Medical Cannabis, Intractable Pain & Cancer: Lisa's Story

Lisa of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is a mother to twin daughters, a wife, and Marriage and Family Counselor. Her husband, Mark, is a stay-at-home father. Together, they have worked hard to build the life they have always dreamed of.

Lisa had a lumpectomy when she was just 17. At age 22, she was told she had rheumatoid arthritis; the pain was so profound at one point that she was confined to a wheelchair. Years later she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I remember looking at my nightstand and my Oxycodone was half full. Half full, not empty,” Lisa recalled. “And I panicked. I thought, I need more. And I wasn’t even close to being done with it. It was just that fear the pain would come back.”

To treat the pain, she tried everything. From surgeries, to infusions, to a long, convoluted list of medications and prescription painkillers. Nothing worked. As far as the pain medications went, they only sedated her and left her in a constant fog, but they didn’t help with the pain.

“The days didn’t look like anything,” she remembers. “My days blurred into one another. I wanted to be asleep, I didn’t want to be present.”

Her days consisted of short periods of work and restless sleep. After her two beautiful daughters, Lily and Lucy, were born, she remembered crying a lot. The pain kept her bedridden most of the time and the painkillers left her feeling numb and exhausted. At the time, she didn’t have the physical strength or energy to participate in her girls’ lives the way she wanted to. It broke her heart.

Her husband, Mark, has stood by her side through all of it and took care of Lisa and their girls. He stayed at home during the day to take care of Lily and Lucy and lovingly attended to Lisa’s every need; he would often clothe her, help her with her hair, and fetch her a glass of water when she couldn’t get out of bed. “His days never ended,” Lisa shared, “He was, and is, my rock.”

As a last resort, she decided to enroll in the medical cannabis program.

Going into her first appointment at LeafLine Labs, Lisa and Mark were both weary. She had taken an unconventional path to find a certifying physician for the program and it all still felt surreal. They were both pleasantly surprised at the professionalism, compassion and kindness they were met with at her initial consult; it was unlike any other medical experience she had ever had.

“The system works so much better than any other system we have. “Hey, what does your pain look like? Where, when is this hurting you? This matches you,”” Lisa explained, “You don’t ask those questions with opiates. It went from being a shady, weird experience to oh my gosh, this is new age.”

Lisa and her pharmacist have worked together to find a combination of Tangerine and Heather that provides her with just the right amount of relief. She still has flare ups of pain and struggles with asleep from time to time, but her quality of life has increased exponentially.

“I think it was the first time I really rested well and was able to go to sleep,” Lisa recalled of her first dose.

The opioid fog has been lifted and Lisa feels better than she has in over a decade. Although she still occasionally uses opiates for flare ups of breakthrough pain, she has reduced her use of prescription painkillers by about 75 percent. Her need for morphine and benzodiazepines has been completely eliminated.

Before medical cannabis, she believes her quality of life was close to a 2 on any given day. Now, she experiences days, more often than not, that feel like an 8. Her husband, Mark, agrees; before medical cannabis, anything physical - whether it was getting her food or water, or helping her to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night - he would have to help her with. Now, she can do things on her own once again.

“I’m the one that bathes them now,” she gushed. “There’s a sense of pride to that because before, I couldn’t.”

On Saturdays, Lisa and her family go on outings. Now that they don’t have to bring her wheelchair everywhere and Mark doesn’t have to push her, they can do more, they can go farther. They visit amusement parks, apple orchards and places like the zoo.

Aside from helping Lisa find relief from various sources of pain, Lisa believes medical cannabis has helped to bring her family closer together. “We learned really early on in life that things can be taken….the people, your family, that’s all of it [that matters],” she said. “This program has impacted my family. [My husband] can pay more attention to my daughters if he doesn’t have to take care of me….It makes me happy. It has changed my life."

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