Miracle Medicine

Medical marijuana relieves child’s cancer treatment side effects.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Settembrino.

Jake Settembrino

Jessica Settembrino’s five-year-old son Jake likes to play golf, and he’s a natural at it. When he was three, he was given a set of plastic golf clubs, and he swung them perfectly. But on a perfect golf day in early October 2018, Jake began complaining of pain in his right side. When Jessica noticed a small bump there as well, she took Jake to visit his doctor.

“Jake’s doctor said the bump was probably a bruise and told us to follow up in a week,” Jessica remembers. “But we were about to go to Disney for a week, and I just didn’t feel right. I was worried it was something more, so we left the doctor’s office and went directly to the children’s emergency room for an ultrasound to make sure everything was okay.

“That’s when we learned Jake had a rare form of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor. Surgeons removed his right kidney a few days later. Prior to his diagnosis, Jake had no symptoms, no fever and his blood work was perfect. The doctor at the children’s ER said there’s no way to find this tumor except on a scan so doctors can actually see it.

“After surgery, Jake began chemotherapy treatment to battle his cancer. But he had to have a second surgery because the tumor grew back where his kidney had been. Jake then began an even more intense chemotherapy protocol.”

Chemotherapy for cancer treatment can have uncomfortable side effects, including nausea and vomiting, fatigue, anemia, decreased appetite and weight loss. Doctors typically prescribe medication to counter these effects, but those medications have side effects of their own. Jessica didn’t want Jake to go through that cycle of medications and side effects.

“The doctors at the hospital wanted to give Jake steroids and a drug for nausea, as well as Tylenol® and Benadryl®, which is a standard protocol,” Jessica relates. “All of those medications have severe side effects. Jake might not be nauseous, but he would be constipated and need enemas or have diarrhea instead.

“And besides, all the kids who were taking those drugs were still sick and vomiting. They had the medication side effects as well as the side effects of the chemotherapy. Those are bad enough, so I wanted a different option, and we considered medical marijuana.

“We searched for another doctor, but it’s hard to find doctors in Florida willing to prescribe marijuana for a four-year-old. A friend suggested we reach out to
Dr. King, so we made an appointment and drove four hours to visit her. Jake’s been seeing her ever since.”

Jessica took Jake to visit Kelly Ennix King, MD, at Releaf MD in Brandon. Dr. King is a board-certified internist who is licensed to treat patients in Florida, New York and California with medical cannabis. Dr. King recommended cannabis therapy to treat Jake’s chemotherapy side effects.

Lock and Key

“The main active components of marijuana are the cannabinoids THC and CBD,” Dr. King explains. “Human bodies have a natural endocannabinoid system. As part of this system, there are receptors on cells that respond to THC and CBD. Depending on the type of cell with the receptors, the cannabinoids will have varying downstream effects on the body.

“The receptors on the cells are like a lock, and cannabis is like a key. Once the lock is opened, the downstream effects of the cannabinoids can occur. THC works well to quell nausea and vomiting, and stimulate appetite, and CBD reduces inflammation and pain.”

Cannabis also works to treat cancer itself, Dr. King notes. Cancer involves apoptosis, which is a controlled cell death; angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels, and a proliferation of abnormal cells. When cancer develops in the body, it kills through the death of cells, and by metastasizing, or spreading, to other, healthy tissues.

“Studies show that cannabis slows down metastasis and angiogenesis, and participates in apoptosis,” Dr. King informs. “These studies reveal that cannabis actually targets and kills cancer cells in a different process than that of chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy causes cell death that is not specific to cancer cells. It affects all cells. That is why people get so sick on chemotherapy. Cannabis, on the other hand, participates in a programmed apoptosis that concentrates on cells affected by cancer.

“Jake’s cannabis therapy is an adjunct treatment to his chemotherapy as well as a treatment for his chemotherapy side effects,” says Dr. King, who uses a full plant-based cannabis in a concentrated formulation called RSO.

“Jake’s story is really pretty remarkable. And with the help of medical marijuana, he’s fighting his cancer and doing well. Medical marijuana is a miracle to us.”
– Jessica

RSO contains THC and CBD but is higher in THC, because chemotherapy can have a devastating effect in terms of nausea, decreased appetite and poor nutrition. But finding just the right dosage for Jake proved to be a bit of a challenge.

“Dosing cannabis for children can be challenging at first because there are few studies on the subject,” Dr. King observes. “Dosing cannabis does not follow the typical medication guidelines. It is not based on the patient’s age, weight or height, so it can be a bit hit or miss initially with anybody, but especially with children.

“We started Jake with four hundred milligrams of RSO a day, and now, he is taking a gram a day. And Jessica finds that with the cannabis, Jake is able to tolerate his chemotherapy. He has no nausea or pain, and he does not need any of the medications the doctors wanted to give him.”

“The amount of RSO Jake gets now is just about equal to a grain of rice,” Jessica describes. “We worked him up to that. It took me a long time to figure out how much to give him so that he could handle it, and it took nine or ten months to get him to where he could eat a sandwich during chemotherapy. He’s now on a very detailed dosing schedule that depends on the type of chemotherapy he’s getting.”

Remarkable Story

By using cannabis therapy, Jake has not needed to take any of the medications used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, Jessica reports.

“And he’s never gotten sick, not once,” she enthuses. “He’s gained weight, not lost it. He’s never had a low red blood cell count or needed a blood transfusion. And he hasn’t had any mouth sores. I give Jake the cannabis oil in his mouth, so it must have antibacterial properties because it’s kept him free of mouth sores.”

Jessica says she feels fortunate that Jake is doing so well. His cannabis therapy enables him to live a life that‘s as normal as possible for a child with cancer.

“Recently, I met a mom whose child has the same cancer as Jake, and at one point, her child spent one hundred and fifteen days straight in the hospital,” Jessica recounts. “A few months later, he caught a bug and spent forty-five days intubated in the pediatric intensive care unit. They didn’t think he was going to make it.

“We only go to the hospital for Jake’s chemotherapy treatments, and as soon as they’re done and Jake’s levels are acceptable, we leave. Jake had his second surgery on a Monday morning and went home on Thursday. He didn’t take any pain medication either. He wanted our medicine, not the morphine they gave him in the hospital.

“Jake’s story is really pretty remarkable,” she adds. “And with the help of medical marijuana, he’s fighting his cancer and doing well. Medical marijuana is a miracle to us.”

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    • Releaf MD

      At ReleafMD, Center for Medical Marijuana they take pride and caution in their authority to recommend medical marijuana in Florida, California and New York. They keep all of your medical and vital records confidential and secure. Whether you a... Read More

    • Kelly Ennix King, MD

      Kelly Ennix King, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and is trained in primary care and hospital medicine. She earned her medical degree from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine and completed her resid... Read More