A Growing Alternative

Cannabis treatment helps writer regain health, eliminate medications.

John* has forever wanted to be a writer, and he has consistently found jobs providing him that opportunity. While in college, John worked for a newspaper. After he graduated, he worked for another newspaper. After leaving that paper, John served as a speechwriter for a local government official.

“When the speechwriting job was over, I thought, Okay, while I’m writing the great American novel, I have to pay the bills,” the Cleveland native remembers. “So I worked in public relations and advertising for 10 years.

“That led to a job with a television production company in Boca Raton, which was great, because I always wanted to work in television. The production company produced medical documentaries. I was the general manager, writer and producer there for 20 years, which brings me to the present. Today, I’m essentially retired.”

While John’s career path followed a relatively smooth road, his physical health charted a much rougher terrain. Over the years, John suffered with multiple ailments, which he says originated from injuries received during a car accident 25 years ago.

“I’ve had degenerative discs and other spine problems ever since the accident,” John shares. “As a result, I’ve been in chronic pain since I was 40 years old. The pain hampered most of my activities as an adult, and I ended up gaining a lot of weight. Things spiraled downward from there.

“Eventually, I became obese. I weighed between 260 and 270 pounds, which was 80 pounds over my ideal weight. I developed Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and neuropathy.

“By 2018, I was taking three diabetes medicines, two of them injections. I was also taking two blood pressure medications, medication to lower my cholesterol, medication for neuropathy and medications for pain. In all, I was taking 15 to 18 medications each day, and I was spending $1,500 to $2,500 a month on prescription copays. I finally said, I’ve got to do something. I can’t continue like this.

John considered all of the available alternatives including medical marijuana, which he ran past his pain management physician, who encouraged him to pursue the option.

“The doctor told me that several of his patients tried medical marijuana and found pain relief using it,” John relates. “He suggested I try it because I reached the maximum dosage of my pain medication, and we’d tried everything else. There were really no other treatment options left for me. He gave me Dr. Zotovas’ name, and I made an appointment with her.”

“The medical marijuana controls my pain so much better than pain medication. … And I don’t experience any of the side effects that I experienced with the pain medications.”
– John

Andrea Zotovas, MD, at South Florida Medical Marijuana MD in North Palm Beach and Stuart, is trained in neurology, and physical medicine and rehabilitation. Her dual training gives her unique insight into the effects of medical marijuana on the body.

“The human body has an endocannabinoid system,” Dr. Zotovas explains. “There are receptors in the body that are prepared to accommodate the components, or cannabinoids, of marijuana such as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD.

“As part of its endocannabinoid system, the body actually makes its own THC and CBD, but in some people, these substances are depleted or out of balance, which leads to symptoms.

Medical cannabis restores the balance, or homeostasis, of the endocannabinoid system so patients feel better. Many patients using medical cannabis report that they simply feel normal again.”

Administration Options

Marijuana is the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. It contains psychoactive cannabinoids that produce a “high,” such as THC, as well as cannabinoids that are not psychoactive, such as CBD. Medical cannabis, on the other hand, is made from specific strains of the cannabis plant that are used to treat health conditions.

“Medical cannabis uses various combinations of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, as well as terpenes,” Dr. Zotovas describes. “Terpenes are bioactive molecules found in specific areas of the cannabis plant called glandular trichomes, which are predominantly responsible for the production of the cannabinoids.

“It was previously believed that the only role of the terpenes was to give marijuana its unique odor. But we now know that terpenes modulate people’s physiologic response to the cannabinoids and are responsible for many of the health benefits seen with medical cannabis.”

To use medical marijuana in Florida, a person must first visit a doctor who is licensed to order medical cannabis such as Dr. Zotovas. The doctor must qualify the person for the Florida medical marijuana registry and medical cannabis program. The person will then have access to a variety of safe, legal cannabis formulations to treat their condition.

“There are multiple routes of administration for medical cannabis,” Dr. Zotovas informs. “These include smokable products and oral tinctures, which are liquid preparations that patients place under their tongue.

“There are also concentrates and capsules that can be ingested, and rechargeable or disposable vaporizer pens that heat the medical cannabis at much lower temperatures than smoking. There are patches as well. Local dispensaries carry eight-hour and three-day patches.”

Additional products for administering medical cannabis include aerosolized inhalers, creams, lotions and suppositories.

“Smoking or vaping is the most efficient method of administering the medication and results in the highest bioavailability,” Dr. Zotovas reports. “Additionally, inhaled cannabis works almost immediately with an onset of three to five minutes. The action of inhaled cannabis peaks at about one hour, and its effects last approximately three hours.

“Because people feel the effects right away, inhaled cannabis can be very effective for patients experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, acute muscle spasms, headaches, acute worsening of pain and difficulty falling asleep.”

“Barely Anything”

“Dr. Zotovas gave me guidelines of what medical marijuana products to use, how to use them and when,” John says.

Following Dr. Zotovas’ guidelines, John determined which medical marijuana products work best for him during the day and which help most at night. Once he found the correct balance, John found the energy to begin working to improve his situation.

“I became more focused and productive, and I changed my diet and eliminated sugar,” John states. “I lost 70 pounds and have been off insulin and the other diabetes medications for more than a year. My blood pressure and cholesterol are now normal, and my doctor says I’ve added 30 years to my life.”

Medical marijuana has had a positive impact on John’s chronic pain as well.

“The medical marijuana controls my pain so much better than pain medication,” he enthuses. “Plus, the different strains that I use enable me to stay alert and active. And I don’t experience any of the side effects that I experienced with the pain medications.

“I still take medication for the neuropathy, but everything else I’ve been able to work through using different strains and dosages of medical marijuana. In 2018, I spent nearly $25,000 on prescription medications. This year, those costs have been slashed to barely anything.”

*Patient’s name withheld at his request.
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    • South Florida Medical Marijuana MD

      At South Florida Medical Marijuana MD they understand that cannabis is an effective treatment for many conditions. Their friendly & professional staff is there to provide the highest quality, compassionate care to each of their valued... Read More

    • Andrea Zotovas, MD

      Andrea Zotovas, MD, is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI and her medical degree from American University of the Caribbean School of M... Read More