Cannabis Care Blog: Working to help all, including children

By Abbe Kruger - For Times Leader

Editor’s Note: This blog features Abbe Kruger, CEO of Justice Grown, PA, the dispensary permit holder for Luzerne County. It also appears online at timesleader.com and at www.cannabiscarepa.org, with more about Kruger.

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Justice Grown holds the Medical Marijuana Dispensary for Luzerne County. Deemed operational on Jan. 31, 2018, we had our ribbon cutting in February and opened for business in March.

The journey from application to point of sale was fraught with multiple challenges and lots of hard work. There were real estate, construction and design issues, various regulatory compliance matters, numerous security measures, and the formation of a highly educated and compassionate staff.

Building a business in a new industry burdened with heavy regulations and old-school stigma was no easy feat. In one year, we journeyed from applicant to premiere medical marijuana dispensary, teaching patients about the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program and providing education on cannabis use along the way.

In our short run, we’ve helped thousands of patients seeking symptom relief from a variety of qualifying conditions. We attribute our success to our philosophy in dispensing medical marijuana.

First, Justice Grown believes that access to cannabis is a social justice issue. Every person, without regard to race, religion, gender, ethnic origin or political belief should have access to cannabis as an alternative treatment to traditional medicine. No one group is more entitled to access cannabis nor should any one group be disproportionately prosecuted for it.

Second, each and every patient we encounter has his/her own set of symptoms, desires and objectives. No two patients are the same and each should be given individualized, compassionate care to maximize symptom relief. Medical Marijuana cannot cure any one disease but we work with each patient to accommodate his/her individualized goals and enhance each person’s quality of life given his/her condition, lifestyle and capabilities.

Third, Justice Grown believes in giving back to communities. This translates into bolstering the economy as we have hired an entirely localstaff. No one understands the needs of NEPA patients better than those in NEPA! In addition, every construction contractor, printer, computer consultant, security advisor, merchandise supplier, etc., is sourced locally. We do everything possible to help sustain and grow the local economy.

Beyond economic support, Justice Grown seeks to give back by providing education and counseling to our patients and the community at large. Prior to applying for a permit, we met with the interfaith council of clergy and hosted an informational session at a local temple.

We visited with various community centers and local politicians to hear their concerns about cannabis use in the community. We felt it essential to understand the interests and concerns of those in the community.

Since receiving our permit, we’ve met with local law enforcement, the Luzerne County Medical Society and visited with neighboring businesses. We’ve presented information about the program to the third and fourth year pharmacy students at the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy, Wilkes University.

We’ve met with local community groups such as the JCC and the Kingston Rotary Club. Before we were open with product, Justice Grown held regular information sessions at the Dispensary and most recently, we held a series of “Medical Marijuana Monday” informational sessions at Canteen Park, a local café in Kingston. We’ve met with a variety of support groups including the Eastern PA Epilepsy Foundation, the local Parkinson’s Support Group and S.A.F.E., the umbrella organization Supporting Autism Families Everywhere.

There is nothing more important than providing information and creating a forum where our friends and neighbors can have their questions answered.

Children and cannabis

Since our doors opened, we have been exceedingly concerned about the children in the program. We targeted whatever clinical research on cannabis in autism and epilepsy we could find but unfortunately, information is more limited than we would like due to the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.

Therefore, we reached out to those in the field with the greatest experience using cannabis with children. Those like Erica Daniels, an activist whose efforts helped get Act 16, the PA Medical Marijuana legislation, passed. Erica is one of the “tiger moms” who sought cannabis as an alternative treatment for her son. She risked her own safety to obtain cannabis and by now, has more experience with dosing protocols and behavior modification than most in the medical field.

Erica gave us the information we needed to effectively use THC and CBD, the most widely understood cannabinoids at present, to help moderate behavior and enhance the quality of life for those diagnosed with autism and their families.

Since Autism is a spectrum disorder, symptoms vary widely from patient to patient. Treatment plans need to be customized and tweaked over time as a child matures. It often takes a bit of trial and error before the ideal dosing protocol can be established. A common theme among parents with children of autism is frustration and disappointment with existing treatment options.

Families are offered only antipsychotic medications which do not facilitate the behavioral changes sought. This has led many to seek out cannabis in the hope of finding relief where prescription medications have proved ineffective.

With Erica’s guidance, we have successfully helped many in our area. Our patients include a dad of a 215-pound, highly aggressive son. His son had multiple, unpredictable outbursts that were becoming increasingly difficult to control. He estimates that his son had 2-3 of these per day but in the six weeks of using cannabis, he had only one. He also reported that his son has become increasingly verbal.

In another case, a Mom shared that her son’s physically aggressive episodes are now mild to non-existent and he’s become more focused at school. We have been treating a teenage girl who lives in a group home with others who are on the spectrum. Her mother reports that since utilizing THC, she has discontinued self-injurious behaviors that cause open wounds and she has been able to sleep regularly. Last week, a father relayed that he had a conversation with his son for the very first time!

With such wonderful success stories, we thought it important to increase awareness of cannabis use as a treatment alternative for families of autism.

Therefore, together with local grower/processor, Standard Farms, and the SAFE organization, we brought Erica Daniels to NEPA on Aug. 3 to share her knowledge and experiences at the Graham Academy High School in Luzerne.

We had a wonderful turnout and many from the Autism community turned out to learn from Erica’s experience and have their questions answered. A growing number of patients in the Autism community have become patients in the program since Erica visited with us.

We are now seeking new ways to document their experiences and provide data to research institutions conducting studies in the field. From NEPA to the national stage, we seek to provide newfound insight into the medicinal uses of cannabis to help alleviate symptoms and promote the quality of life of patients and their families.

By Abbe Kruger

For Times Leader