Metro-East News

Can this type of medical cannabis save lives?

As Mitch Meyers sees it, she sells more than medical cannabis.

She sells hope.

Meyers, of Glen Carbon, back in January launched the first medical cannabis cultivation center and dispensary in Missouri. The 5,000 square-foot facility is located in a former Verizon customer care center located in a nondescript office park in Earth City, Mo.

For Meyers, a former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive, her commitment to her company, BeLeaf, represents a big leap of faith in a plant and in an industry that are both still widely misunderstood.

BeLeaf specializes in the cultivation and sale of a strain of cannabis rich with cannabidiol, or CBD, which the firm began selling two months ago.

CBD oil has shown great success, at least preliminarily, in the treatment of the symptoms of the most severe categories of epilepsy, especially among children who, despite conventional drugs, can suffer hundreds of debilitating seizures per week.

In time, Meyers hopes to bring Noah’s Releaf, her firm’s brand of CBD oil, to Illinois, where its scarcity on dispensary shelves make CBD oil hard to obtain.

The shortage stems from the fact the vast majority of Illinois’s 37 newly opened medical marijuana dispensaries have not found it cost-effective to cater to people with what’s known as “intractable” epilepsy, a neurological condition that affects an estimated one-third of 1 percent of the population.

In many cases, the introduction of Noah’s Releaf — which contains trace levels of THC but not enough to get their users high —means a nearly instant cessation of seizures, enabling the children and their parents to begin their return to normal life.

“When you see what it can do, you can’t get on it fast enough,” said Meyers, BeLeaf’s CEO. “It’s just so life-changing when you see people who can’t even hire a baby-sitter because it’s so complicated to deal with these kids. Or they can’t take them to the grocery store. You can’t take them to the mall. You can’t go on vacation. And when you see them get their lives back and do all that stuff again, the whole family benefits.”

BeLeaf began its cultivation operations in January. The firm employs eight people, most of whom spend their time tending to the hundreds cannabis plants that are cloned and grown from seedlings to large plants during a 12-week cultivation process.

The centerpiece of the BeLeaf facility is its indoor hydroponic “flower room,” where hundreds of plants in the final stages of their 12-week growth cycle sit on tables arranged in neat rows. Each plant rests on a spongy pad to which a narrow hose is attached. An automatic irrigation system squirts nutrient-laced water to each plant at precisely timed intervals. The waste water is captured, cleaned up and re-used again and again.

Meanwhile, 1,000-watt, orange-tinted sodium lights burn overhead, clicking on and off every 12 hours to mimic the light of autumn, according to John Curtis, a former journalist who now serves as BeLeaf’s production director.

The orange-tinted lights tell the plant “that winter is coming and it should make flowers,” Curtis said.

For now BeLeaf has 20 or so patients statewide, but it plans to ramp up production soon, expanding its current harvest of 500 cannabis plants to 2,500, according to Curtis.

Business could soon start booming for BeLeaf if Missouri voters approve a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot to legalize medical cannabis.

Cannibis oil lauded in epilepsy treatment

For now, BeLeaf is benefiting from the positive word-of-mouth publicity it is receiving from the neurologists who work at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. It was through a Cardinal Glennon neurologist that Jamie Wray, of Troy, Mo., first heard about the efficacy of CBD oil, which brought her to BeLeaf two month ago in the hopes of finding an effective treatment for her 8-year-old daughter, Natalee.

At the time, the situation was looking dire for Natalee. After she suffered her first seizure, at the age of 8 months old, a doctor at a children’s hospital in Alabama, where Wray was living at the time, made it clear Natalee did not have long to live.

“The doctor there said there’s nothing I can do to help you. ‘Your daughter has a rare type of epilepsy,’ Wray said. “‘We can’t treat her. Spend as much time with her as you can. She’s going to die.’ I was like, ‘No way.’”

Natalee, who has been diagnosed with an incurable form of epilepsy called Dravet’s Syndrome, as a little girl began suffering from as many as 600 seizures a week. Just as problematic were the many negative side-effects of the anti-seizure medications the girl was taking — liver failure, kidney failure, heart disease.

But after moving back to Missouri, and being led to BeLeaf at the urging of the Cardinal Glennon neurologist, Wray said her daughter’s seizures have grown much less frequent — to the point Natalee’s suffered none in the past month.

As a result, it’s as if she and the rest of the family have had been given new start on life, Wray said.

“In the last month she’s starting to like movies,” Wray said.

During a recent viewing of the animated film “Finding Dory,” Natalee started laughing, she said.

“She was so interactive with this movie,” Wray recalled. “Which for us is new territory. She’s interacting with us and goes, ‘Mommy, Daddy. Come here, Daddy.’ Her vocabulary is expanding. We’re hearing new words every day. I’ve seen no negative effects at all. None.”

Some observers of the medical cannabis industry believe America is about to reach a tipping point when it comes to the acceptance of medical cannabis nationwide.

Legalization for medical use will be on the ballot on Nov. 8 in Missouri, Florida and Arkansas. Also on that day, voters in California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will decide the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Already, 25 states, including Illinois, have legalized medical marijuana, while four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—have legalized recreational pot, as has Washington, D.C.

“We’re expecting it to be a big year for legalization laws,” said Chris Lindsey, a policy analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

Lindsey said there’s a good chance that all eight states with legalization measures on their ballots will pass them. Lindsey based his optimism on the cultural pivot the American public has made toward cannabis in general.

“The big shift is when you talk legalization it always polls more than 50 percent,” Lindsey said. “For the most part we have a pretty workable model that we see repeated from state to state.”

For Meyers, BeLeaf represents a second act in a highly successful business career during which she had already made her mark as one of the beer industry’s top female executives.

Hailed as a marketing guru, Meyers once worked as director of new products for Anheuser-Busch when it was St. Louis-based. The creative brains behind Spuds MacKenzie, the fictional dog character with a taste for Bud Light, Meyers also started an ad agency called Zipatoni in the 1980s.

But now Meyers’ time and energy are being poured into medical cannabis. In addition to running BeLeaf, Meyers is a partner in an Illinois firm called Nature’s Care, which operates a state-licensed medical cannabis dispensary in Rolling Meadows, in the north Chicago suburbs.

What drives Meyers is not the prospect of making a lot money, but the success stories she hears like those being told by Jamie Wray, the mom from Troy, Mo., whose daughter has severe epilepsy.

“I never thought that this is what this would be,” Meyers said. “I really wanted to retire, but I just can’t because I am so motivated by them and seeing all the families out there that could benefit.”

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

Other uses for cannabidiol oil

Cannabidiol, or CDB oil, which is derived from help plants, is also being used to treat the following:

  • Cigarette addiction
  • Acne
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Mad Cow Disease (prions)
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Insomnia

Source: High Times