Why I changed my mind about medicinal cannabis | Hugh Hempel | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Why I changed my mind about medicinal cannabis | Hugh Hempel | TEDxUniversityofNevada


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven
What goes through your mind
when I tell you
that my 11-year-old twins
are using marijuana?
Do you think to yourselves,
“Oh my god, the drug problem in the U.S.
is worse than I thought”?
How is it possible that 11-year-olds
get access to pot?
Maybe some of you thought,
“Geez, I wonder what
medical condition these kids have.”
The truth of the matter is,
most of us don’t think about medicine
when we hear the word “marijuana.”
I admit – I’m embarrassed to admit
that up until two years ago
I was completely misinformed
about marijuana,
and I think many
of our population is today.
I remember vividly in sixth grade
being ushered into the auditorium
to see a government-sponsored
“documentary” about marijuana.
It was the most scary thing
I’d ever watched.
People jumping off buildings,
car crashes – it was mayhem.
But not once was there
a mention of the possibility
that cannabis was useful as medicine.
To be honest, in retrospect,
I’m a little angry about the propaganda
that our government is putting forth;
it’s even happening today.
My big idea worth sharing
is that medical cannabis can be
the healthcare success story
of our lifetimes
but only if we all engage
in learning the truth
and ask our federal government
to end prohibition of cannabis.
I’d like to introduce you
to my twins, Addison and Cassidy.
Believe it or not, today’s their birthday.
Eleven years ago today,
only a mile from here,
they were born and came into our lives.
Happiest day of my life –
I love the date too: January 23, 2004.
1, 2, 3, 4.
Unfortunately, Addie and Cassie
suffer from a very rare genetic disorder
called Niemann-Pick Type C .
This horrible disease
is more commonly called,
or what we call it,
is childhood Alzheimer’s.
Their little brains
are drowning in cholesterol.
They’re missing a protein
that allows them to process cholesterol
both in and out of their brain cells.
The cause is neurodegeneration.
They can no longer walk,
and they can no longer talk.
We were told the Addie and Cassie
would be lucky to see their 12th birthday.
(Sniffs)
After reeling with
this devastating diagnosis,
my wife and I dedicated ourselves
to finding treatments
for our twins in their lifetime.
We gave up successful
high tech careers in Silicon Valley,
and we became research philanthropists
raising money for research,
and ultimately, we became
biotechnology entrepreneurs
developing a compound.
The compound we found was cyclodextrin,
and we found it with an amazing group
of scientists, researchers and physicians
from all over the world,
including right here in Reno.
Every week the girls get an infusion.
It’s eight hours long –
it goes into their bloodstream,
the cyclodextrin.
Every other week, like yesterday,
the girls go to the hospital
and they get a lumbar
puncture in their spine
in order to get the cyclodextrin
to reach their brains directly.
We think that the combination
of those two routes of administration
are slowing down
the neurodegenerative progression,
and hopefully, maybe even stopping it.
Addie and Cassie were
the first little pioneers
to try this scary treatment.
I can tell you as a parent,
with no one in front of you
paving the way,
it truly is a scary moment.
Thankfully, a couple dozen
kids around the world,
including a few at the NIH,
are now engaged
in further science and research
on this experimental treatment.
But the treatment doesn’t seem
to help with their seizures.
As a result of the neurodegeneration,
my kids have seizures almost daily.
A couple years ago
they were way more than daily,
they were many a day.
We started giving the kids
traditional pharmaceutical medicines
for their seizures.
And they worked – some of them worked,
some of them didn’t work,
but the big problem was
most seizure drugs cause
your kids to become zombies.
The whole purpose of the drugs
is to essentially take away the stress
or the triggers that cause seizures.
We had heard about a father in California
that was treating a young son
who has intractable seizures,
seizing constantly, all day long,
and he was using cannabis medicine.
We became interested.
We contacted him;
we learned more about the drug.
Ultimately, we decided
to pursue cannabis in earnest.
Did you know that the cannabis plant
was used as early as 2900 BC
in China as medicine?
Did you know that we in America
were using, in the 1800s,
for a century, we were using cannabis
to treat a number of afflictions.
Unfortunately, in the early 1900s,
as you all probably know,
cannabis was prohibited
and subsequently demonized
and turned into a war.
It’s a shame. It truly is a shame.
But we became convinced
that the oil would work.
So we set out to find
a supply of oil, certainly –
Cannabis has been legal
in the great state of Nevada
for almost a decade,
surely we could just go out
and buy some oil and give it to our kids.
Not true; there was no oil
available in our great state.
So we set out to do it ourselves.
First we got physician approval
to do the treatment of cannabis,
and then we became caregivers,
licensed caregivers
in the state of Nevada,
which allows us to cultivate
and make extractions,
oils from the cannabis plant
to give to our kids.
Every day – three times a day –
the girls get a little oil,
like what you see here.
This oil is extracted
from a very special cannabis plant
that’s high in cannabidiol,
or CBD as we call it.
Unfortunately, this oil, by itself,
doesn’t even completely, for our children,
stop their seizures, so we still use
a small amount of pharmaceutical medicine,
but we use less – we’ve reduced
the number of drugs the kids take,
and we’ve reduced the amount of dose
from the few drugs we do give them,
and consequently our kids
are not only having fewer seizures
and shorter seizures,
they’re also bright eyed
and happy children again,
they’re no longer little zombies.
This was great progress,
but I thought to myself, holy cow,
there are two million epilepsy or seizure
disorder sufferers in the United States,
who’s going to help those folks,
those kids, those adults
with these disorders?
And at that moment we decided
to take what we had learned
for our children
and turn it into a commercial business
here in the state of Nevada,
which was just preparing
to allow that to happen,
and as Kylie mentioned,
we’ve endeavored to do so
and are now licensed
to grow, extract and sell,
dispense cannabis here in Nevada,
in the state of Nevada.
Someday the federal government
will end prohibition.
But how many lives
will be lost, potentially,
or severely affected in the meantime?
How many kids with seizures like mine
will move their families,
will uproot their homes to move to
Colorado or Nevada to get these medicines?
How many cancer patients
will be denied access
to inexpensive and effective medicine
to treat the side effects like pain
and nausea that come with chemotherapy?
There is a groundswell of folks like me
who understand the potential of cannabis,
and I’m grateful for that.
The ironic thing is
some of my family and friends,
including, most particularly,
my own mother,
are still not convinced.
My mother is worried
that free access to cannabis
is actually a threat to society
and that perhaps the medicinal value
doesn’t outweigh that threat.
And she sees the medicinal value
in her grandchildren.
The problem, I think, is that, really,
we just don’t have enough hard evidence
yet to convince the skeptics.
There just isn’t enough
science and research
to back the foundation
that the medicine’s working,
the medicine’s effective, that it’s useful
for large populations of people.
That’s not to say
that research doesn’t exist,
there’s a mountain of evidence
that the cannabis plant is useful.
But there’s not a lot of clinical science,
hard clinical science to that effect.
That’s the conundrum;
that’s the chicken and egg problem.
Until the federal prohibition
of cannabis ends,
until we take cannabis
off the schedule of harmful drugs
like LSD and methamphetamines
that have no medicinal value,
until we remove cannabis from that list,
which is insane that
it’s on that list to begin with,
until we remove it from that list,
research can’t take place.
If I came to the University of Nevada,
Reno Medical Center tomorrow
with a million dollar grant
to study cannabis,
I would likely not have success.
It’s not that the scientists
don’t want to study the plant,
it’s that they are fearful
of losing federal funding.
It’s because they’d
have to deal with the DEA
and other regulatory agencies
at the federal level,
which is a complex and expensive process.
This is one of the many tentacles
of the prohibition of cannabis
that actually prohibits us
from moving forward.
My own personal experience with cannabis
along with the evidence,
the science that I know about,
makes me absolutely certain
what I shared with you earlier.
Cannabis has the potential
to become the big healthcare
success story of our lifetimes
but only if we allow it.
Here are Addie and Cassie
in a more recent picture.
For those of you who are still skeptical,
perhaps for those of you like my mother
who still worry about
the societal downside of cannabis,
I ask you to look at this picture
and consider the following:
By limiting access to cannabis
for parents like myself,
you’re forcing me to make a decision
between the lives
or well-being of my children
and going to jail.
How is that a fair or rational
set of thinking in modern society?
Our 16th president,
the famous 16th president,
had very strong feelings
about this subject.
He said, “Prohibition … goes
beyond the bounds of reason
in that it attempts to control
a man’s appetite by legislation
and makes a crime out of things
that aren’t crimes …
A prohibition law strikes a blow
at the very principles
upon which our government was founded.”
This was Abraham Lincoln.
And he said these words
before we had the experiences
we had with alcohol prohibition
or with cannabis prohibition.
Someday the federal government
will spend the money on research.
Someday the NIH will actually be actively
pursuing cannabis as a treatment.
Until that day comes, a large group of us
have come together and formed a nonprofit
to organize and fund clinical research
in cannabis in the private sector
until we can use
the academic institutions.
We call the foundation PeopleCann,
in honor of advocates like myself
who over the last several decades
have been saying what I’m now saying
and whose words I didn’t listen to
until my own situation demanded it.
Never in her wildest imagination –
excuse me – would my wife have thought
that today she would
be a cannabis advocate.
She was also “misinformed,”
let’s say, about the plant
until we needed to learn.
Neither my wife nor I would ever believe
that our young children
would become the next generation
of cannabis advocates.
(Exhales)
I’d like you to meet them.
Please give a birthday welcome
to my wife Chris – excuse me –
and my daughters, Addie and Cassie Hempel.
(Applause)
Hi.
(Applause)
Would it be unkind to ask
if we can sing Happy Birthday?
(All singing) Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday dear Cassie.
Happy Birthday to you.
Yay! Good girls!
(Applause)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *