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“I fight on in my mother’s memory”: The campaign for medical cannabis in Romania

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Currently access to medical cannabis is prohibited in Romania

After seeing how cannabis helped her mum’s battle with cancer, Alexandra Carstea is leading the campaign for medical legalisation in Romania in her memory.

Next week, lawyer and mum-of-one, Alexandra Carstea, will bring together clinicians, researchers and campaigners from across the globe, for the first international medical cannabis conference hosted in Romania.

She hopes the online event, on Tuesday 23 February, will be the final push for the long-awaited legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in her home country.

“We’re at a point where a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine we would ever be,” says Alexandra.

“At times I have felt very lonely, disappointed and heartbroken but I kept on fighting and now I am optimistic and hope that we will have the law passed this year.”

The bill is named after Alexandra’s mother, Victoria (which happens to translate as victory in English) who passed away from cancer-related complications in 2019.

Victoria was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2015 and given only a few months to live.

“All our lives completely changed from that moment on,” remembers Alexandra.

“Until then I had never imagined I would become an advocate for cannabis.”

Her mother underwent a successful operation, but two years later was diagnosed with bone metastases which had spread to her down her spine and into her hips.

The only medical treatment available to her was a powerful cocktail of prescription drugs, which left her with little quality of life.

“It completely changed her way of living, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t sleep, she had nightmares, it was a terrible period of time for the whole family,” says Alexandra.

“The doctor told me that she was close to kidney failure and that was the moment that I realised that if she doesn’t die of cancer, she will die of her other organs failing as a result of the medication she was on.

“I knew if she carried on taking these pills she wouldn’t survive, so I decided to look for other solutions for the pain.”

Victoria Carstea

Alexandra began reading about cannabis (at the time, in 2016, CBD was not yet available in Romania) and paid for online consultations with medical professionals in the US and Canada.

She tried to broach the topic with her mother’s doctors, but they “turned their backs” on her every time.

“If I started to talk about cannabis to her oncologist they would tell me it was illegal and had no medical value,” she says.

“It was exhausting because as I kept finding out more, I wanted my mum to have the option to try it.”

Alexandra launched a national petition to legalise medical cannabis which quickly gathered signatures, and began talking to national cancer associations and patient groups to spread the word.

Meanwhile, as a professional lawyer, with a father who was a judge, she risked everything to illegally source cannabis for her mum.

“In my family everything was about obeying the law and being upstanding citizens. I didn’t want to turn to the black market, but I was so desperate and my mother was so sick that taking her to another country wasn’t an option,” she says.

“Back then there was no information out there, so it was my responsibility.

“I managed to lower the dose of the pills that the doctors gave her and after a few weeks she started to become engaged in her life again. She was talking, eating, sleeping, her anxiety was gone and she was optimistic.

“But I couldn’t buy the amount she needed in a consistent quality from the black market.”

Alexandra continues: “My mum was actually very positive about it and did a lot of lobbying from her hospital bed. Everywhere she went she told doctors and patients about cannabis treatment and encouraged them to support the petition.”

Victoria started chemotherapy at the end of 2018, but in early 2019 was hospitalised with a complication and passed away on 26 January.

Alexandra with mum, Victoria

“That was a very difficult period ,” remembers Alexandra, who also fell pregnant around the same time.

“After a struggle of four and half years I was hit by the exhaustion, depression and anxiety. I felt everything that I had restrained to keep myself optimistic for her.

“But I wanted to keep on fighting in her memory.”

A few months after her mother died, Alexandra convinced a Romanian politician to put forward the bill in parliament, while she continued to send information to politicians and medical professionals across the country.

However, she says unlike in the UK, the media were not supportive of her campaign and she faced criticism for openly talking about an illegal drug.

“Romania is a very conservative nation and no one would speak about it. I would give interviews to the press and they would always take what I said out of context,” she says.

During lockdown last year, unable to campaign in person, Alexandra started her own YouTube channel to raise awareness of medical cannabis.

Through this she connected with advocates from all over the world, including UK campaigner and director of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, Hannah Deacon and Professor Mike Barnes, who obtained the first full legal licence to prescribe cannabis in the UK, as well as Dr Andrew Agius, founder and medical director of The Pain Clinic in Malta.

Professor Barnes and Dr Agius were among the experts who agreed to deliver lectures for Romanian doctors, and all three will speak part of the International Medical Cannabis Conference next week.

Alexandra Carstea

Other speakers include Professor David Nutt and Dr Anne Katrin Schlag of Drug Science and Project Twenty21 in the UK, Spain’s Dr Christina Sanchez and cannabis researcher, Dr Ethan Russo, alongside doctors, advocates and scientists from all over the world.

The event will be attended by medical professionals and politicians from across Romania, including one of the country’s leading neurologists, who has publicly shown his support for the campaign.

“There is more attention on cannabis now, people are responding and asking for information and doctors are trying to educate themselves,” says Alexandra.

“I’m bringing specialists from all over the world together in one place, so everyone can access the information.

“I want to create a network of experts and share it with those in Romania.”

She adds: “You cannot forget the pain you feel when someone you love is suffering so much, but from pain beautiful things grow, such as the desire to share what you know and help others.”

“There are many people who left messages on the petition, explaining that they are in the same situation that I was; buying from the black market, fearing problems with the law and having to travel to other countries to access treatment.

“It’s difficult when you have lost someone, but you keep on fighting for other people.”

The International Medical Cannabis Conference takes place on Tuesday 23 February from 12pm GMT.

For more information and updates follow Canabis medicinal in Romania on Facebook and visit the website here 

 

News

Do we really need CBD hand sanitiser?

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Sales of sanitising products are set to reach $17.2 Billion by 2026

A new antibacterial CBD and CBG infused hand sanitiser has launched on the US market – but can cannabinoids really help protect you from infection?

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic hand sanitiser has become everyone’s must-have accessory. 

During one week in February 2020, sales of hand gel in US pharmacies increased by more than 80 percent on the same period the previous year and the global hand sanitiser market is projected to grow significantly to reach $17.2 Billion by 2026.

Now US skin and personal care company Naturaholic has announced it is expanding into CBD –  it’s first product? Hand sanitiser infused with CBD and CBG.

Nahid LaCiura, the founder and lead product director of Naturaholic announced earlier this year that the company would put focus on adding different cannabinoids into their already successful natural product line.

“Early 2020, as our research into a new CBD skincare line began, Covid-19 struck which turned the company’s attention into a totally different direction in order to fill in the void in the marketplace and keep our community safe,” said Nahid.

“It only made sense for us to turn our focus to offering a hand sanitizer that would be strong and efficient enough yet gentle and moisturising.

“Also since we are an online company we could reach many people around the country in need of this high-demand product.”

Why use a CBD and CBG hand sanitiser? 

A Journal of Natural Products research article published in 2008 by the American Chemical Society reported that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG), two of the most abundant cannabinoids found in hemp, “showed potent activity against a variety of MRSA strains in mice.” 

Nahid added: “For those that don’t know, MRSA is the antibiotic resistant “superbug” that haunts the halls of many hospitals and healthcare facilities. 

“The infection caused by MRSA is very difficult to treat because of its resistance to most antibiotics.”

This issue has enormous clinical implications since MRSA is spreading throughout the world. In the United States MRSA accounts for killing nearly 19,000 Americans every year — more than the nation’s annual number of AIDS deaths (which is around 13,000).

“Although the use of cannabinoids as systemic antibacterial agents are still lacking rigorous clinical trials, they are well-suited antibiotic and sanitizing agents when applied topically, particularly against gram-positive pathogens including MRSA,” continued Nahid.

“For a hand sanitizer to have such a property, this could help many people through this hard time. The science behind this is CGB’s ability to stop the growth of biofilms by destroying the cell membrane of the microorganisms architecture, while also halting the growth of any new biofilms as well. The Paper published by McMaster University in Canada is a very interesting read if you’re into the science behind it.

“As it stands now, though it’s only been a few months, the CBD+CBG hand sanitizer is outselling most of our other products. 

“Of course, the Hyaluronic Acid and Skin Tightening Oil are still on top, but we can’t discount the amazing performance the hand sanitizer is having.”

The CBD+CBG hand sanitizer is available in 4 oz at a 1:1 ratio of CBD to CBG with 200mg potency. 

The formula uses ethanol alcohol at over a 60 percent potency in a gel formula with added Vitamin E and cannabinoids. This product is FDA registered and comes complete with 3rd party lab testing and COA (Certificate of Analysis) to guarantee potency.

Naturaholic is an artisanal line of skin and personal care products handcrafted in small batches  using high quality organic ingredients.

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Case Studies

“I’ve been given so many labels, but CBD made me feel normal again”

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Matthew Cobb and his family

Founder of the cannabidiol brand, Euphoria CBD, talks to Cannabis Health about how CBD has helped him turn his life around and move on from the trauma of his childhood.

23-year-old Matthew Cobb says he has seen “way too much” for someone his age.

At the age of 12, Matthew was taken into the care system, suffering from serious mental health issues stemming from traumatic events in his early youth.

Throughout the course of his childhood, he was diagnosed with PTSD, autism spectrum disorder, multiple personality disorder and bipolar and was given medication in an effort to treat his mental health.

“I took medication from a very young age,” Matthew says over the phone.

“I suppose a lot of it at the time was my mum trying to find a reason as to why my behaviour was the way it was.”

His doctors prescribed him medications such as Ritalin, Concerta XL, sertraline and olanzapine to cope but none of them worked for him and the side effects were, at times, crippling.

“Prescribed medication was very prominent in my childhood. They didn’t really do anything for me but I was forced to take them every day,” he says.

“There was not one [medication] that I could take and feel myself. Some of them made me angry, some of them absolutely tore me apart and made me borderline suicidal.”

Eventually, the side effects became too much, and Matthew decided to stop taking prescription medication at 15-years-old.

Having first encountered cannabis at the age of 13, he began to solely rely on “medicating” through the drug. In his late teenage years, Matthew says he would often consume upwards of £70 worth of cannabis in one day.

“It was the only thing that gave me some sense of normality at the time. The fact that ‘stoned’ was the closest to normality that I could get at 17-years-old was a problem,” he says.

At the age of 18, Matthew stumbled across CBD for the first time in a local convenience store where he saw a pack of CBD flower for sale.

“I saw this thing that ultimately looked like cannabis. I’d never heard of CBD before,” he recalls.

He bought the 0.5 g pack and went to the local park to roll a ‘CBD joint’ and was astounded by the effects.

“It was just a feeling of constant relaxation. I didn’t feel paranoid. I didn’t feel like anyone was judging me,” he says.

Later, Matthew began to experience more profound benefits as his consumption of CBD began to positively impact his mental health.

“I started to notice that my depression was easing off and I was starting to feel better in myself,” he continues.

“It was completely different to smoking cannabis. I wasn’t getting high anymore, but I was sleeping again and I was eating properly. My head didn’t feel so up in the air, I didn’t feel manic.”

For Matthew, smoking cannabis was never about getting high. He just wanted to feel “normal”, and cannabis was the only substance he could find that got him close to that feeling.

“I had a lot of issues that I didn’t understand, a lot of issues that didn’t make sense,” he says.

“I was heading in a massive downward spiral and [cannabis] was the only thing that took the edge off.

“It was about making me feel some sense of normality. I got that with CBD, so it almost made cannabis null and void.”

With a renewed clarity of mind, Matthew realised that he had to make a change in his life.

“In two years, you’re going to be in prison or you’re going to be dead,” he thought.

Matthew says he hasn’t picked up a cannabis joint since the first time he tried CBD and from that moment, he was himself for the first time in his life. He no longer recognises in himself the mental health issues that he was diagnosed with as a child.

“My view is I don’t have any mental health issues,” he says.

“I was given many different labels, but they would change week to week; ADHD, bipolar disorder, personality disorder this, personality disorder that, depression.

“I had had a label for everything, but my life now is pretty normal.

“CBD has taken those labels away. It has given me something that no medication could; it’s given me – me.”

Having experienced first-hand the benefits of CBD, Matthew launched his own brand, Euphoria CBD, in July 2020.

It is set to launch a range of new products throughout 2021, including e-liquids, soap bars, bath bombs, moisturiser creams.

Frustrated with the lofty costs of CBD products, he set out to make high-quality cannabidiol affordable. Recalling a time in his life where he was struggling to make ends meet and pay for the supplement that had such a huge impact on his life, Matthew aims to make CBD accessible to everyone, regardless of their income.

“CBD is something that comes with benefits for so many different people, but the problem is that people don’t realise how much poverty there actually is in this country,” he adds.

“People can’t afford this kind of product, it’s just not possible. My goal is to provide an affordable product that genuinely helps people.”

 

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Mental health

Five tips for coping with life after lockdown

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Social distancing restrictions are set to end in England on June 21st

As much as many of us can’t wait for life to return to normal, after over year of living with some form of restrictions, it’s normal to be feeling a little bit anxious about life after lockdown.

From March 8 onwards, the UK will start to slowly emerge from lockdown, with schools opening first, followed by non-essential shops and leisure facilities over the coming months.

And while there are things about the return to ‘normal’ that we will all be looking forward to, it’s not unusual to be feeling a little apprehensive, or even anxious, about re-entering society. 

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can manage your anxiety – and the sooner you start, the more effective it will be.

Take it slowly

If you’re feeling worried, it’s probably best not to book tickets for a festival or a round-the-world cruise. Instead, aim to maybe meet up with one person at a time, or have a coffee at an outside café. Whatever you choose, it’s best to do something, as the longer you leave it, the worse your anxiety will be.  

Keep in touch

While Zoom and text fatigue have definitely set in after 12 months of lockdowns and distancing, now is the time to rekindle some of those connections.

Even if you don’t meet up in person just yet, it can be good to chat through your anxiety with a friend – chances are, they’ll know exactly how you’re feeling.

Try something new

Try to vary your routine so you see different people and situations until you find what you’re comfortable with. Maybe your usual walking route is very busy in the mornings; now the nights are getting lighter, try going out in the early evening. 

Trying something different can also break any negative connections you may associate with lockdown; if your local streets were as far as you travelled during lockdown, a walk around a different neighbourhood gives your brain a clear signal that something has changed.

Have a plan

While you can’t control everything, you do have power over some aspects of returning to a more normal life. If you’re feeling worried or anxious about going out, make yourself an action plan of how you’re going to handle it – and how you’ll respond to anything unexpected.

A little extra help

CBD is well known for its calming effects, and many people use it to relieve symptoms of anxiety.  Although more research is needed to understand the science behind using CBD as a treatment for anxiety, plenty of people anecdotally report a positive impact on their symptoms. A 2019 Gallup Poll discovered that 37 percent of CBD users take the supplement for anxiety.

CBD is thought to work by changing serotonin signals in the body through the interaction with CB1, a receptor found in the central nervous system.

Low serotonin levels are generally linked with depression, however there is also evidence that it could be a cause of anxiety.

In another study from 2019, researchers gave 300mg of CBD (or a placebo) to 37 Japanese teenagers suffering from social anxiety.

The results found that the group who received CBD experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms and concluded that “the results indicate that CBD could be a useful option to treat social anxiety.”

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