Medical Marijuana

I remain cautiously optimistic that cannabidiol will someday become another weapon in our arsenal of anti-seizure drugs, but we are not there yet.

by Alan Sanderson

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Cannabis sativa (Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

As a follow-on from my previous post about alternative medicine, I want to discuss the current state of medical marijuana. This is one of the hottest and most contentious topics in alternative medicine at present, and efforts to bring it under the umbrella of mainstream medicine are active and quite promising. Marijuana plants contain two chemical compounds of particular interest, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is thought to be the cause of most of the harmful effects of marijuana use, including its addiction potential, and is probably responsible for the low educational achievement of adolescent marijuana users. Most of the current medical research is focused on the potential therapeutic effects of CBD, which seems to have little of the baggage that comes along with THC.

The term “medical marijuana” means different things to different people. For medical professionals it means medicines derived from marijuana compounds, properly vetted through pharmaceutical research trials. I think it is fair to say that most doctors are in favor of this, in the same way that we are also in favor of properly vetted medicines derived from literally anything else (cone snail venom, leeches, Clostridium botulinum, human blood, etc.). “Properly vetted” is the key phrase, and I spent some time elaborating on this in my previous post.

Before we get too deep into things, let me share an anecdote. About a year ago an older gentleman, who is a member of the LDS Church, sat in my clinic complaining of a hand tremor (which was caused by an albuterol inhaler). His son had given him a bottle of CBD oil, which he had been using to quiet down the tremor. While we talked the man pulled the bottle of oil out of his pocket and sprayed it under his tongue, then we watched as his tremor markedly reduced over the next minute. After this very interesting demonstration, the man turned to me and asked, “So, is this against the Word of Wisdom?”

I was surprised at such a direct theological question in my medical clinic, and I didn’t feel comfortable giving a definitive yes or no answer in that setting, so I told him to ask his bishop. People shouldn’t come to my clinic for religious advice. He wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I offered him the following discussion, which I often share with patients who ask about medical marijuana. Continue reading

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Alternative Medicine

Whether we turn to a medical doctor, a chiropractor, or directly to the Lord himself, our hope is that we will get better and feel well.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I once had a patient in my clinic with intractable migraine headaches, who had tried all of the herbal remedies for migraine that I had ever heard of (including one that is not recommended due to liver toxicity) plus several more that I wasn’t familiar with. She was a practitioner of “naturopathic medicine” and was very distrustful and reluctant to try any prescription medications. After I spent half an hour or so describing all of the treatments I could offer her, she flatly refused all of them and left my clinic no better than she had been when she walked in.

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Capsicum annuum, commonly known as cayenne pepper, often used as an herbal remedy. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

You might expect the topic of alternative medicine to be rather bland. After all, is it really in dispute that good nutrition is good for you, and that some natural products have medicinal properties? But this topic seems to be perpetually roiled in controversy, and I risk offending half of my readers (and half of my family) with this post. From the beginning of this discussion it should be obvious that I have skin in this game, as I am a practicing medical doctor, but I will attempt to take a fair approach as I explain why some doctors are reluctant to endorse or accept alternative therapies. There is much to praise and criticize in both mainstream and alternative medicine. I will also discuss the scriptural arguments which have been put forward by Latter-day Saints who are proponents of alternative medicine. My usual disclaimer applies here, which is that I am writing my own opinions which are not necessarily the official views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of my employer. Continue reading

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To be Learned is Good If…

Achievement and learning are a means to an end, not the end in itself.

by Rand Colbert, MD

As a child I developed a deep love of reading. As would seem natural for any boy with an inclination for the outdoors, I devoured the usual platter of fiction that targeted my demographic. Where the Red Fern Grows, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Farmer Boy were among my favorites. When my tastes matured during adolescence, I began to enjoy science fiction and fantasy, especially Tolkien, who I must admit, was something of an idol to me. Prior to serving a mission in the Baltic republics a couple years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I stumbled upon The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. This began an obsession with World War II history that, ironically, was only interrupted because of my two year church service in a part of the world that was, itself, ravaged several times over by that great conflict.

Upon returning home from my mission, I found life to be much different than the carefree days of youth, where I could shamelessly idle away every weekend and late night curled up in bed with my latest discovery from the shelves of our local library. In high school I had been a good enough natural student to get by with decent grades despite hardly cracking a textbook, so there was little pressure on me to delve much farther in my reading than the imaginations of C.S. Lewis and Orson Scott Card. Once I began university studies, however, the reality of having to support myself financially and keep my academic head above water put an end to me having my nose in anything but biology, chemistry or physics manuals. I realized that I wanted more from my career than what my parents had experienced, and that meant I had to out-maneuver the hordes of other pre-meds that crowded the auditoriums of the University of Arizona. Continue reading

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The Voice of a Dear Friend

If you listen carefully you will hear the sweet voice of our Lord Jesus, as his words are spoken by apostles and prophets and carried to our hearts through the Holy Ghost.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

Many years ago when I was a young medical student I stood waiting at a bus stop near the university. It had been a long day of studying, and I was feeling weary. While I stood there I was listening to a talk given by Elder Deiter F. Uchtdorf at the most recent General Conference, and I was struck by a comment he made near the end of his talk:

“This worldwide conference with its music and spoken word offers spiritual power, direction, and blessings “from on high” (D&C 43:16). It is a time when the voice of personal inspiration and revelation will bring peace to our souls and will teach us how to become more Christlike. This voice will be as sweet as the voice of a dear friend.” (emphasis added)

“Yes, this is the voice of a dear friend,” I thought to myself. And suddenly I found myself overcome with emotion, and tears filled my eyes. “I love these men, these prophets of God!” After years of listening to them and building my faith and testimony from their teachings, I considered them to be my friends. Continue reading

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A British Summer: My Experience as a Mormon Missionary

My missionary service has pointed me towards everything good I have done in my adult life since that time.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

EPSON MFP imageOn this day twenty years ago, I started my two years of service as a full time volunteer missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The missionary experience is a powerful force in Mormon culture, hugely impacting the lives of millions of people around the world, and the lives of the tens of thousands who serve each year.

Why do Mormons serve missions? What is it like to be a missionary? How does this service affect the rest of your life? In this post I will approach these questions from my own experience. Continue reading

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Mourning with Those that Mourn

He was bearing a burden, and I could help him bear it

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

I was in the middle of a busy day in my neurology clinic, running behind schedule and worrying that my patients would be upset about having to wait. Fortunately one of my visits went quickly, and I felt a sense of relief as I stood up to leave the room. But the patient ignored my non-verbal cues and kept talking. He began to tell a story which was unrelated to our visit, and despite my impatience I had the feeling that I should sit back down again and listen.

One day the patient’s wife started to feel unwell and went to bed early. Within several days she was spending all of her time in bed, and then she became confused and didn’t make sense when she talked. My patient had serious health problems of his own, and his condition deteriorated as his wife could no longer care for him. When his wife’s sister visited them one day she was alarmed to discover the poor state of their health. She called for two ambulances to take them both to the hospital.

“I never spoke with my wife again,” the man said regretfully. Doctors at the hospital quickly discovered that she had advanced breast cancer which had spread throughout her body. “She was just scared,” he guessed. “She knew what was happening, but she didn’t tell me because she was scared to go to the hospital.” His wife suffered a cardiac arrest a day or so into their hospitalization and was resuscitated. My patient described being wheeled from his own hospital room to the intensive care unit to see her one last time before instructing the doctors to withdraw life support.

What a heartbreaking story! I told the man how sorry I felt for what had happened to him and his wife. He shook my hand and then left the room, apparently satisfied that he had said all that he wanted to say.

How glad I was that I had not left the room when I had first intended to! How would he have felt if I had forced my way out of the conversation and out of the room right when he was getting ready to tell me his very personal experience? Continue reading

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Four Years of MormonDoctor.com

We will move forward, doing what we can to help people understand the faith that breathes so much hope and purpose into our lives. One post at a time, we will try to explain how this wonderful religion guides us in our efforts to serve and love others, and to approach God with greater faith.

by Alan B. Sanderson, MD

This month, March 2018, marks the fourth anniversary of MormonDoctor.com. As this anniversary has approached I have been reviewing what we have accomplished so far and have been considering goals and priorities for the future.

How do you measure success in a project like this? The ultimate goal of the site, as described in our About page, is to promote understanding of the Lord and his church, in the context of a discussion about medicine and health. I want to serve the Lord by writing things which are true, and which help people to understand and grow closer to him. I wish to clearly explain what I believe, why I believe it, and how that belief influences my life and my work as a doctor. To the extent that I have done this, I can claim success. And when I review the last four years I am still pleased with the substance of what I have written when measured against that purpose. But quite honestly, success at this primary purpose is a little hard to measure, and I have contented myself with getting only occasional glimpses at it. Continue reading

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