Teen with Autoimmune Disease Backing Bill to Allow Medical Marijuana in Schools

A teenage boy looks at Bill 331 and smiles alongside a government leader
Connor Scheffield, an autoimmune disease patient, is supporting a bill that would allow medical marijuana in Maryland schools

Connor Scheffield, a teen from Annapolis, Maryland, is backing a bill that would allow medical marijuana to be taken at a nurse’s office in Maryland schools. Currently, medical marijuana is banned from school campuses across the state.

Connor says that if it weren’t for medical marijuana, he wouldn’t be able to get through the school day. This is because the teen suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called Gastro-Intestinal Dysmotility.

GI Dysmotility is a painful condition that causes patients to not be able to digest food and nutrients properly and process waste. Dysmotility refers to the abnormal movement of food, nutrients and waste through the GI tract. When the body’s immune system attacks the nerves in the GI tract, transit through the GI tract becomes impaired. Symptoms of the condition include nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pains, early satiety, and involuntary weight loss. Neurological symptoms may also accompany the disease.

According to Lawrence Szarka, MD, from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, GI Dysmotility can be disabling. “Patients who have [GI Dysmotility] are miserable,” commented Dr. Szarka. “They have no appetite. They have terrible abdominal pains and constipation. Often these patients undergo lots of diagnostic testing and multiple consultations.”

Like many autoimmune diseases, because GI Dysmotility involves the immune system, nervous system, and digestive system, patients must consult with a team of physicians spanning multiple specialty areas. Furthermore, treatment options are extremely limited, and tend to focus on treating the symptoms, like facilitating gastric emptying, rather than treating the disease itself. And while immunotherapies do exist, some patients who test positive for antibodies don’t always respond to the medication.

Young boy is hospitalized for GI Dysmotility, a disabling autoimmune disease
Connor receives treatment for GI Dysmotility, a rare autoimmune disease

Connor was one of those patients. His father, Michael Scheffield, says that his son tried everything before turning to medical marijuana to find solace, and that it’s the only treatment that’s worked so far. Connor takes it in the form of an oil tincture; he puts just a few drops on his tongue and takes it with a swig a water. “I need it every few hours,” said Connor. “It’s the difference between life and death.”

A young boy in the hospital hooked up to fluids as he undergoes treatment for GI Dysmotility
Connor Scheffield was confined to hospital beds as a child before finding solace in medical marijuana

Prior to using medical marijuana, Connor was confined to hospital beds. Since it’s currently illegal to use the substance at schools in Maryland, he must leave his school every few hours in order to take a dose. It’s also illegal for underage individuals to take medical marijuana without the presence of an adult, so when his parents are out of town, Connor has to go without. On those days, the teen says he can hardly get through a school day. “You can take opioids, you know, painkillers in a nurse’s office,” commented Connor. “But I can’t take my cannabis.”

House Bill 331, dubbed ‘Connor’s Courage’ would allow medical marijuana to be used in a nurse’s office in Maryland schools. Connor is currently one of 200 children who are certified to use medical marijuana in Maryland, and who could stand to benefit from this bill.

To learn more about Connor’s story and his experience with GI Dysmotility, please visit the CBS Baltimore website.

Top Autoimmune Disease Books to Read in 2020

Have you read any good books lately about autoimmune disease? I am continuously consuming autoimmune-related content, whether it’s blogs, YouTube videos or full-fledged novels. Read on to learn about my favorite autoimmune disease books that you should poke your nose into in 2020!

1. The Autoimmune Epidemic

The Autoimmune Epidemic by journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa is a thought-provoking read about the potential causes behind many autoimmune conditions. In her book, Jackson Nakazawa theorizes that environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides and other toxins are responsible for the alarming rise in autoimmune diseases over the course of the last few decades. Although not a medical professional or scientist herself, Jackson Nakazawa provides compelling evidence that had me wondering what really triggered my own autoimmune conditions. The author herself has an autoimmune disease called myasthenia gravis that severely affected her mobility. Her book has received praise from numerous acclaimed individuals, including U.S. Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry.

2. An Epidemic of Absence

An Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez-Manoff is another exploratory book about the causes behind autoimmune disease. His main theory is that autoimmune conditions, as well as allergies, are caused by a lack of actual communicable diseases in modern society. In ancient times, our ancestors had to contend with parasites and infectious diseases, like hepatitis A, measles, mumps and tuberculosis, from which they could easily die. However, our modern ‘too-clean’ environment has lead to our immune system attacking a new target – our own bodies – instead. I found that Velasquez-Manoff’s book was a direct contrast to The Autoimmune Epidemic (referenced above), since it posits that autoimmune diseases are caused by an absence of environmental triggers, rather than their presence. The author himself has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disease that results in total body hair loss.

3. The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principals

The Wahls Protocol by Dr. Terry Wahls is an excellent read. I first heard about Dr. Wahls when I watched her viral TedTalk video, Minding Your Mitochondria, in which she describes the relationship between the body’s gut microbiome and the development of autoimmune disease. In her book, Dr. Wahls, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), details how she went from being wheelchair-bound to competing in a marathon after adopting the principals of her dietary protocol. Before implementing the protocol, her MS continued to worsen, despite receiving excellent treatment from some of the top neurologists in the country. Dr. Wahls also stresses the importance of vitamin D naturally derived from the sun in order to maintain a healthy immune system. Although Dr. Wahls’ advice isn’t 100% proven, her medical background and own track record of success healing herself and others is certainly persuasive.

4. The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook

The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook is the first of several novels penned by Mickey Trescott and co-author Angie Alt. The focus of the book is about the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), a dietary regimen that involves eating paleo, avoiding gluten and dairy, as well as numerous other foods that could ‘trigger’ an autoimmune reaction. I first read the book when I borrowed it from my local library; I had to wait to read the book though, since it was immensely popular, and I was number 25 on the waiting list! Since then, a family member gifted me with a follow-up book by Trescott, called The Nutrient-Dense Kitchen. The book is chock-full of great recipes that are AIP-friendly. Something I like about Trescott’s books is that they not only provide easy to follow recipes, but actually explain why it is that eating this way can help alleviate autoimmune symptoms for some people, including a deep dive into the science behind leaky gut. Trescott herself has both Celiac disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

5. The New Sjogren’s Syndrome Handbook

The New Sjogren’s Syndrome Handbook was written by the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) and edited by a physician familiar with the disease. What I like about this book is that it’s specific to Sjogren’s Syndrome (SJS), which is an autoimmune condition that I have. The book goes into the fundamentals about SJS, including what the disease is, how it is diagnosed, the main symptoms, complications, and treatment options. The one critique I would have for the book is that although it’s called the ‘New’ Sjogren’s Syndrome Handbook, the book was originally written in the 1990’s, so it’s not really new (though the foundation has come out with revised editions since). Overall, I think it’s a great read for a newly-diagnosed patient with Sjogren’s, or a family member/friend of someone with Sjogren’s, so that they can understand more about the disease.

Those are my top 5 autoimmune disease related books! Do you have any favorite novels related to chronic illness, autoimmune disease, or other health-related topics? If so, please share in the comments below!

Endometriosis linked to common autoimmune diseases

Endometriosis image courtesy of: The Endometriosis Foundation of America

A group of Italian researchers based out of Sapienza University in Rome have discovered a link between endometriosis and several common autoimmune diseases.

According to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, endometriosis is a menstruation-related disease that primarily affects women in their reproductive years. The disease occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) migrates outside of the womb, where it shouldn’t be. This results in a variety of symptoms, including inflammation, severe cramping and pain, long, heavy periods, and infertility. It can also cause other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, bowel and urinary disorders, chronic fatigue and pain during sexual activity.

The exact cause of endometriosis is poorly understood. While many theories have been suggested, this study investigated the prevalence of common autoimmune diseases among Italian women with endometriosis. The study compared 148 women with endometriosis (the case group) to 150 who did not have the condition (the control group). The women in the study ranged from 18-45 years of age, and those who had endometriosis suffered from varying degrees of the disease.

The study found that in the case group, there was a ‘significantly higher’ prevalence of autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), celiac disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, as compared to the control group not affected by endometriosis. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), however, was not found to be linked with endometriosis.

The main limitation of this study is the small sample size. Further studies must be done with a larger group in order to prove that autoimmune activity is responsible for the development of endometriosis. However, this study is helpful for physicians to consider the possibility of autoimmune conditions that may be co-occurring in patients with endometriosis.

To learn more about endometriosis, visit the Endometriosis Foundation of America website.

This blog post is dedicated to Jenni Rempel, a classmate of mine who passed away from endometriosis four years ago. Before she passed away, Jenni produced this video to educate others about this painful disease: Help Me Get My Life Back from Endometriosis.