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.

Could the secret to chronic pain relief lie in the memories stored in your body and mind?

A woman undergoes EMDR therapy by a licensed practitioner.

It is clear that stress can have a direct impact on autoimmune, chronic pain and other health conditions. Autoimmune Warrior shares research on the role of chronic stress in autoimmune disorders in this blog post. However, the nuances regarding the types of stress and how to deal with them are not often something we talk about with a medical physician, or to anyone in general.

The body and mind are inherently connected and emotional stressors can and do impact our physical functioning. Beyond everyday stressors, traumatic events, whether they occurred long, long ago in your early childhood, or something you experienced this year can get stored in your body and can manifest in the form of stomachaches, back and joint pain, or chronic migraines, to name a few. Everyday stressors may refer to issues with setting boundaries with a family member, difficulty speaking up for your needs, or putting your needs last ahead of everyone else.

The effects of emotional stress and trauma on the body’s hormonal functioning and immune system are well researched. Dr. Gabor Mate, a Hungarian physician who has investigated for many years the potential psychological attributes to his patients’ physical illnesses, including breast cancer, ALS and intestinal issues, has found commonalities in his patients dealing with similar health issues. He found links between those who experienced childhood abuse, neglect and/or maintaining unhelpful relational roles and those who had chronic health issues. These connections are described in his book, When the Body Says No.

Stress and trauma impact hormone functioning. Specifically, research has found that cortisol, a critical hormone implicated in managing stress responses, is impacted by traumatic experiences. For example, decreased cortisol levels have been found in women who have a history of childhood sexual abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This change in cortisol level functioning can impact the immune system (Kloet et al., 2006), as healthy levels of cortisol help to regulate inflammatory response and glucose levels. When too much cortisol is released from the body, it constantly feels as if it is in fight or flight mode (whether it’s a real or perceived threat), which can inhibit the regulation of glucose levels and responses to attacks on the immune system. Click here for more information.

Furthermore, the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study conducted by Kaiser, found that the more adverse childhood events you have had, the higher at risk you may be for certain health conditions such as heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes. For more information on ACEs, read Autoimmune Warrior’s blog post. Additionally, click here to find out what your ACE score is.

So what does this all mean? It means that help in the form of psychological healing may positively impact your physical health and decrease the chronic pain. Addressing long-avoided emotional pain from past trauma can (and does!) help. If you are thinking to yourself “I didn’t experience trauma!” but you wonder why those boundaries are so hard to set, you feel guilty if you don’t take care of your parents’ emotional or physical needs, or you’re avoiding social situations (just a few examples), chances are there’s something from your past that may be keeping you from living an emotionally and physically healthier life today. There are many options for helping you in this area, particularly forms of body-based psychotherapy models that can be effective with chronic pain, including EMDR therapy.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy uses bilateral stimulation in the form of eye movements or alternative tapping to activate memory networks which are linked to maladaptive functioning; in other words, it activates the traumatic memories that are linked to negative feelings and beliefs that we have about ourselves now (for example, having low self-esteem, triggers to not feeling safe when you know logically that you are). During a REM sleep cycle your eyes move back and forth as you process the day’s events. In the same way, bringing up those past memories with eye movements in a safe, controlled environment with a skilled EMDR therapist helps the brain process through the memory and come to a more adaptive resolution. It allows the brain the space and time to do what it couldn’t do at the time that event occurred—process. And that can help remove self-blame or other negative beliefs, and in turn, relieves symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD, to name a few. With the relief of mental health symptoms, there is less stress on your immune system and this can improve overall pain symptoms and your energy level. To learn more about EMDR therapy, visit www.EMDRIA.org.

As Bessel van der Kolk suggests, The Body Keeps the Score, so let’s not forget to consider what has happened (or is happening!) in your life which may be contributing to your autoimmune symptoms.

Brooke Bender is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Board Certified Art Therapist, as well as an EMDR certified therapist practicing near Los Angeles, California. For more about Brooke, please visit: www.brookebender.com

Christina Anstead Reveals Her Struggle with Autoimmune Disease

Christina Anstead, 36, Reveals Struggle with Autoimmune Diseases

Reality TV star Christina Anstead from the hit HDTV show Christina on the Coast revealed she suffers from autoimmune diseases this past week.

In a candid Instagram video featuring her 4-month-old son Hudson, Anstead wrote, “With having autoimmune issues and a new baby, I need all the help I can get. Supplements are key for me to feeling my best. I take a ton of supplements and [NatureWise] is my go-to brand.” 

In the comments, a fan asked for details on which autoimmune issues she had. Anstead replied that she suffers from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She also said she has Eczema, which flares up when she consumes certain foods.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland. This, in turn, leads to hypothyroidism, in which the thyroid gland underproduces important hormones necessary for metabolism and other bodily functions. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, constipation, heavy menstrual periods and feeling cold all the time.

PCOS is a condition that involves the recurrence of cysts on a woman’s ovaries. While PCOS is not yet proven to be autoimmune, a 2016 publication theorized that it is an autoimmune disease; the theory states that the condition starts when low levels of progesterone cause the body to over-produce estrogen, which results in the production of auto-antibodies.

Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that results in painful, itchy rashes and redness of the skin. It is often triggered by external factors, such as certain foods, smoke, pollen, or other irritants.

Having experienced both painful ovarian cysts and irritating eczema myself, I can relate to Anstead’s struggle a lot. However, with the right treatment and proactive care, the symptoms can be manageable. And, the fact that Anstead has accomplished so much as a successful real estate investor, reality TV star, and mom of five, while managing multiple chronic illnesses, makes her success all the more impressive.