Cannabidiol – What is it and what are its health benefits?

You may or may not have heard of cannabidiol.  I would wager that you have, however, heard of marijuana.  Marijuana is the common name for the drug, sold both for medicinal and recreational purposes, that is derived from the cannabis plant.   How are CBD and marijuana related?  They both are derived from the cannabis plant, and for this reason, both are known as cannabinoids.

What is the difference between marijuana and CBD?

Did you know that cannabis plants produce more than 400 chemical compounds?  Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of those compounds. As aforementioned, CBD and marijuana both come from the cannabis plant.  However, there is a major difference between CBD and marijuana.  While marijuana is well-known for its ability to produce psychoactive effects – aka – “getting high”, CBD does not produce a “high”.  Marijuana contains the compound THC, which is responsible for the euphoria one experiences after smoking or ingesting marijuana.  CBD typically contains very low amounts of THC – often less than 1% and does not produce a psychoactive effect.  This is an important distinction to make from both the legal and medical perspective.

Also, not to add to the confusion, but cannabidiol can also be derived from the hemp plant.  Where does hemp fit into all of this?  Simply put, hemp is another type of cannabis plant.  CBD derived from the hemp plant contains very low amounts of THC.

Is CBD legal in all 50 United States?

This is where there are differing opinions, depending on whether you are working in the cannabis industry or working for the Drug Enforcement Administration.  Growing hemp, because of its association with marijuana, has been outlawed in the US since the 1930’s.  It is only legal in some states for industrial and research use.

Those in the cannabis industry claim that if CBD is derived from industrial hemp, it is legal under the 2014 Farm Bill.  This legislation legalizes a very limited set of hemp cultivation processes.  However, it is unlikely that all CBD manufacturers get their hemp from sources grown under these specifications.  And this is where state laws on CBD and hemp growth are widely variable.

Soon hemp cultivation could be legal in all 50 states.  In March 2018, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced he would be introducing legislation to legalize hemp.

How cannabinoids affect our bodies

To understand how intricately CBD can affect our bodies, we need to talk about the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Never heard of it?  That’s no surprise – the endocannabinoid system has not yet been thoroughly studied, largely in part due to the US government’s prohibition of the cannabis plant in 1937.

However, since the 1990’s, scientists have been busy studying the endocannabinoid system and the effects of cannabinoids on this amazing, intricate body network.  Part of this research was the discovery that our bodies produce cannabinoids (aka endocannabinoids), and this understanding spurred much of the research into the effects of these compounds on our bodies.

Our bodies’ cells have cannabinoid receptors in numerous body regions, such as our immune system, organs, glands, and tissues – most significantly, the brain. It has been found that cannabinoids play a role in the regulation of stress and anxiety, increasing appetite and decreasing nausea, immune system balance and tumor inhibition.  Other cannabinoid receptors have mostly been found on immune system cells.  The benefit of this appears to be inflammation reduction and a decrease in tissue damage.

Therefore, research shows that the endocannabinoid system overall ensures that the body’s central nervous and immune systems are working properly.

What are the potential health benefits of CBD?

Plant-derived cannabinoids such as CBD mimic endocannabinoids and boost the endocannabinoid system.  It should be no surprise then that the potential health benefits of CBD use are numerous.  Early research has shown several diseases and conditions can possibly be treated using CBD, including the following:

  • Inflammation – CBD binds those endocannabinoid receptors to produce an anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Pain – possibly making CBD and other cannabinoids a less dangerous alternative to opioids.
  • Anxiety – studies have shown that CBD can support emotional balance and decrease the effects of anxiety.
  • Epilepsy treatment – research done in 2012 supports CBD as a therapeutic agent to treat a wide range of human epilepsies.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis – research from 2006 suggests that CBD has a neuroprotective effect, and may help prevent the breakdown of the protective coating surrounding nerve cells.
  • Cancer – research from 2015 showed that CBD inhibited tumor growth in breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers.  CBD was also shown to enhance some first-line (the treatment used first for disease therapy)  cancer treatments. For some cancers, CBD also prevented tumors from spreading.

At the very least, the research done thus far on CBD and its potential health benefits most definitely warrant further studies.

The future of CBD use in our health and wellness

So far, the research done on the health benefits of CBD use is promising.  It appears that cannabidiol can be an effective way of treating a myriad of diseases and conditions without producing the psychoactive effects of its related compound, marijuana.

It seems as though the ability of CBD to combat some of our most debilitating health issues make this a most amazing natural compound!

We Need to Put the Care Back in Healthcare

When you go to your physician’s office, or the laboratory for blood work or radiology for x-ray’s, do you feel like you’re an imposition? Like you’re an inconvenience to the clinician or healthcare staff? As if your being there is interrupting the personal conversation they are holding with others in their workplace?

You are not alone.

Although many who enter the healthcare field do so out of a desire to help others, over time, empathy can be lost. Empathy even declines during medical school training.

Part of this can be attributed to a need for those of us in healthcare to somewhat detach ourselves from a patient’s emotions. For example, part of my job is to perform phlebotomy, the act of drawing blood for medical testing. As a phlebotomist, we must be empathetic to a patient if they have a fear of having their blood drawn, but we understand that the duty must be performed in order to help the patient. That is, we can’t be so sympathetic to a fearful patient to say “you’re right, this will likely hurt, so I won’t stick this needle in your arm”.

What about those working in healthcare who just don’t seem to care? Unfortunately, there has been an overall decline in empathy in society as a whole. Add to that the work conditions healthcare staff deal with on a daily basis: staff shortages, budget cuts, and the general expectation to do more with less, and we’re looking at a recipe for disaster.

In spite of all this, for those of us who work in healthcare, it is time for us to take a moment and remember that ultimately, our job is to care for others. Our patients and their loved ones matter, not to mention are the reason we have a job. We need to put ourselves in our patient’s shoes.

In my job, I teach college seniors in a science-related field a year’s worth of college-level courses in clinical laboratory science. This helps to prepare them to become certified medical laboratory scientists so that they are qualified to perform lab testing on patient samples.

Because we spend most of our day tucked away in the lab, it could be easy to forget the patients behind the test tubes. I feel it is my duty to remind students to cultivate their empathy. Smile and greet our patients and their families as you pass them in the hallway. If someone looks lost, offer your assistance to help them reach their destination – and don’t just give directions, take them there. Hold a door for someone.

None of these actions cost a cent. And do you know what? When we have empathy and help others, we also get something in return – that awesome feeling that you’ve helped someone – even if it has been in a small way.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but wait, you help others when you do your job – why would you need to hold the door for someone, or direct someone to where they need to go?” The reason is that the physical act of interacting with another human being in a positive way – that makes you feel good!

Here’s another benefit of healthcare staff having empathy towards their patients – better patient outcomes and satisfaction scores. When we show our patients we care, they follow our instructions and take better care of themselves. They also feel more satisfied with their experience, and score higher on patient satisfaction surveys. We then are rewarded by increasing business and revenue.

So the next time you prepare to interact with a patient (or their family), end personal, non-work related conversations with co-workers. Give your patient your full attention. Make them feel like they matter, and that they are important – because they are!

It all boils down to the Golden Rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Or, if you want to think of it this way, what kind of treatment would you like your child, mother, grandfather, or partner to receive? Let’s take care of our patients like we would care for our family.

This article also appeared on KevinMD.com.

What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with healthcare.  Please leave a comment below.

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Why It’s Important to Foster Supportive Relationships

hiking golden eagle trail

Most everyone can recognize the signs of destructive relationships, but do we truly understand the benefits of surrounding ourselves with healthy, supportive relationships?

Having a foundation of family and friends that back you and lift you up can help you live a longer, happier life.

Some other advantages to cultivating healthy connections are:

  • Having someone who is willing to listen and share in our victories (and failures – without judging).  Isn’t it more fun to celebrate with someone else than just ourselves for company?
  • Speaking of having someone willing to listen, just the act of talking with a friend or partner through a bad experience can be a stress reliever.  Doesn’t it feel better to vent frustrations after a bad day?  I honestly don’t know what I would do without having my husband as a sounding board.  He allows me to bend his ear when I experience frustrations at work, as well as offering me sound advice on how to deal with difficult situations.
  • Participation in healthy habits – those who surround themselves with others that live healthy tend to follow suit.  This can mean eating healthier or partaking in exercise.  It is easier to avoid that indulgent dessert if your companion forgoes the sweets as well.  Having a friend keeping you accountable in an exercise program can help you to realize success with your fitness goals.
  • It is often motivating and more fun to share in an activity with a friend, rather than alone.  Having a “go-to” friend for enjoying different activities can encourage one to participate in several pursuits.  For example, my daughter and I love to go hiking together (that’s us in the pic at the top of this post).  We seek each other out when we have free time and want to get out in nature.
  • Having someone with which to attend social engagements.  Some may not mind not having a companion to accompany them, but most do enjoy having a mate along when going to a group gathering.
  • Research suggests that those who engage in healthy social relationships live longer lives – one particular study found that those who have healthy relationships are half less likely to die early than those who live more isolated lives.

In fact, that same study noted that having a low amount of social activity was more harmful than not exercising, twice as detrimental as obesity, and equivalent to being alcoholic!

Of course, this is not to discount those aforementioned unhealthy habits – it is important to avoid them to maintain health.  However, we need to pay attention to and foster positive relationships in our lives.

To be clear, a supportive relationship does not necessarily have to be a romantic one.  Just having social connections with a friend or family member can make a healthy difference in our lives, so long as the relationship is a positive one.

Ways to ensure healthy, supportive relationships

There really is no secret to fostering great relationships; the key is simple – spending time with those special in your life.  While this sounds easy, it takes dedication and conviction to follow through.

We must make time in our busy lives to cultivate friendships.  Building supportive, healthy relationships simply involves being with others.  Make sure that if you make plans, you follow through.  It can also be very helpful with everyone’s days being so hectic to schedule time each week or month to be with those you love.

It is a plus, too, if you can give the support you receive.  Be a good listener.  Give advice – but only if asked.  Sometimes we just need someone to listen.  Don’t judge.  Compromise on when and where to meet and what activities to enjoy together.

In Summary…

Surrounding yourself with those who show you love and support can not only make life more enjoyable, it can actually help you live longer.  When we have others in our lives that enjoy healthy habits and activities, we tend to commit to living healthier as well.

We only get one life, and it’s too short not to spend it with those who uplift and support us.

Do you have a special friend or relative that you love being with?  If so, what activities do you enjoy together?  I’d love to hear from you!  Please comment below.

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10 Ways to Be Your Own Patient Advocate

 

What is a patient advocate?  A simple definition of a patient advocate is this:  one who helps the patient by asking the right questions and in turn, getting the appropriate care at the right time.  A patient advocate can be someone who is paid or unpaid, but usually has some type of medical background and knowledge.

You have a say in your healthcare

You can become your own advocate when it comes to your healthcare and the choices you have.  And even if you might have somewhat limited choices depending on your health care coverage and the area you live in, you still have a say in the care you receive.  The following are my suggestions, based on both my experience working in the healthcare field for almost 30 years and as a patient myself:

  1. Ask questions.  If you don’t understand what your clinician (ie physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, etc) or the healthcare staff is telling you, ask them to clarify.  As in any specialized field, we sometimes forget that not everyone understands our jargon or acronyms.
  2. If your clinician is ordering blood work or other lab tests, MRI, ultrasound, etc, ask why the test is being ordered.  Ask if there are any special preparations for the test, such as the requirement to be fasting.  If you are paying for a test, and more importantly, you want accurate results, it is best to be properly prepared.
  3. If you want to know what the clinician is trying to rule in or rule out, ask – you have the right to know.  However, be aware that often times a test is done to rule out a disease or condition.  This means that just because a particular test might indicate possible cancer, for example, it doesn’t mean you have cancer because the test is being ordered.  Often times a negative result is as helpful in finding the cause of symptoms as a different test’s positive result.
  4. Research conditions, tests, etc. and be an informed patient/consumer.  A fantastic website which has accurate information on lab testing and on conditions/diseases is labtestsonline.org.  I highly recommend it.  The more informed you are, the better you will be able to ask the right questions at the right time.
  5. Another great website for comparing hospitals and providers is medicare.gov hospital compare.  This site is not only for those covered under Medicare.  The site has reliable tips on choosing a hospital and the capability to find and compare hospitals based on their quality measures.
  6. Before going to see your clinician, write down your questions and take notes during your appointment.
  7. If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions or you’d like to have another set of ears to hear, bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your appointment(s) when possible.
  8. Check your bills for accuracy.  I have had incorrect billing occur on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, it does happen.  An incorrect diagnosis code or inaccurate insurance information can cause improper charges.
  9. Many hospitals now offer the ability to check test results online.  View your results and be prepared when you go see your clinician for a follow-up visit or call the office.
  10. Communication with your clinician and the healthcare staff is key to success.  When we keep the lines of communication open, we can often improve our experience.

Our goal is your good health

Those of us that work in healthcare are most often there because we want to help others.  Unfortunately, with the increased demands placed on physicians, allied health staff, and others working in healthcare, it can be a stressful environment.  We are all human.  At times we may need reminding that ultimately we are there to care for our patients.

Summarizing Self Advocacy

Being your own patient advocate can assist you in being more satisfied with your healthcare experience.  And the better informed you are in your care, the more likely you are to follow your clinician’s advice.  This helps your chances to stay healthy.

That is an all around win-win for everyone!

Mourning the Loss of a Pet

Losing a pet can be equivalent to losing a close friend.  The loss of a pet, after sharing your home with them for a significant amount of time, can be a profoundly sad and emotional time.  To you, your pet was not “just a dog” or “just a cat”, but a companion and friend.  We are still dealing with the death of our 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Skip.  We adopted Skip when our son was in first grade – our son will be 20 this year.  Needless to say, we loved Skip, annoying habits and all.

Normal Feelings of the Grieving Process

We can go through many emotions when dealing with a pet’s death.  All of the following can be normal when coping with your loss:

  • denial
  • anger
  • disbelief
  • sadness
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • guilt

The grieving process is a very individual experience.  You may encounter all of the above feelings or just some.  It is important to give yourself the time needed to move through all of your stages of grief.

Guilt can be a particularly difficult reaction to have when your pet dies, especially if euthanasia is involved.  We often feel bad for not being able to do more for our pet, even if this is the most humane option.  Even when euthanasia is not necessary, we tend to be overly critical of our caring for our pet – we beat ourselves up over not spending more time with our furry friend, or that we occasionally became annoyed when our pet misbehaved.  In times such as this, try to remember the love and quality of life you gave to your furbaby.  One day you will remember your times together with less sadness and guilt, and more with fondness and even laughter.

Managing Your Grief

Here are some possible ways that may help you to deal with your bereavement:

  • your feelings are your own – don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel
  • hold a memorial service or funeral for your pet that includes your family members
  • creating a memorial for your pet – a photo book, memory box, etc.
  • seek solace and consolation from others who have experienced the loss of a pet
  • continue daily routines with surviving pets – they grieve as well and can sense your distress – this will benefit them as well as you
  • be sure to care for your own well-being – eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise
  • seek professional help if needed

Should you get another pet?

The decision to get another pet is also a very personal one.  Knowing when, if at all,  to open your heart and home to another loving companion will take time.  Take the time you need to mourn your beloved pet before adopting another furry friend.  You will know when you are ready.  A new pet can never replace your old companion, however, we are fortunate that our hearts have unlimited capacity on how many we can love.  There are some that feel they can never suffer the loss of a cherished pet again.  It is a fact of life that humans more often outlive their pets.  For myself, I know that I will always have a dog sharing my home.  I believe it is better to have experienced the unique friendship, companionship, and love than to never have had that blessing in my life.

Death and loss, unfortunately, are elements of life.  The sorrow we feel with the loss of a pet is often difficult.  This experience, like any in life, can be lessons in appreciating our time here on earth and making the most of the adventure.  Being able to share it with a furry friend by our side is a privilege.

Is the Sleep You’re Getting Good Enough?

Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Not getting enough sleep can cause a myriad of symptoms.  You’re probably familiar with most, if not all of them, with sleepiness being the most obvious.  Irritability is another common symptom of not getting your zzz’s, however, lack of sleep could also be linked to more serious disorders like anxiety and depression.

Not being able to concentrate on tasks at hand can also subsequently result in an impaired cognitive ability.  This might not sound like a big deal at first, but consider if you are operating heavy equipment – such as driving your car.  The combination of flawed thinking and driving in busy traffic or along the highway is not a good combination!

Those who are sleep deprived also can suffer from poor judgment, confusion, and even hallucinations.  Lack of sleep can even cause a person to be confused about the time, day or even year.

So far these symptoms have all had a cognitive element.  Did you know that lack of sleep can even cause physical symptoms such as achiness and general discomfort?  Some can also experience gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.

How can I get a more restful sleep?

The following tips are just a few of the numerous ways that you can improve your sleep quality and quantity, also known as “sleep hygiene”.

Start with eliminating caffeine intake between 4-6 hours before bedtime.  This includes coffee and some colas, but don’t forget that other things such as tea, chocolate, and some pain relievers can also contain caffeine.  Caffeine is a stimulant that can work against you when you’re trying to get to sleep.

Exercising at the right time of day – earlier in the day – can help you to fall asleep faster and improve your sleep quality.  However, because exercise can cause the body to become more alert due to secretion of the hormone cortisol, it is recommended that you hit the gym no less than 3 hours before bed.

Establish a pre-bedtime routine.  Do something that relaxes you, such as reading, watching tv, or performing relaxation techniques.  Such activities will calm your system and induce drowsiness.  If you can’t stop thinking about work issues or personal problems, try keeping a pen and paper by your bed.  Writing concerns down and getting them onto paper will help to get them off your mind and allow you to relax.

Be sure your bedroom is a haven for rest.  Ensure your bedroom is quiet and dark.  If ambient noises are bothersome, try earplugs or a white noise machine.  Extraneous light can be a powerful signal to our brain that its time to wake up.  To block out light, try room darkening shades or an eye mask.    Lastly, try keeping computers, tv’s and work materials out of your rest space – these can all disrupt our association between restfulness and alertness.

Knowing the signs of sleep deprivation is the first step to getting a better night’s sleep.  The next is taking action and keeping a routine with healthy sleep habits that can improve your health hygiene.

Here’s to your sleep health!