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Grand Haven mom with epilepsy says marijuana saved her life

There are about 100,000 people living in Michigan with epilepsy.
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Marijuana stat graphic
Posted at 4:12 AM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 04:12:40-05

KENT — Michigan marijuana is making measurable strides in epilepsy research, giving a better quality of life to those suffering from seizures, and is foundational for a thriving holistic healing company in Grand Haven.

FOX 17 dives into this topic of pot after hearing about Rebecca Neil’s relationship with marijuana and how it has given her new life. Neil, a mother of three and owner of Paradigm Wellness, a holistic approach to healthcare using Eastern and Western medicine, says she’s been consuming marijuana ever since her diagnosis of frontal lobe epilepsy.

“It’s my normalcy, and I want my kids to understand that’s my normalcy,” Neil said.

Responsibility is Neil’s main focus when explaining her marijuana use to her children. She suffers from chronic seizures, roughly 12 per day, and says cannabis has cut her seizures and medical bills in half.

“This right here," she notes, holding up a tincture of medical marijuana, "is $30. My seizure medication costs anywhere from $700 to $1300 per month."

FOX 17 witnessed one of her seizures on camera. Neil excused herself from the interview, folded over in her chair, and held her arm until the seizure passed.

“It’s just completely involuntary,” Neil said. “I can’t keep my body upright. It’s like gravity is pulling me down.”

It’s because of these seizures Neil that has radically changed her lifestyle. In addition to using marijuana medically, she’s also a well-known voice breaking stigmas surrounding recreational marijuana use, advocating for a better quality of life through alternative health practices and marijuana consumption.

“I'm trying to get people to recognize that health comes from your daily lifestyle,” said Neil. “And if you can implement more healthy routines, I think, the better off you are.”

There are currently 3.4 million people in the U.S. living with epilepsy, more than 100,000 of them are in Michigan. So, to find out if marijuana is a good idea for people living with epilepsy, we reached out to the chief of epilepsy at Spectrum Health and representative with the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan, Dr. David Burdette.

“Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is characterized by overactivity of nerve cells or neurons, and that overactivity manifests as seizures,” Dr. Burdette said. “So, when I think of marijuana, and specifically, shall we say ‘medical marijuana,' I think of the two primary cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and those are delta-9-detrahydrocannabinol or THC, and that is the psychoactive substance that basically gives marijuana its street value. And when it comes to epilepsy, THC has no significant demonstrably beneficial effect on seizures. The second most prevalent cannabinoid is CBD or cannabidiol, and cannabidiol has good science behind it to say that this is a legitimate anti-seizure substance.”

Dr. Burdette has been spearheading epilepsy research for 30 years and says marijuana research has continued to grow with its decriminalization and legalization. He noted that epilepsy is different for everyone who suffers from the illness and says what may work for one person might not work for another patient, which is why it’s important to work with a doctor to find the best individual remedy.

“So, we want to ultimately treat someone to the degree that they are now seizure-free, but also to balance that with the potential side-effects or adverse effects of our medications,” said Dr. Burdette. “We have a plethora of medications, treatments, implantable devices for the treatment of epilepsy. And, as we mentioned earlier, every patient with epilepsy is unique. So we need to match that treatment with the appropriate patient.”

He went on to say if marijuana gives a patient a better quality of life they wouldn’t otherwise have without it, then, by all means, use cannabis. However, from a medical standpoint, dosing it properly can be the tricky part and is vital to the scientific process when documenting what works and what doesn’t, especially since the end goal is finding what mitigates epileptic seizures.

As for Rebecca Neil, she’s now sharing her story to help others find the same quality of life she has found since incorporating marijuana into her medical regimen. Her debilitating diagnosis has driven her to open up her own business from the comfort of her lakefront home in Grand Haven.

Paradigm Wellness is located at 1644 Franklin Avenue, offering medical massage, float therapy, paddle-boardingm and kayaking excursions, plus -- coming soon -- acupuncture and a medical marijuana provisioning center.

“I'm not trying to give myself a plug, but I do offer a monthly education on marijuana,” Neil said. “This month, we're doing it on labels. Last month, it was on dosing. It's called Conscious Cannabis Consumers.”

Neil is an advocate for responsible recreation use of marijuana and says, given the legalization of marijuana in Michigan, now is the time to revisit the plant that’s surrounded by historical stigma.

“My consumption of it as an adult shouldn't be any different than someone's consumption of alcohol, especially because I see medical value in it,” Neil said. “I encourage others to try it again. It doesn’t have to be even utilizing the psychoactive ingredients. It’s really about exploring and experimenting what this plant has to offer.”