"I've been preaching about cannabis cures cancer since 2008," Laurie Gaddis says. And she's been preaching it because, she says, it works.
Gaddis moved to Colorado from Arizona after she was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer she says comes from her father's exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. She calls herself a medical marijuana refugee for nearly a decade.
The patchwork of state laws under a federal ambiguity has gotten worse with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' anti-pot statements. It's created hundreds of medical marijuana refugees who have to move to one of the states where they can legally get the kind of medicine either they or their doctor feel is necessary.
Gaddis has never needed to undergo chemo or radiation therapy. She still has problems, but she is alive. And relatively well. "I am in a blessed position," she says of her life in Colorado. "I'm glad I am, but I think everybody should have that opportunity. It upsets me that other people are suffering every day and don't know what to do."
She says she can remember what it felt like to have the choice of being "illegally alive or legally dead." Gaddis treated her cancer with a homemade cannabis oil similar to that made famous by Rick Simpson.
Simpson was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma in 2003. When no other treatments seemed to work, he applied a cannabis oil to his skin. Simpson says that within four days, his cancer was cured. Simpson has written books and tells people on his website (phoenixtears.ca) how to make the oil using a super high-potency THC indica, but does not sell it, though others do.
Gaddis, who has used oil topically and also ingested it, hasn't had quite the success of a total cure in four days. She still struggles sometimes. But as she experiments with her own oils, she has discovered a lotion that she says seems to be working for arthritis. And, unlike oils or other topicals, it's not greasy.
"I'm not bonding the cannabis to the fat so it's not a greasy formula at all," she says. "It absorbs beautifully and gets right into where it needs to go."
This, she says, could be revolutionary for conditions like hers. Cannabis could be in sunscreen lotion, potentially helping to keep people from developing skin cancer. For the Sunshine State, where 23 out of every 100,000 residents develop or die from melanoma each year, it could be a game-changer.
"We're just now starting to realize how effective this medicine is and how many people's lives it's changing," she says.
Dr. Stuart Titus, the CEO of the first publicly traded medical cannabis company, has been involved with various studies – overseas, of course, where it's legal to study the medical effects of cannabis. He says Gaddis is not alone.
"Currently there is a study underway in Australia, where the incidence of melanoma cancer is quite rampant," he says. "They're looking at a topical as well as ingestible application."
His company, Medical Marijuana Inc., makes an oil similar to the Rick Simpson Oil, except it has a high concentration of CBD instead of THC. While they have not been able to study the results as thoroughly as they'd like, he says he has anecdotal stories about its success for skin cancer. But he says that the body has numerous cannabinoid receptors, and large doses of CBD such as are legal in Florida, even without any intoxicating effect, can have tremendous benefit.
It was easy to hear stories of success at the recent National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, D.C. Christine Stenquist, who came to the capital from Utah, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1996.
"During surgery a blood vessel was hit. When I awoke I had left-side paralysis, I had chronic pain and a litany of issues," Stenquist says. "For 16 years I've been bedridden and housebound. Four years ago I discovered cannabis and it's changed my life," she told a couple dozen people at a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. Her state won't take action on medical pot until the feds do.
Nicole Snow is from Massachusetts, which just legalized recreational marijuana. But because there is no federal protection there are still issues, say, for child patients, who, Snow says, "have very different needs than adult users."
"We need our home rights, residential protection, discrimination protection, protections from losing our jobs, protection from losing our kids, protection from losing our health care," she says. "Which is absurd."
Gaddis says such laws are "so disrespectful to the millions of lives" like hers that have been changed and perhaps saved by cannabis. "People are changing their lives," she said. "They're becoming free from prescription drugs, they're able to interact with their families, and it's changing the quality of their life."