Cecelia Sivertson: In Search of a Pharmaceutical Replacement

No matter what the reason, the minute I walk into a hospital I am left with what feels like the weight of stones in my stomach. This visit was no different.

The first time I met Cecilia Sivertson also known as Nana (of Nana’s Secret Soda’s) she was full of life, and jokes, in a her sleek pant suit and Woman in Weed pin. This time was much different. My editor and I walked into the first floor elevators up to the barren third floor hallway and meandered through the corridors until we reached Nana’s room. We knocked lightly on the door and heard a “come in” from the other side of the door.

“As you age your whole body changes so over the years what did help doesn’t anymore. These drugs aren’t working but the cannabis was working,”

The doctor is in the middle of doing a series of tests, “Leg up, leg down. Good. Okay can you see this? Can you feel this? Close your eyes. Open them.” Immediately Nana greets us with a bright “Hello! You love what they’ve done with my hair?” Referring to the many EEG chords glued all over her head leaving her hair resembling that of Rick’s of Rick and Morty the cartoon. Once the tests were done Nana asks her doctor, “Can I take cannabis pills for my tremors in the morning?” in which the doc responds, “I wouldn’t recommend it.” Eventually the doctor acknowledges our presence, says her pleasantries and heads out of the sterile colorless room.

Still in high spirits but obviously a bit shook by this experience Nana begins to tell us how she’s doing. Nana has epilepsy and has been on prescription medications since she was a child. The last time we spoke she told us how she agreed to stay at the hospital under surveillance while her prescription meds were reduced. Her hope was that whatever the doctors found would allow her to continue her cannabis regiment and for them to help her get off of the prescription meds that are not helping any more. “As you age your whole body changes so over the years what did help doesn’t anymore. These drugs aren’t working but the cannabis was working,” Nana explains to us.

Over the years Nana has been prescribed:

  • Neurontin-an anti-epileptic medication, also called an anticonvulsant. Adverse effects include: suicidal thoughts, dizziness, kidney issues and memory issues among others.
  • Phenobarbital-used to treat insomnia and relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Adverse effects include: Dizziness, aggression, vomiting and loss of appetite among others.
  • Tegretol-an anticonvulsant which is meant to decrease the nerve impulses that cause seizures and pain. Adverse effects include: Liver problems, blood problems and heart palpitations among others.
  • Klonopin-aka clonazepam is a benzodiazepine, which is also a seizure medicine. Adverse effects include: suicidal thoughts, extreme drowsiness, and memory problems among others.
  • Diazepam-an anxiety med unless used with other meds for seizures. Adverse effects include: hallucinations, muscle weakness and depression among others.
  • Zarontin-used alone or with other medications to prevent/control certain seizures. Adverse effects include: vomiting, headache and diarrhea among other things.
  • Ativan-used to treat anxiety disorders. Adverse effects include: Suicidal thoughts, weakness, and drowsiness among others.

“Do you feel comfortable being here without taking your Whole Plant Cannabis Extract?” we asked her, and she immediately responded, “No I don’t.” Nana is very aware of “sudden unexpected death in epilepsy” (SUDEP) which is very literally the sudden unexpected death of a person with epilepsy, “I live with the realization that I could die tomorrow,” Nana explains. But SUDEP isn’t the only issue. Taking away her prescription meds even in small doses could potentially cause her seizures to come back full force, seizures that, if gotten out of hand could cause severe memory loss (which she has dealt with previously) among other things. The goal is to find out whether Nana has generalized seizures, tonic seizures or both and from there the doctors plan to prescribe new medication(s).

Shortly after we got settled in and started talking doctor number two walked in. She began asking a series of questions about Nana’s memory and her overall health. One question stood out most though. “Have you given up things because it has become hard to remember?” Nana responded solemnly, “No. I’m not one for giving up.” We stayed and laughed it up with Nana for a few hours before heading out for the day with plans of coming back to see her through this frightening experience.

We came back on day three. Back up the empty elevator, down the speckled hallway and into the cold hospital room to a warm smile and great news. Nana was being released early! The EEG chords had been removed from her head and she was eager to be free from the hospital. The EEG results came back and it turns out she had ZERO seizures during the monitoring so the doctor agreed to continue to reduce her medications. When we asked the doctor about her feelings about Nana’s cannabis regiment her doctor explained that she believed that Nana needs prescription meds. Nana has been taking prescription meds since she was 12, many of which made it hard for her to function normally but she believes she has found the answer, a flower.

Nana’s doctors recommended against continuing her cannabis regiment in the hospital but, Nana knows best. At the end of her stay Jerry Whiting, a friend and cannabis colleague brought her some cannabis oil. “I had tremors this morning. Jerry brought me some oil and see (she holds out her hands), the tremors are gone.”

Although medicinal marijuana is available in Washington there is still so much room for growth in terms of acceptance. Doctors aren’t saying no but they are still advising not to use cannabis as a medication in place of these other harmful meds.



Luna Reyna

Luna Reyna believes in the power of journalistic activism and social responsibility. As a writer with DOPE, she tackles many social justice topics that often do not receive the coverage they deserve within the cannabis industry, as well as issues of inclusivity regarding race, gender, class and sexual orientation. Luna is also the Managing Editor for BARE Magazine, a quarterly lifestyle magazine whose motto is, "culture without censorship." She is also the founder of RIZE Entertainment, an art, entertainment and culture company that focuses solely on artists who challenge injustice and champion equality through their art.

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