Lets Get Medicinal

Cannabis is a medicine and a motivator. It has allowed me to be a more relaxed person, and contrary to popular belief about the effects of cannabis on a user’s get up and go, cannabis has provided me with the stimulus to accomplish more in my daily life than I might have otherwise.

Let's Get Medicinal

Words / Whitney Branshaw

Photos / Chevelle Abel, Whitney Branshaw, Joel Adams (all photos for personal medicinal use)


Last time I filled you in on the history of legalizing cannabis in our state, a bird’s eye view of developing cannabis businesses and facts surrounding future regulations for the industry in Alaska. I also urged everyone that read the last piece to contribute to the public comment and share your experiences with the Marijuana Control Board. Through the process of delivering that information to the masses, I accumulated an abundance of knowledge and interesting perspectives. Every story carried the same tune, how it benefited people in medicinal and recreational ways. I was left with a feeling of something left unfinished and decided I needed to share a few stories. I spent a few months meeting with people, listening to their experiences and chronicling the facts and emotions that surrounded their use of cannabis. Through that process, a staggering amount of information was born. This is the beginning. But first, a quick science lesson: 


First let’s talk about the plant itself. Cannabis is a flowering plant that consists of three species (but countless strains) – Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. There are over 60 active ingredients in medicinal and recreational cannabis. The two most recognizable are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabinoids (CBDs). When used properly, they produce medicinal and psychoactive effects. THC, the psychoactive ingredient, alters and enhances your senses (those colors bro, you see em?). It shakes your imagination up – some artists swear it’s the juice behind their creativity. THC is also responsible for the time warp that can accompany a heavy smoke session. 


In the brain there are Cannabinoid receptors concentrated in certain areas that are associated with thinking, pleasure, memory, coordination, motor function, time perception, and pleasure. When ingested properly, THC binds to these receptors and has the potential to affect your memory. What were we talking about, again? Pleasure: “I can’t stop laughing right now.” Body movements: “I’m staying right here on the couch, thanks.” And time perception (see above). THC also enhances your appetite by increasing sensitivity to scents and flavors, which, in turn, makes your brain think it’s starving (enter the munchies). THC stimulates the brain to release dopamine, allowing for euphoria to follow. Any complaints yet? I didn’t think so.


Now, what about them good old CBDs, you ask? Cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive compound that is responsible for making you feel calm, relaxed, and pain free. CBD is body-focused and doesn’t have the same affects as THC. This is because it acts on different pathways in the brain. It has an incredibly broad range of reported medicinal purposes such as suppressing seizure activity, reducing inflammation, reducing anxiety and depression, combating psychosis, and even inhibiting cancer cell growth. Studies have shown that CBD offers natural protection against some of the psychoactive affects of THC, such as reducing memory impairment and the paranoia that can accompany Cannabis use. The medical community is touting CBD as a medicine with “countless benefits.” Recently, the FDA approved a request to trial a pharmaceutical version of CBD in children with rare forms of epilepsy. While The National Cancer Institute is participating in clinical trials surrounding CBDs efficacy as antiemetics, appetite stimulation, analgesia, anxiety, and sleep aids. Big things are happening, people. Life changing discoveries are being made. 


One thing that many people don’t realize is how custom made your cannabis can come. Strains of cannabis have been discovered, with distinctions being made between Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa, dating as far back as the 18th century. An additional category, referred to as “hybrid,” was added as growers started crossing genetics of different species of plants. Cannabis indica tends to be sought after for its sedating, relaxing, and full body affects. Indica strains have been known to manage anxiety, insomnia, and muscle spasms. Cannabis sativa is hailed as being uplifting and cerebral, promoting creativity. Sativa strains provide relief for those suffering from depression, mood disorders, and fatigue. A hybrid is created from crossing different strains, resulting in a combination of effects from indica/sativa, for example. The ability to produce any high quality strain of cannabis takes skills, a true green thumb and much patience.

So, how does one go about obtaining a Medical Marijuana card in Alaska? Medicinal marijuana has been legal in Alaska since 1998. The Ballot Measure that legalized medicinal cannabis called for a registry of patients in the state, written documentation from a medical provider stating that a patient was diagnosed with “a debilitating medical condition coupled with the conclusion that the patient might benefit from the use of marijuana.” It also outlines the amount of cannabis a patient is allowed to possess and grow in their own home. Ballot Measure 8 did not have provisions for medicinal dispensaries. This placed the responsibility of obtaining medicine onto the patient. It also tasked that patient with finding a trustworthy caregiver to grow their medicine. This is a problem because, while cannabis is a prolific plant, someone that is suffering from chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, or mobility issues may not be able to grow their own medicine. Legalizing medicinal cannabis may have taken away some of the stigma and the legalities that come with possession, but when left with no other option, it doesn’t stop some patients from acquiring it through the black market. 

When it comes to medicinal pathways and obtaining your medical card for Cannabis in Alaska, I naturally gravitated towards my dear friend Chevelle Abel. Chevelle and I have known each other for 12 years now and have seen many sunrises and sunsets together. Chevelle’s husband is Arthur Abel, co-owner/founder of Greatland Ganja. Chevelle has had her medical card for a number of years now and agreed to share her experience with me in obtaining it. Because of logistics we did a simple Q&A to keep it raw and to the point.

How and when did you get your medical card? 

I got my medical card through The Healing Center Medical Clinic (THCMC) in Anchorage. It was something that I had been thinking about for a while, and after a relative of mine went through the process and I saw it wasn’t a big scary thing, I decided to do it for myself. I’ve had my card for a number of years now, and will continue to renew it, as I think that Medical Marijuana will be nationally legalized relatively soon.



Did the process seem easy? What surprised you about it?

The process was, in fact, less invasive and more respectful than I had thought it would be. It was a straightforward process that did not require any information that I thought was unreasonable. It’s a quiet waiting room, and THCMC provides all of the necessary forms.



What are your hopes for the medicinal community now that recreational cannabis is starting to flourish? 

You know, I’m thrilled that quality marijuana and cannabis related products will be readily and legally available for people in need. This is a huge step in the right direction! I have heard many personal testimonials about the seriously life changing experience of being able to stop the use of strong pain medications and sleep aids in favor of marijuana consumption. However, it appears that in some ways the end of [marijuana] prohibition in Alaska is not treating medicinal users so kindly. 


One thing that has me concerned for the medical community is the heavy regulation of edibles. Ingesting edibles is a very effective way to consume cannabis, and a healthy alternative to smoking or vaping, which some people find unappealing or inconvenient. The board has decided to limit the amount of THC in edibles to be 5mg per serving/ 50mg per container. This is going to make it very hard for some medical users to get an adequate dose from a retail location. I assume that, given the chance, most edible companies would readily provide clearly labeled consumables with varying levels of potency, say 5, 10, 0r 20mg. 



I support testing and regulation of cannabis and related products, because it’s very important that people know exactly what is going in to their bodies, whether it be the ingredients in the item, or the amount of THC/CBDs it contains. I know the difference between sitting down to a pint of beer, and a pint of Wild Turkey, and I think that most (if not all) adults in Alaska do as well. Surely it can be the same way for edibles. All it takes is talking about it.



Do you get a sense of satisfaction from being able to provide yourself with your own medicine? 

Most definitely. I know the quality is good, and that there hasn’t been any weird, perfume additives snuck in, or harmful pesticides used. I know that somebody didn’t discover spider mites ¾ of the way through budding cycle and still decide to make use of a bug-bombed crop anyway. I know that there aren’t dangerous mold spores, and that the plants have been lovingly and well taken care of. As farmers, we provide ourselves with a lot of good homegrown food and veggies and raw milk anyway. The next reasonable step was producing our own medicine too.



Indica, Sativa, or hybrid? 

Oh, wow. Each type of plant has its uses, even each strain, depending on a lot of factors, including, but not limited to, potency and CBD/THC ratios. I like the effects of a good indica if I’m not feeling well. Or a sativa earlier [in the day] if I’m trying to get motivated to do something. However, my current favorite is our White Widow, which happens to be a 60/40 indica/sativa hybrid. It really works for me.


How does cannabis enhance your life?

Cannabis is a medicine and a motivator. It has allowed me to be a more relaxed person and, contrary to popular belief about the effects of cannabis on a user’s get up and go, cannabis has provided me with the stimulus to accomplish more in my daily life than I might have otherwise.


I spoke mostly on my medical use, because that was the focus of this interview, but I feel it’s important to make it clear that I am also a recreational user. I’d much rather enjoy a couple puffs than a drink any day. The fact of the matter is that Marijuana is a fun plant, with a lot of uses – recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. I am honored to be able to experience this Statewide shift towards more open-minded views on the subject, and am excited to be a part of the recreational Cannabis movement.


When you sit down and look at the history of the medicinal cannabis industry in Alaska, it is more than fair to say that there never really was one to begin with. Yes, patients were given an honest and legal way to cultivate medicinal marijuana, but under the confines of their own abilities, and now they’re forced to settle into the regulations of the recreational market. Some of you may be scratching your head, wondering, “Well, what the fuck does it matter anyway?” We have Ravin v. Alaska, a highly debated free pass to grow and possess your own product. We legalized medicinal marijuana in 1998 and now we have a legal recreational cannabis industry forming as well. I’ll tell you why it matters, because it’s part of what makes our state history unique. There are countless people in Alaska that have fought to end cannabis prohibition, especially the medicinal community, and they should be recognized. We all know Alaska is special. Our people are special, our experiences are epic, and our stories are bold. I encourage all of you to take a stand and share your voice, not matter what side of the fence you are on. One thing I know for certain, our grass is always greener, and our stories prove that.