RUMFORD — Several dozen people attended a seminar Thursday evening at the Rumford American Legion Hall to hear how cannabis oil can help fight heroin and opioid addiction.

The seminar was organized by Don Hamann of Rumford, a state-licensed medical marijuana caregiver since 2011. He became embroiled in controversy after the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition and River Valley Rising expressed concerns about three large lighted signs on Main Street in Mexico that display three messages: WeedthePeople.com, Cannabis Oil Kills Cancer, and Natural Cures.

Hamann said he would “like to take the signs down, but I can’t take the signs down until the people know (about the health benefits of cannabis oil).”

He organized the seminar as a way of addressing heroin and opioid addiction through the use of cannabis, or marijuana.

Among the guest speakers were Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopathic physician who operates Integr8 Health in Manchester; Hamann’s daughter, Tanya McPherson; and Sean Judge, co-founder of the New England Veterans Alliance, a nonprofit organization that assists veterans through advocacy and safe access to marijuana and holds support groups and public enrichment activities.

Judge said suicide rates among veterans are at an all-time high, and that “throwing chemicals at the problem isn’t going to solve anything.”

“Our goal is to work with veterans (who have post-traumatic stress disorder) and help them get safe access to cannabis,” he said.

Hamann’s daughter, Tanya Thurston, said her father used to take “nine or 10 pills a day for 10 years” for a number of issues, including foot pain, blood pressure and high cholesterol. As a result, he had trouble with digestion and sleeping, she said.

“One night, my mom made a batch of cookies, and they weren’t your normal cookies,” Thurston said. “They were made with cannabis butter. He had his supper, along with two cookies, and much to his surprise, he slept peacefully through the night.”

She said the next day, he ate two more cookies with his dinner and found himself not only sleeping well, but regaining his energy.

McPherson said all of the pain and discomfort that her father had felt for years disappeared with the introduction of cannabis oil.

She said her parents now grow their own cannabis oil and have taken to helping people with different maladies, including anxiety, PTSD, Lyme disease, and complications from cancer treatments.

“All he asks is that they share their stories and explain how they got better,” she said.

Sulak spoke for more than an hour about how he has found cannabis to be a more effective method of treating chronic pain than opioids. He pointed out that there is data confirming the existence of an endocannabinoid system within the human body that “produces substances that act like THC.”

“It’s a system that we’ve been using our entire life,” Sulak said. “We’ve been making cannabinoids in our bodies our entire lives from our internal pharmacy. These substances are serving a crucial role in our growth and development, and in our healing. We are hard-wired to respond to the compounds in cannabis.”

He showed several slides explaining how sales of opioids have quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, while the number of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses has nearly quadrupled from 2010 to 2014.

“Opioids can be great for end-of-life pain, but I truly do not believe it works for chronic pain,” Sulak said. “People come in for painkillers, and after a couple of weeks, it stops working effectively, and they come in for more and more until they’re addicted to them.”

He said that the two standard options for dealing with heroin addiction – methadone and Suboxone – are “dismal” ways to treat the issue.

“Cannabis has been proven to help with the withdrawal symptoms from heroin and opiates,” Sulak said.

He said he has used cannabis to help treat patients with a number of medical issues, and he “truly believes” it is a better way to treat opiate addictions.

“My hope is that cannabis can move into mainstream medicine,” Sulak said. “Instead of your doctor writing a subscription for opioids, he’ll be able to prescribe medical cannabis. I believe that there is a choice out there for people, and for physicians, even if they don’t realize it yet.”

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