Medical marijuana only option for child with seizures

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Published: January 8, 2020


Katie Corkern is a mother of three sons in Amite. One of her sons is Connor, 13, who has a birth defect in his brain. For most of his life, he has experienced between 50 to 200 seizures each day.

He is unable to function independently and suffers damage to his brain, liver and other organs from his array of anti-epileptic medications.

“His neurologist had come to a point where we were just at a loss,” said Corkern. “We tried so many different medications, we tried surgeries, we did diets, and nothing was really relieving him from the constant seizure activity in his brain.

“At that point, he was on seven different anti-epileptic seizure medications,” she said. “The side effects were devastating, along with the constant seizure activity. At some point, the doctor said, ‘Well, the last thing I would recommend is medical marijuana, but that’s not legal here in Louisiana.’”

Thus began Corkern’s journey, along with state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, and many other advocates to legalize medical marijuana in Louisiana. That happened in 2016, but the therapeutic use of marijuana is just gaining momentum here after a slew of delays and regulatory setbacks.

Roughly 3,500 patients in Louisiana are using it, mostly to relieve pain, and some see it as a substitute for highly addictive opioids. And with more supporters of the program joining the state Legislature this year, it may be expanded to provide greater accessibility statewide.

For Connor Corkern, using medical marijuana has lessened some types of seizures by 75 percent, according to his mother, along with giving him the ability to now clap and express emotions.

The average age of medical marijuana users in the state is 52, and the most common condition is intractable pain. Thirteen percent of users are PTSD patients, while 26 percent of the patients are recovering opiate users.

Mills said that “folks tell me, ‘I was on opioids, and now I’m on medical marijuana. I’m not having the side effects, and I’m more productive.’”

The state has approved two facilities to grow marijuana for medical use: the GB Sciences Louisiana location at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center—recently bought out by Wellcana Plus LLC— and Ilera Holistic Healthcare at Southern University.

Licensed doctors recommend marijuana to patients rather than prescribe it to protect themselves from federal laws that prohibit the use, sale or distribution of marijuana. The patients may receive their medication through a 30-milliliter tincture, which is a concentration dissolved in an alcohol solution for oral consumption.

Tinctures are made with cannabinoids THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, and CBD, or cannabidiol. THC combines with receptors in the brain that control mood and pain to create a sense of euphoria in users. CBD creates no “high” for users but increases attentiveness, lowers anxiety and relieves inflammatory pain.

Read more at The Ouachita Citizen.

Despite trade war reprieve, soybean farmers fear irreparable damage, lasting tariffs

(Photo Credit: David Mead via MGN)

Published: January 8, 2020

By: Caleb Greene, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGELouisiana’s soybean farmers, still reeling from tariffs and low prices, experienced a win in December when President Donald Trump announced China had agreed to purchase $40 billion in U.S. agricultural products over the next two years. Skeptics though have found little comfort with the deal and worry about long-term harm to the nation’s farm economy.

The deal, expected to be signed on January 15, will double China’s commitment to American agricultural products and complete phase one of trade negotiations between the two countries. Soybean farmers fear China’s reluctance to honor the deal and the damage caused already by the administration’s protectionist trade policies.

“It’s a warranted concern that extends beyond Iowa’s soybeans,” said Michael Dolch, public affairs director for the Iowa Soybean Farmers Association. “Commitments up to this point haven’t always been held up by China. Commitments are different than assurances.”

Total U.S. soybean exports have declined 29 percent to $16.9 billion in 2019 since a $23.8-billion high in 2017, according to the Agriculture Department. Though China has committed to increasing its agricultural purchases, the phase one agreement will not remove the 25 percent tariff on U.S. soy products, a top concern for soybean farmers.

“It has taken decades to develop these relationships [in China],” said Daryl Nelson, a farmer from Greenfield, Iowa who grows soybeans with his son. “It’s a market that now we’re fearful will go to Brazil. It’s questionable if we’ll ever regain that.”

The decline and ongoing trade war have particularly hurt Louisiana due to the state’s status as an export market. Louisiana’s farmers have received $180 million in federal aid to compensate for losses, 75 percent of which went to soybean growers. Louisiana’s soybean farm value is $800 million, making it the state’s second major agriculture product behind sugarcane.

“Hopefully we get back to the business of old,” said Kyle McCann, assistant to the president at the Louisiana Farm Bureau. “When your No. 1 leaves, we [Louisiana] are impacted a little disproportionately as an export market.”


Trump, Sanders and Warren have more in common than you might think

(Photo Credit: Stacey Tinsley/Press-Tribune)

Published: January 7, 2020

By: James Smith, Abigail Hendren, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—President Trump has disrupted American politics since he announced his candidacy in 2015. He uses abrasive language, dismisses Washington’s political establishment and has shifted his party further to the right.

So have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and they are among the leaders here. The two do not use Trump’s caustic rhetoric, but they are disruptors nonetheless. Like Trump, they have cast themselves as combatants for the have-nots, and they are pushing the Democratic party further to the left by insisting that American health care, banking and trade, to name just three, are not working for everyone.

Warren, Sanders and Trump say they despise the traditional politics of Washington. They claim the system does not work for the average American. Sanders and Warren’s campaigns are geared toward the working class, young voters and those who struggle to make ends meet under crippling costs of healthcare and student debt.

Trump, who handily won Louisiana in 2016, targets working class voters who feel as though they are overlooked among the mess of bureaucracy. In short, all three claim their policies are in the best interests of ordinary Americans as opposed to the Washington establishment interests of politicians and the wealthy.

Although the two Democratic senators vehemently oppose Trump, they are, in a way, his left-wing equivalents. All three share a common, timeless ethos: disrupt the system.

“If you could close your eyes and there weren’t accents,” David Redlawsk, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, said, “you might not be able to tell the difference.”

All three disregard traditional niceties of the political elite. As “outsiders,” they promise to overhaul Washington and reform American society. They make these promises with volatile rhetoric to excite crowds.

Some Iowans, like Tiffany Mitchell, 43 and uncommitted to any candidate, feel as though an outsider is necessary in Washington.

“I like the idea and the concept of [an outsider] but I also want someone who knows what they’re doing, unlike Trump,” Mitchell said, at a rally for Andrew Yang, another outsider. “I do get the outsider concept. I do like it…for me, it’s more of the overall package versus ‘he’s an outsider so I’m going to vote for him regardless.”

Read more at the Bossier Press-Tribune.

How the Iowa caucus might change the game for fringe candidates

Tom Hawks, an Iowan retiree and navy veteran, stands up to ask a question to Cory Booker during his rally at Adam’s Street Espresso Cafe in Creston, Iowa on Jan. 1, 2020.

Published: January 7, 2020

By: Lara Nicholson, LSU Manship School News Service

DES MOINES, Iowa—The Democratic presidential race is evolving into a two-tier contest: the top four candidates, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the remaining fringe candidates fighting for the chance to catch fire.

Host David Yepsen of Iowa’s public TV show, “Iowa Press,” said no one metric — including polls, fundraising or crowd sizes — can predict a winner. According to Yepsen, a former political reporter here, the only way to know who will win is from old fashioned word-of-mouth and assessing grassroots campaign efforts.

“I don’t put any faith in polls,” said Iowan retiree Tom Hawks. “We never answer our phone for any of them, so there’s one whole number they never get.”

Iowans also tend to decide late. They take the caucus seriously and will attend as many as five candidates’ events before making a decision on caucus night Feb. 3.

It may be a long shot for these candidates to beat the four leaders in the race, but it’s not impossible.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts unexpectedly took both the Iowa caucus and the presidential nomination after lagging in the polls. From September 2003 until shortly before the Iowa caucus, candidates Howard Dean of Vermont and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri led in the polls, beating Kerry by over 10 points for most of that time.

Caucuses are a complicated process, a “social experience” as some Iowans say, and only occur in six states: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming.

As Iowa is the first, it can often determine which candidates can fight on in another state. The Democratic winner of the Iowa caucus has won the party’s nomination in every election since Kerry’s 2004 upset.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser.

Voting outside the lines: Why Trump supporters decided to vote for Edwards


Published: December 20, 2019

By: Ben Baumgardner and Catherine Hunt, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—Every year at Denham Springs Junior High, Elizabeth Rea gives her students a quiz to help them to formulate their own political opinions.

“I take it with them, and depending on what kinds of questions are asked, my opinions change over time,” she said. “On some issues, I’m more moderate now as I’ve gotten older.”

Rea, who used to be the most conservative member of her family, found herself siding with Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in last month’s gubernatorial election.

Edwards remains the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, even though President Donald Trump, who is popular in Louisiana, campaigned strongly against him. To win re-election, Edwards needed support from some voters like Rea who voted for the president in 2016.

What drove some supporters of the Republican president to vote for the Democratic governor?

Some Trump-Edwards voters said in interviews that the dynamics of the governor’s race differed greatly from those of the 2016 presidential election, when some voted for Trump only as a way to ensure that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would not be elected president.

Mike Casteel, 61, of Sulphur, said his vote for Trump was a vote against Clinton.

“I’m not a party-line voter, but I just didn’t want to take any chances with Hillary or anyone associated with her,” he said.

Makenzie Morgan, a 21-year-old college student in Baton Rouge, agreed that the 2016 election “was kind of choosing between the lesser of two evils.”

Yet, she and others said, the similarities between Trump and Edwards’ recent Republican opponent, Eddie Rispone, became red flags to them.

“I think Rispone aligning himself with Trump so much made me not like him more,” said Morgan. “Yes, Trump has done some good things for the national economy, but you can’t just say you’re going to be the Trump of Louisiana and expect to win.”

Read more at the Shreveport Times.

Students worried of growing THC vaping black-market in Louisiana

Published: December 12, 2019

By: Ava Perego, Raymond Constantino, Kristen Singleton, Falcon Brown, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE —One LSU student walked through security and ID checks to purchase a legal vape cartridge filled with cannabis oil in Los Angeles. Another walked up to the back of a van off a dimly lit road somewhere in Louisiana to buy one illegally; no ID checks, no security and no certainty that the purchase was safe.

This is the reality of the so-called THC black market in Louisiana, the local part of the nationwide scare over deaths and illnesses related to vaping with electronic cigarettes. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that causes users to get high.

The Louisiana Health Department reported that the state now has over 30 cases of lung injury – and one death — associated with vaping a combination of THC and nicotine. The combination of both substances contributed to 55% of the illnesses, more than the reported illnesses caused from both nicotine and THC independently.

Nearly 2,300 people nationwide have been diagnosed with lung illnesses related to vaping, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and 48 of them have died.

Most of those illnesses have been linked to the use of THC cartridges in states where marijuana is not legal and black-market dealers are substituting cheaper and possibly harmful chemicals for some of the THC oil.

The onset of lung illness comes suddenly. Nausea, abdominal pain, chills, cough and fever are only a few of the symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms can turn into a deadly sickness. One LSU student spent several days on a breathing machine at a Baton Rouge hospital after vaping THC.

Seeing these red flags, students at the state’s flagship university are beginning to open up about how easy it has been to obtain the cartridges on the black market, their growing hesitation about using them and why they vaped illegal cartridges in the past. From what their friends say the same problems are evident at other universities in the state.

“There is such easy access to THC cartridges, which makes it convenient for students to purchase,” said an LSU sophomore, one of several students who agreed to talk about the black-market vaping products as long as their names were not used.

The student said she started smoking THC cartridges, or carts, when she began college. She knew a friend who sold them for $40.

“I bought my first cartridge from a friend at a house party my freshman year,” she said. “That was the first time I ever had, or had even seen, a THC cart, so I was definitely not aware of the fake carts going around.”