Dear Head Magazine Readers: Please join us for this in-depth interview with Cannabis Pain and Healing Guru Dr. Michael Moskowitz. His story is so astounding, and the interview is so in depth, that we had to split it into three parts. This first part is about his experience with intense pain and his journey back from a probable cancer diagnosis and how he used cannabis in its various forms to get back to health.
Charlotte Parker: Hi, Dr. Moskowitz. Thanks for speaking with us today at Head Magazine.
Dr. Michael Moskowitz: My pleasure, Charlotte.
Charlotte: Your personal journey is really quite fascinating. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Moskowitz: Well, where do you want me to start? [chuckles] There’s a lot of it. I’m 71. [chuckles] Had a lot of time.
Charlotte: I think that your experiences with pain and cannabis, what you went through, and how you got to the place that you are, what started your interest in it, what happened to you personally?
Dr. Moskowitz: Let me start before that, if I may, which is I’m a board-certified psychiatrist and board-certified pain specialist. I’m at the twilight of my career. I’m going to retire, in about 11 months on September 30th, 2021. I’ve been doing pain and psychiatry, probably for about the last 35 years. Before that, I did psychosomatic medicine, which is where psychiatry and medicine meet. I worked as a specialist in that for quite a while.
Having said all that, I broke my leg in 1999. I shattered my femur in three places. I was operated on, I developed a pulmonary embolism. I almost died from sepsis that I got. It was, it was a very rough time, and I came through that using morphine and it was very helpful. I got through the pain problem and worked on it for about four months and then gradually tapered off of it.
What I noticed when I tapered off of it was that I got a lot of myself back. I really hadn’t realized I was missing a lot of me, but I couldn’t bend very easily. I was much slower on the morphine and didn’t really fully take that in until I was off of it. The medicine treated me very well. It really helped tremendously with my pain. It was very effective. It allowed me to get back to work after two months and work for four months with it. I’ve had that experience.
It was a positive one. It wasn’t a negative one. When I broke my leg again, 21 years after that, I broke it in three places on my tibia and fibula and tore the ligaments up in my foot. In many ways it was a more painful and debilitating injury than the femur. Although breaking the femur is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. This one required four surgeries to repair and I never used an opioid. I actually got through the whole thing using topical cannabis, one of the things I invented with it. All I did was put it on topically.
As soon as I got out of the cast. I was on opioids for the first week and a half, right after the surgery. I was taking hydromorphone at the time, it worked fine, but I didn’t like the way I felt on it now being aware of how I felt before on morphine, it was very similar. As soon as the cast came off, I stopped the hydromorphone and I used the topical cannabis tincture. It took care of my pain 100% of the time. It was the best pain reliever I’ve ever used in my life and bar none.
Charlotte: The topical?
Dr. Moskowitz: Yes, topical, and it was a tincture in alcohol of half THC, half CBD. It worked really quite remarkably. At the time this happened, I’d been using medical cannabis for probably about three years. I had started because I was working with patients with it. I got an MRI of my prostate, which appeared to show that I had prostate cancer. I talked with my physician and I said, “I would like to try cannabis for a couple of years before I did a biopsy”. I know they wait and see on prostate cancer.
Anyway, once it is positive, one of the options is to wait and see, and that I was going to choose to wait and see, because I’d had a previous biopsy on it six years before when my blood test numbers were going up. I think they’d risen a six, eight, and they did a biopsy of my prostate and it was negative. I wanted to wait because I figured it wasn’t that fast-growing anyway. They were 99.9% sure I had prostate cancer. I did that for two years. My PSA had risen to 9.5, and that was part of their concern. The first year it dropped to 8.25, and I was really pretty proud and happy. I also lost 20 pounds on it in that first year.
Charlotte: On cannabis?
Dr. Moskowitz: On CBD, yes.
Charlotte: When you say you took it, what is it that you took?
Dr. Moskowitz: I took in the daytime a tincture of CBD and very low THC. It was like a 24/1 tincture of CBD to THC in alcohol. I got capsules that were 50 milligrams of CBD, again very low THC. I would take one of those twice a day.
Charlotte: And some degree of THC? Would you say how many milligrams approximately?
Dr. Moskowitz: No, there was no degree of THC. It was less than a milligram. It was very low.
Charlotte: I see, but do you feel there needs to be a little bit of THC in there?
Dr. Moskowitz: No, I don’t, but I’ll explain that in a little bit. I took those and they didn’t– At first, I took the tincture and that didn’t affect me psychotropically. I went from tincture to taking the capsules and that way I got about 100 milligrams a day of CBD.
At night, I took a THC tincture because I wanted to get THC in my system. This is where I think this is important, your body becomes, the biological mix of CBD and THC because CBD has a 50-hour half-life, THC has a 60-hour half-life, which means half of what you take is left in your body. 50-hours later for CBD and 60-hours later for THC. The THC that’s leftover is not enough to make most people feel high. Certainly did not make me feel high. It’s one of those that has many more medical properties, than without it. You want to get THC in your body because it helps, but I did not want it to affect me because I wanted to continue to work. I took it only at bedtime.
Charlotte: How much THC, approximately?
Dr. Moskowitz: At that time, I probably took between, I’d say, 20 and 30 milligrams when I went to bed.
Charlotte: That’s a lot.
Dr. Moskowitz: Yes. It’s a pretty good dose of it. I wanted to get a fair amount in my system. Again, as I said, I did not want to feel it the next day and that was adequate.
Charlotte: When you say a tincture, does that mean you took it orally?
Dr. Moskowitz: Yes.
Charlotte: Okay. It’s like a dropper?
Dr. Moskowitz: That smoked or vaporized would be horrendous. It would be way too much. As a tincture, it was quite tolerable. If I woke up in the middle of the night, I was pretty high on it. I was definitely altered. I’d go to the bathroom. It didn’t require me not being altered. By the time I wake up in the morning, it was gone.
Charlotte: It was gone, and you did this obviously medicinally as a treatment.
Dr. Moskowitz: I was trying to save my life. My father died with prostate cancer. I was definitely doing it to see if I could at least prevent the tumor from going wild. I figured it wouldn’t cure it, but it might prevent it from growing fast. When I got biopsied, then I was prepared to have it removed. I did that. The second year, I kept it that– Oh, I’m sorry. I also vaporized a natural plant preparation of a 24/1 group of different plants. I used ACDC, Remedy, Ringo’s Gift, and I rotated them. I always rotated things, and the reason I rotated everything was because I didn’t want to give my body a chance to figure out what I was doing and work around it. I would rotate strains because they would have different cannabinoid profiles.
What I noticed about six months in was A, that I felt the best I’d ever felt in my life. I felt good and not high. I felt physically excellent. I was taking a hike with my wife and told her so, and just said, “It’s hard for me to believe that I could have prostate cancer with this, I feel great.” I weighed myself just by chance at that time because it seemed like my pants size was changing and I was losing weight and I’d lost 20 pounds and so I was nervous because I thought maybe that was cancer and I was dying and it was chewing me up, but I felt so good, I couldn’t believe it. Because when you lose weight with cancer, that’s usually a serious long-term event, not an initial event with it.
I got a blood test, as I said, that first year and it was lower, so I thought I was on the right track. The next year, I lost another 18 pounds on it. I upped the CBD for a while to 100 milligrams twice a day and lost more weight. Then I dropped it back again and just stayed steady. I lost 38 pounds overall in a period of about a year plus, a year and a half maybe. I was exercising more, I just felt great. I felt better, I don’t know what to say about it. My exercise is mostly walking like a few miles a day.
I got another blood test and this time it had gone up from 8.2 to 13.5, which is, they were sure I had prostate cancer. I scheduled the biopsy and I went in, I got a biopsy and they did 15 different biopsies and they were all negative. The day I got back the biopsy result, I broke my ankle.
Charlotte: Oh my God, but let me just go back for one second. Now you took this all every day?
Dr. Moskowitz: Yes, every day. It’s important if you’re going to use it medically, you really need to take it around the clock, it’s like any medicine. You want it in your system around the clock.
Charlotte: You were saying you used also a group of natural plants, what were they? Medicinal tinctures?
Dr. Moskowitz: No, they were CBD whole plant. They were flower. I would grind up the flowers of the high CBD, low THC plants, and I’d vaporize about 6 to 12 puffs of it every morning. If there was any residual effect from the THC in my system that wiped it out in the morning, as soon as I took the first puff.
Charlotte: How did you get the CBD? You mean it was a special strain of plant?
Dr. Moskowitz: Yes, there were several strains.
Charlotte: Right, that was made to take out the THC part of it.
Dr. Moskowitz: Correct. For a very long time, we bred out the CBD from the plant. The people that grew it, bred out the CBD from the plant because there was a better high with more THC and they started getting very powerful THC plants, which are for some people just really too much. They’re just too strong and the old plants that a lot of people, my age smoked back in college were probably about 8% to 10% THC. Now they’re anywhere from 18% to 22% to 25%.
Charlotte: Yes, I notice a great difference between marijuana now and the marijuana in the old days.
Dr. Moskowitz: I’ve helped a lot of people over the age of 60 or 70 to start this kind of treatment. I’m telling you, they all notice the difference of what they used when they were younger and what they’re using now, it’s much more powerful now.
Charlotte: I thought in a way it was a better high back then.
Dr. Moskowitz: In some ways it is and it’s the reason I think you probably thought that is because it wasn’t a very anxiety-producing high because you weren’t getting so much of it that it was driving past, relaxing you into making you anxious. The newer plants have more THC in them and have bred out all the CBD and the problem with that is CBD mellows out the psychotropic effects of THC without altering any of the other medical effects of it.
Charlotte: You were also saying that on top of it, you were taking things like ACDC and the Ringo’s as well?
Dr. Moskowitz: Well, that’s what I was using. In the capsules I was using at the time I was using ACDC capsules because that’s what was available to me. Subsequent to that, I got several strains of high CBD, low THC plants flower and included things such as ACDC, but also Ringo’s Gift. There’s a plant called Remedy and there are plants that have various names because they’re named locally at the time. There’s one called Therapy. There is one called Synergy-Tsu there was a Cann-Tsu, a Cannatonic. There were a bunch of different plants with varying levels of CBD versus THC. The ones that were high in CBD were the ones that I combined and then made my own capsules with them.
I bought flower, ground them up in a coffee grinder, and made capsules with it and I liked doing that because that was the raw plant and so I was now getting a chance to use some of that with some of the preheated plants so I would get the acid form of THC in those plants, which are not psychotropic and that was THCA. I would also get the form of CBD, CBDA and all of these have significant medical properties. Really a lot.
Charlotte: Do you have these specific amounts in the book that you wrote: Medical Cannabis: A Guide to Patients, Practitioners, and Caregivers?
Dr. Moskowitz: I do have charts of this and I wrote that book about– The book also came out right around the time that my prostate biopsy was negative and my ankle broke. I just had all these things happen at once. I wrote that book then, and it looked at a lot of different properties of a lot of cannabinoids, but I didn’t have it organized the way I do now. Now I’ve got it much more organized; not only the number of medical properties, each of the identified medical cannabinoids has, but also all their overlaps for looking at places where they’re synergistic. For instance seven of the nine identified medical cannabinoids have analgesic properties and eight are anti-inflammatory, seven are anti-cancer things like that.
Charlotte: How can we find out where someone has cancer and they want to try this. I’m not suggesting that anyone not do what their doctor tells them, but I’m just wondering if they would like to get more information about this, where would they find that?
Dr. Moskowitz: Well, you’ve hit on the crux of the problem, which is there aren’t many medical practitioners who’ve pursued this and really looked at it. There are very many who are willing to certify people for it and are okay about that, but very few who actually have studied this enough to make it into a treatment that they use in their practice. It’s one of the big issues with it and unfortunately, people have to turn to dispensaries to get information, and most times in dispensaries, the people that work there really don’t know anything medically, they know the benefits of getting high with it, but they don’t know the benefits of using it in a medical fashion and they’re not doctors.
There’s no reason they would know that and they haven’t been trained and they don’t really understand how to give this advice. For instance, if you walk into most dispensaries and say, you want something that’s high in CBD, they’ll give you one that’s got maybe a one-to-one ratio of CBD to THC, and if a person doesn’t want to be altered by that, they’re out of luck. They’re going to be altered by that. One of the problems is that the people at the front end of all this that are giving advice, don’t really know much about what they’re doing with all the stuff. They know about how to get high, but not the other things. That’s really a big issue, it’s one of the reasons I wrote the book, I didn’t feel like there was enough medical information out about it.
I’d been using it when I wrote the book for about two years plus with my patients, and I’d been seeing remarkable results happen out of it, I was really quite pleased with what I saw. You must understand also way back when I broke my leg, the first time I invented a whole new treatment for pain called the neuroplastic transformation treatment for pain, where I realized that although people were getting better in my practice, they weren’t getting well and so I came up with this idea of using the brain to counter pain.
I developed a bunch of non-medication techniques that were quite effective, but very, very difficult to learn and to stay with, but they did help a number of people in my practice. I published a book with my co-author, Marla Golden, and we put that book out there. We’ve sold that book all around the world.
Charlotte: What’s the book called?
Dr. Moskowitz: Neuroplastic Transformation Workbook. It’s for people with chronic pain to come up with other ways of dealing with all this, and the techniques are good as I said, they’re not that hard to learn but once you learn them you have to practice them day in and day out and it’s hard for people to do that.
I’m currently working on a whole other thing of developing this experience in virtual reality, but the reason I brought it up was because I saw you could do better than what we had as medications and injections and surgeries to treat pain, there was a better way to go about and do it, but it was too hard for most people to apply and to do and it was too hard for most practitioners to bring into their practice because they’d have to convert their whole practice over to this and most people don’t want to do that.
I went back to the drawing board and cannabis was the next thing that really grabbed me because it looked like, from what I researched and what I read, that it could be a very effective treatment and I decided to learn everything I could about it and start doing it with a number of my patients to see if I could help them do better and it was a remarkable treatment.
It had an amazing effect upon our practice and still does to today and so I’ve continued doing it for the last five-plus years with the folks in our practice and with myself and I’d have to say I’m quite pleased and amazed with what this treatment can be and nobody has to be high if they don’t want to be high, you could take this with zero THC if you want and combine it with the other medically active cannabinoids like THCV, THCA, CBDA, CBDV, CBN, CBC, CBG and you could combine CBD with that, never even look at a THC plant and you’ll still get all the same effects you would get with all of it.
Charlotte: Okay, a couple of questions. First of all, do you feel that your treatment with the cannabis helped you cure the cancer or do you think prevented it or how do you feel about that?
Dr. Moskowitz: Well, since I didn’t have cancer and everybody was sure I did have cancer, I may have just been one of those lucky people that didn’t have what all the tests pointed out I did have, but I’m pretty sure I had it and I’m pretty sure that was the only thing I did, I did nothing else to make it go away and I would say 15 biopsies into the area right with MRI showed I had it and nothing came back positive; I don’t have it.
Charlotte: That’s wonderful. Then you said you broke your leg right after that?
Dr. Moskowitz: The day after I got the negative result back and I thought, “Oh, great.” I was laid up for another four months with that, as I said, I went through four surgeries and used it exclusively to treat the pain which was very severe. I couldn’t move my leg before the surgeries even a little bit, and then after the surgeries and I got the cast off, it was extremely painful. I really had a hard time. I couldn’t walk at all, I couldn’t put any weight on it or anything like that, I had a hard time just getting up from lying down and crutching over to the bathroom to go to the bathroom; it was really rough.
Soon as I was able to put the cannabis on, that went away completely, like within three minutes, it worked.
I invented this treatment because what I did was I took a tincture that was a high THC low CBD tincture filled up a 10– and by the way, anyone is welcome to do this, please steal this for everyone. Took a 10-milliliter roller, you know one of those essential oil roller bottles with a metal roller on the top, and filled it with THC tincture and then got some isolate of CBD, it’s a powder. I put about 150 milligrams of that into the bottle and it just dissolves in the alcohol and I had a one to one high potency CBD-THC tincture in alcohol and when I put that on my ankle, it took the pain away within three minutes.
Charlotte: 150 milligrams of a powder?
Dr. Moskowitz: Of the CBD isolate, which is in powder form mixed in with 150 milligrams approximately of THC in this tincture, so it made a one to one.
Charlotte: You mixed that with alcohol or you mixed it with–
Dr. Moskowitz: It was already mixed with alcohol. The tincture came in alcohol. That’s the issue. Most people can’t get tinctures with alcohol because their dispensaries or the manufacturers make them in oil, that’s also okay. You could do it in oil and then just dissolve the isolate in that and all you do to do that is put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds and it heats the oil up enough that you can just stir in the isolate and it’ll dissolve into it. Never has to be stirred in again, never has to be shaken. You just roll that on the area where you have pain and with the alcohol usually within three minutes it works, with the oils usually within five minutes.
Charlotte: Where do you get these materials?
Dr. Moskowitz: You can buy tincture, it’s a high THC tincture. If you can find one in alcohol that’s the one I recommend but they are very hard to find. There’s a great company in California called Synergy Wellness that will ship anywhere in the state and they have it in alcohol and I recommend them highly. They’re really an excellent dispensary with only medicinal cannabis. They’re not interested in anything else.
Charlotte: You mix it yourself?
Dr. Moskowitz: We do but Synergy has it there. I have worked with them and they make the exact formula that I’ve requested. Theirs is actually a little stronger; theirs is 165 milligrams of each.
Charlotte: This is for topical pain for muscles or?
Dr. Moskowitz: Anything. Post back surgery, nerve injuries; it’s the best for nerve injuries, it’s amazing for nerve pain; and for inflammatory pain, muscle spasms, nerve injuries, complex regional pain syndrome; it does the trick. It’s an amazing treatment and I would say in my practice I probably have about 400-plus patients using that as their main pain treatment.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 Coming Up!
Note: Please do not use any of the above information without consulting with your physician. The above is exclusively the experience of the person being interviewed.
Michael H. Moskowitz, MD, is the President of Bay Area Pain Medical Associates. He is Board Certified in both Psychiatry and Pain Medicine and has served as a member of the Examination Council for the American Board of Pain Medicine and as the Chairman of the Educational Committee of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
Dr. Moskowitz’ clinical practice in pain medicine uses the Biopsychosocial approach and he is a pioneer in the development of treatment approaches to brain neuroplasticity and pain. He co-founded Neuroplastic Partners and built the top rated website in the world on neuroplastic treatment (http:// www.neuroplastix.com). He coauthored, with Marla Golden, the Neuroplastic Transformation Workbook, used by practitioners and people with persistent pain to guide them through non-medication, brain based approaches to treating persistent pain.
Since 2015 Moskowitz has specialized in the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of pain and anxiety and he wrote a book on the subject, Medical Cannabis: A Guide for Patients, Practitioners and Caregivers.