Words: Emily Gadd
Photos: Tearsa Joy Hammock
Right on the edge of the Financial District in San Francisco is a small store that sells medicine for all kinds of ailments like insomnia, chronic pain, psoriasis, and depression to name a few. When you enter the store it is nicely furnished, with many lounge areas for its patrons to hang out at; the walls are painted a light green and there are large aquariums filled with Koi fish sporadically around the room.
Igzactly420 is a medical marijuana dispensary; it opened in 2009 and since then has been helping a clientele of all different ages with all sorts of different problems.
Igor Khavin is one of the owners of Igzactly 420, he used cannabis recreationally since the age of 15. In 2004 he broke his back, and was prescribed a lot of strong painkillers like oxycontin by his doctors. His injury left him in a lot of pain, but the painkillers that the doctors gave him kept him from doing much of anything. “I was basically a heroin addict,” Khavin said. He began using cannabis medicinally and he was finally given relief from his pain, but was still able to lead a functioning life.
Khavin is only one of many Americans who feel that they are not getting the help they need from the “traditional” types of medicine. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans spent $234.1 billion on prescription drugs, up six times from 1990, when Americans only spent $40.3 billion. Illness from prescription drugs cost Americans about $289 annually.
Another study estimates 2.2 million adverse effects to prescribed drugs while still in the hospital, and 106,000 people die annually from these side effects, costing about $12 billion. Dr. Richard Besser from the CDC estimated that 20 million antibiotic prescriptions were entirely unnecessary. In 2003 he believes it is close to the tens of millions.
Marijuana is still very controversial for medicinal use most likely because of all the different laws that have been passed trying to control it. In 1906 cannabis was officially labeled a poison and the government started regulating it. In the mid-1930s the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act helped tighten regulation on cannabis as a drug.
In 1936 the film Reefer Madness was released , showing wayward teens smoking marijuana and then committing suicide, killing people, or just losing their minds. The makers of the film hoped to frighten parents enough that they would ‘educate’ their children on the ‘extreme’ dangers of marijuana.
According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 cannabis is a Schedule I drug, meaning it shouldn’t be used for medicinal purposes and users could easily begin abusing the drug.
This past November in the 2012 election Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize possession and use of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Khavin thinks that the public’s attitude towards marijuana is slowly changing because people are no longer paying attention to propaganda.
He enjoys running a dispensary in California, and San Francisco is one of the easiest cities in California to run these types of business. There are a lot of conflicting laws that regulate medicinal marijuana in the United States which make it very difficult on dispensary owners.
Although there are still some hard parts about running a dispensary, they aren’t allowed to write off anything as a business expense and because of the strict possession laws there is no such thing as a legal way to grow marijuana in large enough stock to supply a business. In order to supply their patients with their medication Igzactly420 must depend on other patients to supply for them. Khavin says it makes the store “for patients by patients.”
Medical Marijuana cardholders are allowed to hold half of a pound of marijuana on them at a time. They bring it in and are reimbursed for their cannabis. Khavin says that without a large network like theirs, it becomes very difficult for a dispensary to survive.
Igzactly420 set up their store to create a comfortable and social environment for patients. They wanted to avoid an “in and out” place and a “check cashing” environment. The store is a smoke-free facility, so when patients take their medicine in the store, they mainly do it by using vaporizers that are set up around the rooms among the fish tanks and couches.
There are no video games or anything that would keep patients from mingling. Khavin really enjoys talking to other patients because he learns things from them all the time, and he wants other people to have that experience as well.
Igzactly420 also offers other alternative medicines for their patients like acutonics, otherwise known as tuning forks that, when hit, give off vibrations that re-align a patient’s energies. They also have support groups for veterans, and bicycle league for all of their members.
The Power of Massage
Dominque Paillet is a licensed massage therapist and an acutonics practitioner. She currently works at the franchise massage clinic Massage Envy. “As a massage therapist I do my sessions according to my clients’ needs using my tool box.” Paillet said. Her toolbox includes deep tissue techniques, Swedish massage, trigger points, acupressure, myofascial release, cranial sacral, and Reiki to name a few.
“To treat my clients, I use my intuitive abilities,” Paillat explains. “ [by] evaluating [their] posture, mood and emotional state.”
Reiki is the first technique she learned, which is a Japanese form of healing that believes healing energy can be pushed into another person from special hand positions. Paillat describes the sessions as “really relaxing.”
At the end of each session Paillat likes to incorporate stretches and exercises she has learned from her Tai-Chi, Yoga, and Qi-Gong classes.
Although she can’t give out any prescriptions as a massage therapist she has a bit more freedom when she is working with Acutonics.
Paillet describes Acutonics as, “a form of acupuncture [without] needles [that uses] tuning forks scientifically calibrated upon the velocity of the planets…Acutonics is a complex system combining sound healing, oriental medicine, the Tao of Astrology and science-based astronomy.”
The Kairos Institute of Sound Healing’s website further explains that acutonics uses the same pressure points that acupuncture and acupressure use “to access the body’s Meridian and Chakra energy systems.”
Donna Carey created acutonics while she worked at an acupuncture college sixteen years ago. The Kairos Institute estimates that there are hundreds of practitioners and over 50 instructors.
She places her tuning forks on the same places on the body where acupuncturists put their needles.
To get the certification she currently has, Paillet completed a two-year special training in Berkeley. She is currently writing a thesis to obtain a higher certification. Some examples of classes that is taking right now are “Energetics, Points and Meridians”, “Soundscapes for a Natural Facelift” and “Harmonic Pathologies” where she learned how to treat a wide range of illnesses from the common cold to lupus.
As an acutonics practitioner she can give a lot of medical treatments. Most of which are caused, she believes, by imbalances in the body. Colds, viruses, high blood pressure, depression, and fibromyalgia are just a few of the ailments that her treatments can cure.
“I have a certification in essential oils which are so powerful when combined with Acutonics and I can prescribe in that case the appropriate essential oil,” explains Paillet.
According to Paillet, essential oils were mankind’s first medicine. “Essential oils are the volatile liquids that are distilled from plants, including their respective parts such as seeds, bark, leaves, stem, roots, flowers, and fruit,” she said. “Essential oils have different electrical frequencies affecting the level of health and have different medicinal and curative effects on different ailments.”
Paillet has had patients who have seen a lot of results from her Acutonics work. They tell her that they believe what she does is magic, but she assures them it’s just from completing the proper training.
Albert Cortez has been a massage therapist for seven years. He was 22-years-old when he began studying massage therapy, he enjoyed doing it but he was looking for something new to do.
Cortez hurt his back while break dancing and was having trouble getting rid of the pain. He met an acupuncturist in Florida and decided to see if acupuncture could help him.
“One needle and the pain was gone,” said Cortez. He was inspired by this encounter to begin pursuing acupuncture. As a student, he met his wife and they eventually opened up a clinic together.
“Acupuncture is for everyone.” Cortez says. “It’s new but it’s old. It’s been out for 30,000 years but it’s new to us because we grew up with western medicine."
When Cortez explains how acupuncture works to other people he is always trying to “add a western spin” to his descriptions. He knows that “the chi talk” turn people off of treatments like acupuncture. “They don’t believe in chi, when they try it, it’s magic.” he said.
Cortez would best describe acupuncture as preventative medicine. “Headaches can come from many places. When the elements enter your body it changes you chemical balance.” He explains. This is very different from the western medicine way of teaching. “In western medicine a headache is a headache, you would just take an ibuprofen.” But in the theory that goes with acupuncture your stomach could be giving you your headache, or really any other part of your body. Herbs are also a very important of acupuncture, because “they are natural and not synthetic,” Cortez says.
To become an acupuncturist you have to go through what Cortez describes as a very rigorous training because they are considered primary health care providers, it took a long time to get this way.
According to the California government’s acupuncture board website people who practiced acupuncture were once prosecuted, but the practitioner and the patients that really believed in it eventually convinced the government to protect the people that were interested in using acupuncture.
In 1972 acupuncture was only allowed under the supervision of licensed doctor’s for research purposes. A few years later in 1975 acupuncturists were allowed to take patients as long as a licensed doctor had recommended them. By 1978 acupuncturists were given the ability to be primary health care providers meaning that they could take patients whenever they wanted to without waiting for referral from other medical professionals.
When acupuncture students begin school they have to learn to be competent in their understanding of western medicine as well as the philosophy and Chinese theory that acupuncture is based off of.
Cortez is really enjoying practicing acupuncture. “It’s fun, interesting, and really hard at the same time,” he says. Cortez says that there are both physical and spiritual aspects to acupuncture but he prefers to go deep in the spiritual aspect of it. When he has a patient he really likes to understand them and know everything from what they are thinking to what they are eating.
One of Cortez’s favorite patient success stories so far in his career is about a man who came to him for treatment for an injury he got from when he was in the army and he was in a lot of pain, he had great difficulties walking for about a month, and for about two weeks he was entirely paralyzed from the waist down. The man felt like he had no other choice, but to have surgery in order to get rid of his pain and begin walking properly again.
He was very reluctant to get surgery and was looking for alternative treatments that would help him get better. The man met Cortez and started receiving acupuncture treatments, and was able to finally get relief from his pain and he didn’t need surgery.
Cortez is really excited about his path ahead; he sees a lot of good things happening for him in his career as an acupuncturist. “This is only the beginning for me,” he says.
Serious injuries have turned people like Cortez and Khavin into more than just users and advocates but it inspired them to make their careers about educating and helping people get better with the same treatments that helped them.
Although positive experiences with alternative medicines won’t make everyone change their careers it still changes their lives.
See a Chiropractor
Sheila Cook, a 23-year-old business marketing major at SF State is one of these people. When she had just turned 18-years-old Cook was in a serious car accident when someone ran a red light and hit her car.
“I was t-boned on my driver’s side at 50 miles per hour,” Cook said. She was rushed to the hospital where it was quickly discovered that although she had been fortunate enough to not break any bones or have any lacerations, but she didn’t get out of the accident entirely unscathed.
“The X-Rays showed swelling that the doctors said [were] 95% likely [to] lead to long-term or permanent soft tissue damage and horrible back pain that would require painkillers twenty four seven,” says Cook.
Her father was reluctant to have his eighteen-year-old daughter on pain medication for the rest of her life, so they quickly began looking for other treatments.
“I was released from the hospital and taken to a chiropractic center. I met with my first chiropractor who reviewed my X-rays and [saw] that the soft tissue damage was there and was messing with the alignment of my back already,” Cook said. She was still in pain from the whiplash she had received and the soft tissue damage added even more.
Her chiropractor started ‘correcting’ her spine that day. “I felt a little better, but he said it would take months to feel almost anything,” Cook explained.
Cook had sessions with her chiropractor once a week for about six months. She used a combination of electro stimulation therapy, where small electrodes were attached to her back and sent pulsations to the tissue, adjustments to her spine and neck and at home strengthening exercises.
Now Cook only needs to visit her chiropractor sporadically, but she is ecstatic with the results she got from her treatments. “They worked wonders,” she says, “I still and always will have permanent soft tissue damage but by spending the time originally and going in every once in awhile for adjustments my spine and non-damaged muscle tissue is strong enough to keep me out of severe enough pain to require painkillers constantly.”
Cook’s experience taught her that there are some circumstances where alternative treatments were much more helpful than more traditional western treatments. However there are still many people who are unconvinced of alternative treatments.
“Alternative medicine is specifically the shit that isn’t proven to have serious clinical efficacy, and it’s usually a bunch of expensive crap that might make you feel better but won’t actually make you better,” says Frankie Griffen, an SF State alumna.
“Some herbs do have clinical efficacy, yes, but the number of ‘alternative medicine’ therapies that actually have directly attributable positive health outcomes is pathetically low,” says Griffen.
Griffen is especially disbelieving of theories that revolve around chi, like acupuncture. “You might as well get tickle therapy and look at a map of the body drawn by the same people who make park maps for Disney World.”