Hart House drop-in: Striking a yoga pose

Yoga is a mix of strength training, relaxation, and balance

Hart House drop-in: Striking a yoga pose

Walking to campus at 8:00 in the morning is hardly the image of an ideal Monday, yet entering the exercise room at Hart House felt like a fresh start to a productive day. Despite being held so early in the day, Morning Yoga Flow was full of welcoming energy from over 20 people of all ages and fitness levels. The yoga teacher, Celton McGrath, was calm and encouraging, setting the scene with relaxing music as he instructed everybody through the morning routine.

Hart House drop-in classes are a great way for U of T students to explore different aspects of fitness for free. They run on all days of the week, with classes ranging from sport conditioning, to flexibility and balance, and aerobics. This week, I tried Morning Yoga Flow, a vinyasa-based class open to all levels of fitness.

Yoga has many misconceptions, including the idea that it’s all about stretching. McGrath was quick to demonstrate that yoga is a mix of everything, such as strength training, relaxation, and balance. Through variations of planking and squatting, downward dog, and moments of unsteady warrior poses, I was surprised to find my core being engaged and I was constantly excited for the next move.

During the 50 minutes of yoga, modified and altered poses were offered to accommodate beginners, such as myself, and challenge those who were more experienced. This was helpful, and I felt comfortable enough to take the opportunity to test my balance and flexibility and make the most out of this shared experience. Needless to say, the supportive environment put me in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the day.

For those who are new to yoga, or even fitness, McGrath said that yoga is a good place to start in terms of physical activity. He noted that the experience allows you to gain insight into yourself and your body, as well as provide you with the confidence to try other physical activities. He also mentioned exploring different routines in each of his yoga classes.

During a period of the day usually associated with groggy musings, this class allowed me to take some time to myself, mentally relax, and be physically well. It is easy to find yourself caught up in the stress of academics, but a quick drop by this morning class can make your day that much brighter.

Tom Brady’s peculiar diet

Brady claims to drink somewhere between 12 and 25 glasses of water per day

Tom Brady’s peculiar diet

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — a five-time Super Bowl Champion and three-time NFL MVP — is widely considered to be one of the greatest athletes of all time. Lately, however, Brady has been endorsing some rather strange dieting habits.

Brady developed these methods with his best friend and ‘body coach’ Alex Guerrero. Guerrero, however, has been caught up in a number of controversies, including lying about being a medical doctor.

Guerrero has also been investigated by the American Federal Trade Commission twice: the first time for starring in an infomercial for a product called Supreme Greens, which claimed to be able to cure “cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease”; the second for advertising a similar product, NeuroSafe, which was advertised as being endorsed by Brady himself.

In September 2017, Brady released his book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. In this book, Brady detailed exactly what he eats every day. One main feature of his diet is an absurd amount of liquids.

In the mornings, Brady doesn’t eat a full meal. When he wakes up at 6:00 am, he drinks 20 ounces of water infused with electrolytes. He then drinks a smoothie containing blueberries, bananas, nuts, and seeds. Two hours later, he has another glass of electrolyte-infused water, and a post-workout protein shake. Brady claims to drink somewhere between 12 and 25 glasses of water per day.

He also heavily encourages snacking. He usually snacks at around 11:00 am, just before lunch. For lunch, Brady will usually have a piece of fish and a lot of vegetables. In the afternoon, he may have another protein shake or protein bar, and around 6:00 pm, Brady eats dinner, which, again, consists of mostly vegetables.

His book provides recipes for chicken and salmon burgers, green salads, and a creamy pasta sauce — which is odd, considering that he supposedly rarely eats carbs. But even Brady treats himself sometimes. He doesn’t often eat dessert, but he does give a recipe for his famous avocado ice cream.

His book also contains several strange rules for eating. Brady won’t eat carbohydrates and protein together. He recommends eating carbs or protein with vegetables instead, as he believes that this is better for digestion.

Brady’s chef Allen Campbell says that 80 per cent of his diet is vegetables and the rest of his diet is mostly duck, grass-fed organic steak, salmon, and sometimes, chicken.

Brady follows what he refers to as an alkaline diet, in order to minimize muscle inflammation. This entails limiting ‘acidifying foods,’ which mostly includes starch and dairy. Brady will not drink water 30 minutes before a meal, and will wait an hour after a meal before drinking another glass.

What is even more bizarre is the list of foods that Brady doesn’t eat. For Brady, caffeine, white sugar, salt, white flour, dairy, and all nightshade vegetables tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and mushrooms are completely off the table. He also won’t consume olive oil if it’s used in cooking but he’ll have it raw. And he won’t eat fruit, unless it’s in a smoothie.

While there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with Brady’s diet, and it clearly isn’t hindering his play on the field, many of the specific effects that his diet is supposed to have are not backed by scientific evidence.

He claims that limiting acidifying foods helps control the body’s pH balance. However, what one eats actually has little effect on the body’s pH. Your lungs and kidneys control pH levels automatically.

Brady also claims that this diet can decrease inflammation in the body. While dieting actually does have an effect on the body’s inflammation levels, the extreme methods that Brady takes to avoid inflammation are unnecessary. Typically, having a balanced diet with less processed foods is a solid start.

At 41 years old, which is already ancient in football years, Brady says he wants to play at least another five years. While he is certainly capable, his diet probably won’t go very far in helping him achieve this goal.

Toxicity in the wellness movement

Myth, fact and privilege in the wellness movement

Toxicity in the wellness movement

The wellness movement has many facets, from the well-known to the truly bizarre. Take ear candling, for example. You could be forgiven for immediately thinking that this entails making candles from ear wax: that was my first reaction, too.

But in fact, ear candling is an alternative medicine practice which involves lighting one end of a candle and placing the other end in the ear canal. This is supposedly beneficial for general health and well-being, yet I have to imagine that it is just as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Other alternative therapies are less controversial. Yoga purportedly can help heal the mind, body, and soul. Many different threads of this movement are woven together in widely varying combinations to achieve the ultimate tapestry – a state of ‘wellness’. Technically speaking, this refers to the condition of being in good physical and mental health. But shouldn’t we all strive for that?

There are other questions to consider. Does this practice merely encourage bettering oneself to an attainable level, or is it a pointless pursuit of sheer perfection and therefore a path to obsession? Furthermore, what is the science behind the various claims of these health-based products? Is this just another example of the excesses of the privileged?

Potential benefits

On the surface, there are many benefits of the wellness movement. From a dietary perspective, encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetables can only be a good thing. Certain diets champion foods such as lentils as a healthier source of protein. This would reduce excessive consumption of red meat, which is linked to heart disease and other health concerns.

Even products that some scientists argue have no real positive impact or even negative impacts on the body, such as purified water, could be viewed as healthy – if you bend far enough. You could argue that fancy water might make people more likely to drink their purified water instead of soft drinks, because they prefer it to tap water. The same could be said for ‘organic’ produce: despite conflicting thoughts on whether or not it is superior to regular produce, eating organic greens is surely better than eating no greens at all.

The health-based claims of these examples often have the effect of making people feel safer about their nutritional choices, in turn leading to increased happiness even if no physical changes have occurred. This phenomenon is otherwise known as the placebo effect.

The environment can benefit from aspects of the wellness movement, from factors including reduced use of pesticides, which increases biodiversity; reduced international transportation of food due to consumption of locally grown goods, which assuages climate change; and reduced packaging, which creates less waste.

Food and drink are not the sole areas of interest. Exercise can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and improve cardiovascular fitness. Plant-based toiletries may be better for sensitive skin, decreasing the risk of infection. Bamboo clothing is advertised as antibacterial and as a form of UV protection.

Many of these wellness products, from organic kale to herbal deodorant, have a common factor: although they may initially be more expensive than their ordinary counterparts, they could save the consumers’ money in the long-term, because their use could improve overall health and therefore lessen the amount spent on medical requirements in countries without free healthcare. This could still hold true if the effect is just placebo: if one feels better, they are less likely to spend money on treatment.

The dark side

A central concern among those opposed to the wellness movement is the risk of obsession. The disorder known as orthorexia is characterized by an obsession with eating only ‘pure’ foods to the point of eventual starvation, as the categories of acceptable foods narrow and narrow. The result is a damaged mental and physical state, which is clearly counter to the wellness movement as a whole.

Obsessions lead to ever-moving goalposts, as people desperately look for a pure lifestyle which does not exist. Furthermore, even if one were to attempt to follow the wellness movement dutifully, this is difficult due to conflicting advice.

Some diets recommend quinoa, yet others villify carbohydrates altogether. Some stores promote organic toothpaste, whilst others deride the idea of putting any manufactured substances at all in one’s body. Contradictions are everywhere.

What we consider healthy may change, but obsession and confusion remain a steadfast, unfortunate byproduct of wellness trends and movements. Coupled with societal pressures around body type and composition, this create a very destructive cocktail.

Furthermore, these contradictions extend to the acceptance and rejection of relevant information. Those who advocate a gluten-free diet often recommend it partially on the basis that ‘the gluten-containing grains we consume today are not the same ones our grandparents or great-grandparents consumed,’ indicating that a return to the diets of recent ancestors is ideal. However, some also dismiss practices that are centuries old, which carry much greater consequences than eating a muffin.

Take vaccination, for example. Previously referred to as inoculation or variolation, deliberate exposure to the smallpox virus has been dated back to tenth century China. More recently, efforts to completely eradicate polio have certainly benefited our grandparents, who likely witnessed many cases of the disease during childhood.

Despite this, some worried parents insist that more research must be done into long-term effects of vaccines, ignoring research that has already been completed. Alternative medicine may then be cited as a solution, leading to thousands of deaths.

Bigger costs

An element of privilege is inextricably linked to the wellness movement. Although some products could save the consumer money in the long run, by reducing risk of disease and healthcare related costs, objects such as healing crystals and jasmine incense are unquestionably luxuries.

Luxuries typically have another cost besides the obvious. One such example is distressingly evident in Peru and Bolivia, where many citizens can no longer afford quinoa – previously a staple food – due to rising prices as a result of increased worldwide demand.

Quinoa is praised as an excellent source of protein and therefore an alternative to meat. As People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals puts it, “eating quinoa may harm Bolivian farmers, but eating meat harms us all,” citing statistics about environmental damage caused by eating meat.

Would we take the same view if our own access to basic food was similarly affected? I doubt it.

Quinoa isn’t the only popular product with serious blowback. Soy equivalents to dairy products are readily available in many grocery stores and are hailed as an alternative to dairy. In theory, this means that fewer cows are necessary for production, which would lower methane product and greenhouse gas emissions as a whole. Additionally, soy is also touted as a cruelty-free option.

However, even organic soy cultivation is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin.
Deforestation creates problems for local wildlife and can also contribute to climate change. This exemplifies why we must encourage- and where possible, participate in- nutritional and environmental research, enabling a genuinely the development of genuinely better choices.

Living your best life

Finally, many of the movement’s claims are nonsensical. One cannot subsist on a completely sugar-free diet, as the body requires glucose to respire and thus to function. If one returns to the aforementioned ear candling, one could find their eardrums damaged in a costly procedure, as it removes ear wax, a natural form of antibacterial protection. And some promises may be too good to be true.

Forgive my use of anecdotal, and somewhat unpleasant, evidence: regardless of the claim that antibacterial bamboo clothing limits odours, my bamboo socks smell just as much after a day’s use as my regular ones do. I do find them more comfortable, though.

This leads us to our ultimate question: is it worth it? Should one pay, for example, a bamboo manufacturer more for unsubstantiated claims if there are other benefits? In other cases, is the placebo effect really so terrible if it does ameliorate one’s overall state of wellness? Where is the line between selfishness and self-improvement? Can one really be considered ‘improved’ if there are such devastating consequences?

Perhaps a solution could be based on individual wellness movements, which are tailored to personal needs, wants, goals, and standards yet still contain an element of respect for others. One could select their own strand of the tapestry and remove it, rather than becoming tangled in a conflicting mess.

If people were free to follow a diet that they considered both healthy and environmentally friendly based upon their own research, rather than the opinions of different groups, obsession could be limited.

If people followed alternative medicine but still vaccinated their children, the results could still be dire, but there would still be an aspect of personal choice without the risk to the more vulnerable. If one wished to buy a luxury that might increase their happiness such as a yoga mat, with their own hard-earned money, why shouldn’t they?

The wellness movement might function better if it were concerned with making each person ‘better’ instead of the elusive ‘best.’

Under Armour comes to U of T

#WillFindsAWay meets the #6ix

Under Armour comes to  U of T

After the announcement that Under Armour would be the new athletics apparel partner and sponsor for the Varsity Blues in late May, the hype for the famous brand has increased across campus. With Blues athletes sporting their fresh track wear and uniforms, there is no doubt that Under Armour has become a significant presence on campus.

On Thursday, September 13, the Under Armour team brought fitness training and athletic events to U of T, as Back Campus was transformed into a state-of-the-art workout studio with a massive stage. Under Armour symbols were proudly worn by participating students and fitness instructors alike.

The yellow and black #WillFindsAWay signs were scattered around, separated by the sea blue U of T shirts handed out to participants. #WeareTO was also a huge sign, flying in the air.

The day started out with drop-in events such as dodgeball, yoga, soccer, and volleyball, but ended with three sessions of bodyweight fitness classes.

The bodyweight fitness classes were packed with students and athletes alike, taking a much needed break from their first week of studies to stretch and move around.

The fitness classes, led by a very motivational fitness coach, started with basic stretching and moved into more complex moves, providing participants with a good challenge. At one point, U of T mascot True Blue decided to take a shot at some of the moves.

Although the sponsorship from Under Armour as the official sportswear brand of U of T may seem like it is only an opportunity for Varsity Blues athletes, it is events like these that help make athletics more accessible to the regular, everyday student.

The space was inclusive and inviting, with people of all abilities and fitness levels joining in.

Whether a participant was there for an intense workout or just for a fun activity to break up a busy day, it’s doubtful that anyone left the field without a smile on their face.

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

Basketball players are joining the animal-free wave

What’s behind the increase of vegans in the NBA?

One of the rising nutritional trends among athletes today is veganism. This is especially pronounced in the the world of basketball, where more and more players are turning toward vegan diets and lifestyles.

A vegan is defined as someone who doesn’t eat animals or any animal products, which includes all meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products.

As athletes continue to devise strategies to increase performance, ideas around diet and nutrition have also evolved, whether that be hiring personal chefs or even nutritionists to watch what they put into their bodies. The amount that NBA players invest into themselves has dramatically increased over the past decade, with keeping track of their diets and what caused them to be injured being among the leading forces in the so-called revolution.

“I had a recurring injury in my knee,” free agent Jahlil Okafor told SB Nation. “I just kept getting hurt and my knee was always inflamed. The main cause of my knee being swollen was dairy. I cut dairy, watched a few documentaries. Then, I cut out steak, cut out chicken, then gradually started cutting out every animal-based product.”

“Now I’m just an all-out vegan,” added Okafor.

Okafor is not alone in the NBA’s latest growing trend, with Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo, and Wilson Chandler taking up the vegan way of life.

The changing nature of basketball play coincides with this trend. According to Bleacher Report, the NBA has been leaning toward playing ‘small ball,’ a style of play in which the emphasis is placed on leaner athletes who play a variety of positions to outpace and ultimately outrun their opponents. The rise of small ball has seen a decrease in the weight of players since 2013.

It’s important that NBA players on vegan diets have still been able to maintain strength training during the offseason. Performance-wise, players want to increase muscle mass to increase weight, making them more likely to overwhelm an opposing defender when posting up or finishing through a contact at the rim on a layup attempt. Putting on this muscle weight has traditionally been done through high-carbohydrate, high-protein diets.

However, if players add too much muscle, they’ll become too slow to keep up with the faster, more agile players, and they will have endurance issues throughout the game, making them less effective. This can lower minutes on the court in the short term, and, in the long term, it will affect a player’s market value. Vegan diets can allow players to put on enough muscle to stay competitive on the court without running the risk of being too heavy in an increasingly fast game.

Veganism also isn’t unique to the NBA. Despite the rigorous training and dietary requirements in the NFL, 11 members of the Tennessee Titans followed in linebacker Wesley Woodward’s footsteps and adopted a plant-based diet.

Woodward told AP Sports, “My energy level’s gone up… It’s just putting in good fuel to your body. And of course, it’s always hard to keep weight on this time of the season. But it’s worth it for me staying on top of my health.”

NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both enjoy near vegan diets; Rodgers has cut out dairy from his diet but still indulges in red meat and fish, while Brady credits not consuming dairy or inflammatory foods like peppers, mushrooms, and eggplants to his career’s longevity as he continues to play at a high level at 41.

All things considered, it appears that the traditional idea of bulking up with lots of meat is waning in popularity, and new ideas are being tried, both for competitive purposes and for personal health. It will be up to the players to decide what is right for them.

And while professional athletes are on a different level from the average person, for those of us who are more health conscious, the same benefits on a micro level can be applied here. For example, due to the lower amount of saturated fats and cholesterol consumed in a vegan diet, cardiovascular health is improved, reducing the risk of heart disease. And eating anti-inflammatory foods like kale, spinach, tomatoes, and blueberries can increase energy levels.

In the end, though we aren’t professional athletes, let alone elite basketball players, the fact that more athletes are gravitating toward health conscious options underscores an important emphasis on health and well-being. That should push us toward the ultimate goal of a better lifestyle, on our own terms.

A guide to U of T’s tri-campus intramural athletics

The benefits of staying active with intramural sports

A guide to U of T’s tri-campus intramural athletics

As the start of the fall semester slowly approaches, U of T will be in the midst of intramural action once again. U of T, owing to its tri-campus structure, has one of the most exciting and unique intramural programs across Canadian universities.

Every year, student athletes from UTSG, UTSC, and UTM join together to compete in tri-campus athletics. Whether it is soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, et cetera, students have the opportunity to play their favourite sports while representing their campus, college, or program.

The U of T Intramural Program is organized by the university’s three main athletic bodies: UTSG’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE), UTSC’s Department of Athletics and Recreation, and UTM’s Department of Recreation, Athletics & Wellness. Each organizes multiple teams for various sports, all hoping to be crowned champions of U of T.

The U of T Development League (D-League) is the highest level of intramural competition, featuring the best and brightest non-varsity athletes across U of T. The program is offered in men’s hockey, men’s outdoor soccer, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s indoor soccer.

Through committed coaching staff and intense training sessions, the D-League offers students a chance to develop their skills for possible future Varsity competition. The four D-League teams include the St. George Reds, the St. George Blacks, the UTSC Maroons, and the UTM Eagles.

Other intramural leagues provide various levels of competition. In general, U of T tri-campus teams are at the same calibre as a good high-school team.

All of the tri-campus teams hold one practice and one game a week, and schedules may intensify come playoff time.

Tri-campus sports is an perfect alternative to varsity athletics, as it offers the right competitive edge without the time-commitment and pressure of being a Varsity Blue. Not only does the program provide students with the platform to compete in their favourite sports, but it also gives the opportunity to network and build relationships with many like-minded athletes and coaches.

As a tri-campus intramural athlete myself, I can safely say that joining the program was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my university career. As a former high school student athlete, I wanted to ensure I continued playing competitive sports once I started at U of T.

After doing some research, I discovered the Intramural Program and became instantly hooked.

Competing in tri-campus sports provided me with everything I was looking for as a non-varsity student athlete. Through great coaching and intense training, I was able to continue developing my skills and growing as a player.

The program also gave me the opportunity to practice and compete in various athletic facilities across U of T, including UTSC’s Toronto Pan Am Sports Center and the Varsity Centre. As a rookie, my teammates welcomed me with open arms and took me under their wings. They provided me with guidance and advice on how to navigate and adjust to university life, academically, socially, and athletically.

Of course, like any competitive athletic program, there came some challenges and obstacles such as waking up for 7:00 am practices, playing in freezing-cold weather, and facing season-long injuries. But, nonetheless, it’s all a part of the process.

This upcoming year, the Intramural Program is expecting over 10,000 tri-campus student athletes to compete in 78 leagues and 20 tournaments. The program continues to get better and better, and students across all three campuses are getting ready for another exciting season.

Whether you enjoy competitive sports or just want to stay fit, the intramural program has something for everyone. Come out this September and try out for your favourite sports!

Believe me, you won’t regret it.

Bloody politik

The promise and power of period tracking apps

Bloody politik

men·stru·a·tion

noun

the process in a woman or person with a vagina of discharging blood and other materials from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.

I started using the period tracker Clue about a year ago when my cycle became irregular and I had no idea what the hell was going on with my body.

For those of you who may be wondering what exactly a period tracker is and why anyone would want to use one, well, this one’s for you. And to those of you who are considering clicking away from this article because the word ‘menstruation’ makes you uncomfortable, well, surprise! We bleed.

Period tracking apps are exactly what they sound like: They are apps that use inputted information about your cycle such as pain levels, bleeding, emotions, sleep, sexual activity or lack thereof, energy, mental health, and more to keep track of upcoming periods, evaluate menstrual health, and basically let you know why you’re suddenly craving a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

Out of the abundance of apps that can be found in the app store, I chose Clue because of the simplicity of its layout, its high ratings, and the lack of stereotypical pink flowery designs that are found on most tracking apps.

After a few cycles passed, I found that Clue could predict my period almost to the day. This may not be the case for everyone some periods are more irregular than others but trackers are a great way of getting more in touch with your body and what’s going on inside of it.

 

First, period tracking apps are an excellent way to help identify how your menstrual cycle affects and is affected by changes to your body, from medical treatments like hormone replacement therapy to emotional states including dysphoria.

But that’s not all. Moving outside of our own bodies, Clue has a feature where you can share your cycle and symptoms with people in your contacts. At first, I wondered why anyone would want to share such personal information. However, I’ve found that it’s features like this and the apps that feature them that are changing how we see menstruation and how it affects our bodies.

Simply telling someone, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in my body right now’ normalizes periods and sparks conversations about them.

Often, people assume that only women use period tracking apps. Specifically, cisgender women women who have always identified as such and were born with the genitalia to match. Of course, this makes sense considering the fact that we’ve been raised to think that only women have vaginas and only men have penises and those are the only two options available. But, realistically, the world isn’t so binary.

As a cis woman, I obviously can’t speak to the individual struggles that trans and/or non-binary people experience when it comes to periods, but I have learnt that just acknowledging the fact that it’s not just cis women who get periods changes the way we see menstruation. It helps to deconstruct the idea that menstruation is limited to one type of body.

However, in addition to the types of bodies that are affected by menstruation, it’s important to discuss the North Atlantic centrism of these kinds of technologies and apps such as Clue.

These apps are excellent resources for privileged individuals, but what about the millions of people across the globe who don’t even have access to basic menstrual products?

We can applaud these apps and the people making them for opening discourse, but we also need to start conversations surrounding the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products for everyone.

We need to demand more.

We also need to be critical of the apps we are downloading. What are the main reasons that developers are putting these apps on the market? Do these companies actually care who uses their services and why?

Developers of these applications are capitalizing off of menstruation while much of the world still sees it as a taboo topic. We may have gotten rid of the tampon tax here, but we are still paying for menstrual products, as if bleeding from our vaginas once a month is some kind of luxury.

We have to pay to keep our bodies clean and download apps to keep track of our bodies. Money is still being made off of bodies that have no say in their function. Looking into the goals and priorities of the companies making these applications is just as important as talking about the people benefitting from them.

Ultimately, period tracking apps and the people making them should be focusing on advancing reproductive and menstrual health care, not restricting it to a specific group of people. Everybody and every type of body needs to have equal access to these products and services.

This, of course, may seem like an unrealistic goal to have considering all the variables that come into play, including location and means, but I hope that articles like this can start dialogue that will take us one step further in the right direction.

 

Have we reached a verdict on medical marijuana?

With recreational cannabis on the horizon, implications for health care remain uncertain

Have we reached a verdict on medical marijuana?

The seizures started in 1959, when Terrance Parker was four years old.

‘Grand mals,’ they were called — a term that rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century and loosely translates to ‘a great evil.’

He could tell when they were about to happen. The hairs on the nape of his neck prickled in anticipation. A fear of the known, it was unlike any other, yet he could do little to prevent it.

As the electrical storm raced in his brain, his limbs jerked violently and his consciousness shredded. He would later be placed on an anticonvulsant therapy, and go through medications such as Dilantin, Mysoline, and Librium with little success.

The lobectomies, first performed at the Hospital for Sick Children, or SickKids, at age 14, and then 16, failed to effectively improve his symptoms. Parker’s prognosis appeared bleak.

At least, it did until he was introduced to cannabis by a worker at the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital. He would smoke a joint to get high and receive immediate, albeit brief, relief from the havoc that the seizures wreaked on his body. As he continued to smoke, however, something curious happened.

The seizures stopped.

“After 38 years of this terrible affliction, and hundreds, if not more than a thousand seizures, I can say that it is only with the assistance of marijuana that I have ever been able to fight through the [fear] and stave off an oncoming grand mal,” stated Parker, in a 1997 affidavit after he was arrested for the possession and trafficking of cannabis.

Parker was acquitted of all charges in 2000, after the judge declared his arrest unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated his rights to life, liberty, and security. It was at that moment that Terrance Parker became the first individual in Canada to use marijuana legally, for medical reasons. Regulated medical cannabis later became legal in 2001.

There are many individuals with stories like that of Parker — of discovering hope in this herbaceous flowering plant.

Although controlled clinical trials that determine a direct causal relationship between the use of cannabis and the frequency of seizures have been few and far between, there is mounting anecdotal evidence of its efficacy in treating epilepsy.

Exposure to cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component in marijuana, has been linked to the reduction of seizure frequency in pediatric epilepsy and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a form of severe childhood-onset epilepsy.

Despite evidence being mainly anecdotal, Dr. David Juurlink, Head of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Sunnybrook Hospital and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at U of T, believes a case can be made for the judicious prescription of cannabis.

According to Juurlink, cannabis is particularly useful for patients whose symptoms have improved with its use. It should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis, while also considering other drugs with similar effects.

Meanwhile, high-quality scientific evidence for the therapeutic effects of cannabis in the treatment of symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) like chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity — the tightness and stiffness of muscles preventing normal movement — has been well established.

In a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Neurology, 124 individuals with MS and spasticity were given a cannabis-based medicine containing CBD and the primary psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while 65 individuals were given a placebo for a duration of six weeks. The results of this research gave cannabis the green light.

Studies published in 2004 and 2006 in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal had also found similar results, confirming the growing optimism that cannabis can be used to relieve symptoms associated with MS.

In a 2009 Nature study, researchers used similar methodologies to study the effects of cannabis for neuropathic pain in patients with HIV. The researchers found that the 28 subjects, who completed both placebo and cannabis treatments, experienced greater pain relief when they were treated with cannabis.

But despite what a quick Google search might tell you, cannabis is not a panacea for all diseases and disorders.

Dr. Tony George, Chief of Addictions at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and also Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, found that THC in marijuana actually worsens symptoms of psychosis in patients with schizophrenia, and could induce psychosis in those who have a family history of the disorder.

Surprisingly, isolating certain cannabinoids may have the opposite effect.

“CBD seems to oppose the effects of THC… and [CBD] is being studied for anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, and anti-addictive, and cognitive enhancing effects,” said George. “If that’s true, that could be a very exciting breakthrough in therapeutics in psychiatry, and it may be a potential pain strategy.”

Currently, there is simply not enough evidence to conclude that cannabis can effectively treat a myriad of mood disorders and other debilitating diseases. It has only been proven for a few diseases, and often in isolated cases.

According to George, thus far, there are only indications that cannabinoids have positive effects on post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, or glaucoma, and evidence to support these indications is not substantive.

Yet, preliminary research is promising and may pave the way for its unrestricted use.

With the impending legalization of recreational cannabis, however, there are some concerns over what will become of Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which replaced Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations in August 2016. According to Health Canada, ACMPR allows registrants to access marijuana for medical purposes and “to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes or to designate someone to produce it for them.”

“The problem is that the current approach by the government is sort of full speed ahead, without doing the due diligence to find out the facts,” said George.

As of March 2018, 296,702 individuals were registered with licensed medical marijuana producers under Health Canada’s ACMPR, a 70 per cent increase from the 174,503 registrants in April 2017.

“I don’t know what the future of medical marijuana is, but if you’re someone who is a patient or family member, or a healthcare professional that’s invested in that, I think there is some reason to be concerned,” said George.

Editor’s Note (August 21): This article has been updated to reflect the number of registered medical cannabis users.