Jean Stevens' granddaughter called on a Friday and asked what she was doing the following Monday. Nothing, Stevens said. The granddaughter said she was getting married at the courthouse in Crown Point.

Stevens was there to see the nuptials. All, she says, because of CBD oil.

In the past, the Hammond woman said, she wouldn't have been able to get out of the car, her arthritis was so bad. She took Vicodin, but hated the side effects, constipation being one of the most pesky.

But during a recent visit to her oncologist's office — Stevens also has had cancer of the kidney and lung — a homeopathic nurse practitioner suggested she try CBD oil.

The 74-year-old started taking a milligram every morning. Four months later, the retired nurse said, it was easier to get out of bed. She returned to activities like baking cookies. She cut her Vicodin use in half.

"I'm not saying my pain is completely gone," she said. "But even my family's noticed a change in me. I have a better outlook. I want to get out and about."

Stevens is one of a number of Northwest Indiana residents touting the health benefits, nearly a year after the state legalized it, of CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract of the hemp plant.

While it may contain trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, CBD does not get you high. Instead, some Region medical experts claim, it can reduce pain, anxiety and inflammation, among other benefits.

"So far, my experience with the patients' outcome is very good," said Dr. Vijaya Chapala, a family physician with Portage Medical Group.

She said her patients have used CBD oil to rub on painful spots on the body, to get off antidepressants and even prevent urinary leakage.

She said the only downsides are that there is no standardization for CBD oil, so you don't always know what you're getting, and that insurance doesn't cover it, so it can get expensive. One of her patients also reported getting nauseated from it.

But she predicts CBD is here to stay in America — after all, it's been used, along with the cannabis plant from which it comes, for thousands of years in places like her native India. Cannabis is one of the five sacred plants mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu text.

"I've had five back surgeries. I have a spinal cord stimulator in my spine. This is the only thing that helps relieve my pain," Fred Dauksza, of Lake Village, said of CBD.

"I was on narcotics and muscle relaxers with no help. I take the CBD, and it actually helps me to where I'm able to function."

Some of the 47-year-old's health care providers support him using it, he said; others doubt it because of the lack of research. But it works for him.

"It doesn't take 100 percent of the pain away. It takes enough of the pain away where I can function and deal with what I have to do," said Dauksza, who is on disability because of his back problems.

"I can't go and run or anything. I get up and walk without my cane. I'm able to move."

A learning experience

Jeff Burton, owner of the Custom Dosing pharmacies in Crown Point and Valparaiso, hadn't heard of CBD until a couple of his employees, who were then getting it from Illinois because Indiana hadn't legalized it, reported using it as a pain reliever.

He did his research and realized that he didn't even learn about one of the body's largest neurotransmitter networks — the endocannabinoid system, which regulates pain, appetite and mood — in pharmacy school. He found studies that CBD helps control seizures, may prevent cardiovascular disease and shows promise with Alzheimer's patients. The World Health Organization, which he says "tries to trash all natural medicine," even declared CBD safe with potential medicinal benefits.

He's now a CBD convert. He does presentations on it in the community. He sells it in his stores — the kind without THC ("We have too many union guys. The union guys would kill me if they got a false positive (drug test)").

He even uses it himself.

"I've never slept so soundly in 10 years," he said. "I wish I could tell you it's all my head, but 10 minutes before I go to bed I take it and pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow. I hadn't slept eight hours in 10 years."

Mary Tomczak, of Hammond, uses it to ease her arthritis and help her sleep. She has given it to her three kids — one ended up being allergic — as well as her 88-year-old mother.

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But she's also one of the many Region residents who sells it out of her home. And, like them, she claims her brand — of which there seem to be an infinite number — is the best.

"This is the rage now. Everybody wants it. Everybody's doing it," the 51-year-old said.

"Bu once the hype is over, the people that truly need it are going to continue to use it because it does have such benefits to them. The people who are saying it's so-so — what works for one person doesn't work for another. I have people who call me every month."

She said one of her son's physicians was, because of the lack of testing, opposed to CBD. Dr. Dennis Streeter, a Merrillville surgeon, is decidedly not.

"It's something that most doctors will not even look at, because they're afraid of the idea that it may have some THC in it," Streeter said. "Some of them aren't willing to learn about it. But I'd rather use that than get somebody addicted to opioids."

He said it doesn't cure his patients' ailments; it "calms" things like pain and tremors.

It's not for everybody, he admits, but "you don't give penicillin to everybody."

And if it doesn't have side effects, what's the harm?

That's what Jill Schultz, of Trail Creek, said her doctor told her, after CBD helped treat the migraines she's had since she was a child.

"I've tried every medicine they came out with, home remedies, everything," said Schultz, a 64-year-old day care operator. "I tried this CBD. It's a miracle. It has changed my life. My husband said he can see it in my face. I'm not in pain every day."

A different approach

Amie Barry, the holistic nurse practitioner at Northwest Oncology in Munster who suggested CBD to Stevens, recommends the substance for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The CBD, she says, relieves the side effects: the nausea, the vomiting, the loss of appetite.

Research has shown that medical marijuana, which is not legal in Indiana, can help with those symptoms as well, she noted. But some of her patients from Illinois, where it is legal, prefer CBD because the pot makes them paranoid or gives them nightmares.

"For the most part, patients are loving it," she said of CBD. "I'm finding incredible results by using it. It's not 100 percent. Some patients come back and say, 'I don't feel different on it. This isn't working.' Many patients are surprised by the effectiveness of it."

Karen Klaus, of Valparaiso, says it's even for the dogs.

Her company, Green Balance Hemp & Wellness, makes CBD dog treats she donates to Lakeshore PAWS.

"It seems to help some of the dogs with anxiety, the chaos and everything that goes on at the shelters ... the separation anxiety," she said.

She said that, for humans, it aids in muscle recovery after a workout, and research has found it suppresses cancer cell growth.

Her business sells CBD that contains THC — Indiana allows up to 0.3 percent — which she says "gives you a little more bang for the buck." (Medical establishments that stock CBD generally have the THC-free version.) She calls the chances of failing a drug test from CBD "so minimal."

She acknowledges that some of the benefits people are getting could be placebo — "but who's to say?"

"My dad uses it, and he uses it for arthritis. This is a man who couldn't make a fist because of severe arthritis," she said. "He's 78 years old. He's was able to, within two hours of taking CBD, make a fist literally for the first time in seven years. That is literally the god's honest truth. He was beside himself. He was almost in tears.

"He's not Rocky Balboa boxing now. He's not able to do that. But I don't want to say it's a placebo effect. You can't say that about somebody who suffered arthritis or migraines for years and years and years."

Whatever debate remains over the efficacy of CBD is moot in Klaus's eyes.

"You can't deny it," she said. "There are so many people taking it, at this point you can't deny it."        


Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.