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Nauseous no more: 18-year-old fighting leukemia finds relief through marijuana

Josh Molden of Alexandria, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, focuses on the form of his wall sit during a physical therapy assessment at the University of Minnesota's Children's Hospital. Molden had a bone marrow transplant in March and is working on building his strength back up to what it was before the transplant. (Contributed) 1 / 3
Josh Molden (left) of Alexandria and his cousin, Calvin Molden, from Apple Valley, ended up at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities on the same day – Monday, Dec. 4. Josh was there for a check-up after his bone marrow transplant on March 31 and Calvin was there to donate his bone marrow after matching someone through the Be the Match program. Calvin signed up for the program at a benefit held in Josh's honor in February. (Contributed) 2 / 3
Legislation passed during the 2014 Minnesota legislative session created a new process allowing seriously ill Minnesotans to use medical cannabis to treat certain conditions. Medical cannabis is not available through a pharmacy but instead patients enroll in a patient registry maintained by the State. Patients on this registry are able to get medical cannabis directly from one of eight dispensaries set up around the state. (Source: Minnesota Department of Health) 3 / 3

Sitting in his mother's vehicle, Josh Molden stared at what was in his hands for a few minutes. He felt a little uneasy about what he was about to do — especially because his mom was right beside him.

But, he knew it needed to be done. The 18-year-old leukemia patient from Alexandria was about to "take a hit" of medical marijuana vapor.

"Well, give it a shot," Pam Molden told her son.

He inhaled and then coughed it out. It did nothing.

"Take it like you take your asthma medicine," she told Josh.

He did and within about five minutes, the nauseous feeling that had left Josh unable to eat or drink anything for days finally subsided and he finally wanted to eat, Pam said.

The struggle has been great for the 2017 Alexandria graduate. Josh was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2016. On March 31, he had a bone marrow transplant and was in and out of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in the Twin Cities.

Finally in October, Josh, along with his parents, Pam and Chad, and his sister, Koryna, got the news they had been waiting for — no leukemia. In a post on Josh's CaringBridge site, his mom posted the news, saying it was one hurdle of many to come, but that it was a significant one.

"He is doing so good right now," Pam said recently. "And he is on no medications. He only has to take Vitamin D. That's it."

In January, Josh will be starting college, which he has been waiting patiently to do. He said he's "very excited" to start school. For now, he will be taking general education classes at Alexandria Technical and Community College and then next fall, he will head to North Dakota State University where he'll work toward a degree in software engineering.

The need for medical cannabis

After the bone marrow transplant, one of the medications made Josh extremely nauseous, sending him to the hospital because of dehydration. He tried several medications to combat the nausea, but nothing worked, his mom said.

"One of his doctor's suggested using medical cannabis," Pam said. "We knew it was out there, but we didn't think we'd have to consider it. But we were ready to try anything. As a mom, you'll do anything to help your child."

Pam explained that the family had to apply for the medical cannabis and once Josh's application was approved, they were able to go to a lab in St. Cloud, LeafLine Labs, to get the cannabis. She said they could choose from three different forms — vapor, liquid or pills.

"With Josh's severe nausea, we opted for the vapor," said Pam. "It was the fastest acting and shortest lasting."

Pam said she knew it was a very difficult thing for her son to do because smoking anything was just something her son would never do. She said the nausea had to be "that bad" before he was willing to use the medical cannabis.

"I didn't know a lot about it. I didn't know what it was going to do," Josh said. "But the people at the lab talked me through it. They were good about it and made me feel more comfortable."

Although Josh had never vaped before, he compared it to using something like an e-cigarette.

"It wasn't like I was smoking a joint," said Josh. "It was a device like what is used for vaping. It helped really quickly with my nausea."

Pam said Josh only used the medical cannabis for about a month and only when it was absolutely necessary.

"It shouldn't be the first thing people try," said Pam. "But when nothing else works, it is an option."

Josh agreed, stating it's a good option as long as patients use it correctly and don't abuse it.

All expenses related to the medical cannabis had to be paid for out-of-pocket. The Moldens had to pay a $200 registration fee and then about $60 for one cartridge of the medical cannabis. One cartridge is about one month's use, said Pam, but because Josh didn't use it that much, there was some left in the cartridge.

Pam said once the family got the news of no more leukemia and knew that Josh didn't have to take any more medications, she took the medical cannabis and all the other leftover medications and headed to the police station to drop them off at the medication dropbox.

"We ended up clogging it up and had to have an officer come and help," laughed Pam.

Feeling blessed

Looking back over the past year and thinking about all the support they have received, Pam said, "This last year has been pretty amazing. It has been hard, but there have been many blessings."

The blessings, she said, included Josh receiving a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and meeting Eric Thomas, a motivational speaker, author and minister. Josh and his dad also got to participate in a deer hunting trip at Bucket List Lodge in Canada.

In addition, Josh talked about his cousin, Calvin Molden, who just recently donated his bone marrow to a complete stranger. Because of Josh, Calvin, who lives in Apple Valley, decided to be a donor.

"We were just blown away by Calvin," said Pam. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Josh and his fundraiser and Be the Match program."

Pam said at a fundraiser in February, attendees could sign up with the Be the Match registry, which is the world's largest and most diverse donor registry. Be the Match has more than 13.5 million potential marrow donors and more than 225,000 cord blood units on its registry.

At the fundraiser, 22 people signed up and of those, two have been contacted. Calvin, she said, was one of them and he has been matched and has now already gone through the donation process.

When Josh heard about his cousin donating, Pam said his response was perfect. Josh said, "That-a-boy, just casually saving a life."

What conditions qualify?

Medical cannabis is available to Minnesota residents whose health care provider certifies them to be suffering from the following conditions:

• Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting.

• Glaucoma.


• Tourette Syndrome.

• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

• Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.

• Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

• Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's Disease.

• Terminal illness, with a life expectancy of less than one year, if the illness or treatment produces severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting.

• Intractable pain.

• Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patients can enroll for two more conditions — autism and obstructive sleep apnea — beginning July 1, 2018. The medical cannabis will be available for pick up starting on Aug. 1, 2018.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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