Phil Kwong’s journey with cannabis started in his teenage years in the form of recreational experimentation. An unexpected diagnosis in his early 20s redefined Kwong’s relationship with the plant, charted the course of his career and helps him live with a potentially debilitating illness.
Kwong is now a certified cannabis extraction specialist and trainer. He is the founder of 3 Carbon Extraction Inc. which specializes in sales of extraction equipment and training.
Daily Hive sat down with Kwong to learn more about his story.
“I’ve used cannabis for a long time,” said Kwong, who began experimenting with concentrates when he was 16.
“I never thought about using it medically until I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”
“I literally woke up off my couch and I couldn’t see anything but a blur of colours coming from my right eye.”
Kwong felt pain and a numbing sensation in his eye. He visited multiple eye doctors. Each told him he was fine.
“Finally, I reached a neurologist-ophthalmologist, and he looked at me and he said, ‘You’ve got inflammation on the optic nerve.’ He prescribed me 1250 mg of prednisone to get the inflammation under control or risk going blind.”
The doctor listed the side effects of the medication like waking paranoia, insomnia, “and basically losing your mind.”
“I experienced terrible side effects – all of them – and after the inflammation subsided, I was sent for an MRI on my brain.”
Kwong was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and sent for treatment right away.
“I started with Rebif which made me feel like I had the flu five days out of the week,” said Kwong, who eventually developed scar tissue where he had to inject the drug.
“I stopped using it and went untreated for almost a year and experienced another relapse.”
Kwong then switched to a new prescription, Gilenya, and although he didn’t experience physical side effects, it was not an effective treatment. Continued relapses left him with permanent damage in his left eye.
“I was told that if I did not switch to other MS drugs, I had no more options.”
Kwong left the country and went to the US to get a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic. He was removed from clinical studies, and his treatment took a drastic change.
“It was during this process that I started looking for alternatives and exploring cannabis. I found a doctor who would sign off on a Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR).”
Kwong went to a local dispensary to purchase cannabis, which he professed was not as sophisticated and advanced as current retail outlets.
“I asked the budtender, ‘Do you have any products that might be good for MS?’ And I remember him passing a product to me and being like ‘Bro, don’t worry, this product’s dank.’”
“Realistically, you should never put a budtender in that position to begin with, but at the time I didn’t know.”
Kwong wasn’t able to find the products he wanted, so he started making them himself. Experimenting with different strains shown to be effective in treating other illnesses.
“I would try a capsule, I would take a dab, I would even experiment with flower and I would see what worked the best and what was the most efficient.”
“I started realizing the benefits of actual whole plant medicine and wasn’t relapsing any more.”
Although Kwong was finding relief, he struggled to connect with the medical community.
“You don’t have doctors, you don’t have hospitals, you don’t have clinics fully dedicated to helping you with cannabis therapy, so you just use something when your symptoms act up.”
When Kwong walked into an MS Society in Victoria and everyone was in a wheelchair or using a cane, he walked right back out.
“It scared the shit out of me to be honest with you.”
“I used to pick fights with my neurologist and nurses. My biggest argument with them was always, ‘It shouldn’t matter if this has a proven track record right now, I know cannabis isn’t going to cure my MS and pharmaceutical drugs won’t either.’ But what it will do is provide a symptom relief.”
Kwong uses cannabis as a preventative measure and to avoid the negative side effects from conventional drugs.
“If I do have a relapse or need to treat symptoms, I go back to experimenting with cannabis as it gives me a better quality of life.”
Typically high levels of a drug called prednisone are used to treat MS relapses.
“Knowing its side-effects, I have avoided using it again and learned to cope with my relapses. I’ve experimented with very high THC ratios as an alternative because it might work.
“Whether or not cannabis fixes a problem is hard to say without being in a clinical study and doing more research and development, but that’s what I’m hoping to work towards and be a part of.”
Kwong said that he might experience more relapses than other MS patients by not immediately pursuing other drug treatments, and by being so exploratory into something more natural like cannabis.
He’s switched to an off-labelled drug called Rituxan and currently experiences no side effects. Kwong continues to use cannabis for MS symptom relief and to control inflammation, and to reduce the effects of MS relapses when they do flare up.
As of today, he’s one-year relapse-free.
Although he has had success with cannabis, he is cautious about advising other MS patients to pursue his path.
“There is anecdotal evidence but not enough studies to support it right now,” said Kwong, who looks forward to legalization because it will be easier to study cannabis as a medicine.
“Something that’s important for me going forward in the cannabis industry is to be able to give back. It’s always been a passion,” said Kwong, who continues to look for answers regarding cannabis and MS-based research, and for other illnesses and disorders too.
“I’m not going anywhere, and I think realistically cannabis isn’t going anywhere in my life anytime soon. I’ll continue to use cannabis on a daily basis for my MS and for, well, just because.”