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Mark Pedersen: The Shadow Healer

Sep 27, 2016 01:40PM ● By Randy Robinson

Mark Pedersen was born and raised in the lead belt of Missouri. At 60 years old, he’s rather spry. His glowing smiles, his confident gestures, his passionate speech would never indicate he suffers from what doctors diagnosed as fibromyalgia with severe migraines. Pedersen says he knows the cause of his illness: exposure to heavy metal pollution while growing up in his hometown of Herculaneum, MO.

Like all fibro patients, Pedersen experiences intense, chronic pain in his muscles and joints. He suffers from fatigue and insomnia. His digestive system can go haywire at a moment’s notice, an issue that was worsened by years of pharmaceutical treatments. The dolor in his gut can lead to an extreme loss of appetite, weight loss, and exhaustion. Without cannabis, his migraines can become so intense that he can undergo seizures—seizures which can affect his short-term memories. 

“My memories were still there, but the connections were damaged,” Pedersen says. Contrary to myths that cannabis consumers have poor cognition and memory recall, Pedersen says cannabis not only helped restore his memory, but it continues to help him focus, too. “One of the most amazing things about cannabis is the clarity of thought, being able to think again. Being able to remember a person’s name or situation, or important things, like birthdates.” 

By acting directly on Pedersen’s endocannabinoid system, cannabis alleviates all of these symptoms. This plant helps him, like many others, to live a normal life. 

Pedersen first learned that cannabis could help him in the late 1990s while browsing an online forum. Although he had experimented with marijuana when he was younger, he didn’t always think of it as medicine. With time, he learned about other people around the country who also claimed cannabis restored their quality of life. 

Determined to shift the culture, Pedersen set out with a video camera. In 2006, he began recording patient testimonials from people who lived with Crohn’s, cancer, AIDS, arthritis, anorexia, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and a vast array of other crippling diseases. These videos were meant to show that cannabis could help with more than just nausea or glaucoma. With the help of activists, patients, and scientists, he eventually cofounded the Cannabis Patients Network Institute with author Regina Nelson. The nonprofit gathers patient stories to share with others and educates the public on the medical potential of cannabis through public events and benevolent outreach programs.

Today, Pedersen no longer wields a video camera to share patient testimonials. Vice, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets have picked up where he left off over a year ago. Now, he’s solely focused on getting medicine to others, namely patients dying of Stage IV cancers, children, and the poor. 


Colorado’s Amendment 20 defines a caregiver as anyone (besides a patient’s physician) who is an adult responsible for helping that patient manage their debilitating condition. In the medical cannabis world, caregivers are usually people who grow plants and make infused products for their patients. But not every caregiver grows.

Instead of growing cannabis for his patients, Pedersen makes cannabis oil. To make this oil, he steeps the plant material in ethanol (the kind of alcohol we drink, specifically Everclear). This process pulls medicinal compounds like terpenes and cannabinoids out of the plant matter. After soaking, the alcohol is removed, and what’s left is a thick, syrupy oil that can be infused into cooking oils, transferred to gel caps, or taken by teaspoon.

This oil is the most potent form of cannabis extract. Just one gram of oil, the size of a gum ball, holds around 1,000 mg of THC. Compare that to Colorado’s strongest prepackaged medical edibles, which only contain up to 300 mg THC. Although concentrated oil may not be ideal for most patients, those with terminal illnesses or extremely debilitating conditions require high amounts of cannabinoids. Unfortunately, most dispensaries can’t meet this need, and patients continue to rely on caregivers such as Pedersen to make this life-restoring medicine by hand. 

Although Pedersen is registered as a caregiver with the state, he doesn’t call himself a caregiver. Rather, he considers himself a cook. That’s because he sees cannabis as a super food. Some patients prefer to avoid cannabis’s trademark “high,” especially patients who require a constant, round-the-clock intake of cannabinoids. And Pedersen is just the man for that job; part of his mission is educating others on how to take their cannabis in a way that mitigates the plant’s elevating effects.

“We need to introduce cannabis as part of our diet, not just as a supplement,” Pedersen says. “Socrates once said, ‘Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.’ Cannabis is a food, and we need to start talking about it as such.”