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Minnesota’s biggest critics of expanding access to cannabis: the case is both professional and personal

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Like any proud father, Jorge Rilmotto is known to brag about his youngest daughter Kathleen.

“I got very good grades,” he said. She was athletic. She was in a dance studio and she was exceptional. She did really well in ballet, lyrical, jazz, tap — her group won a national award one year. She was on the skateboarding team for Armstrong High School. She was a painter. “I went to Minneapolis Institute of Art. In the summer program, they asked her to come back and become a junior teacher.”

“She had a number of high-performance ways to showcase her many talents,” recalls her father, Kathleen Rilmoto.

Since Kathleen died at the age of 36 as a result of a Methamphetamine overdose Two years ago, Realmuto, Professor Emeritus at Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

He was struggling to come to terms with his loss. He blames his daughter’s death on addiction, believing that her methamphetamine use grew out of her chronic teenage use of marijuana.

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Realmuto and his ex-wife learned about Kathleen’s drug use 22 years ago, after she and a group of other teens cited drunk driving. It was later discovered that she had been smoking pot regularly since the age of 15. “She would go out to a small balcony outside her bedroom window and smoke,” Realmuto said. “I did not know.”

Realmuto believes that all memories – good or bad – bring him back to that point of loss. “There is no way to make this comfortable,” he said. “It is uncomfortable. It is sadness. I lost a daughter. It will stay with me for the rest of my life. It will always be uncomfortable.”

Realmuto is now an outspoken defender of limit Medical cannabis range and for Raising the legal age For recreational use of the drug. Earlier in his career, Realmuto worked as the medical director of Minnesota Behavioral Health Hospital for Children and Adolescents In Wilmar where he cured Young patients who developed, he said, “a persistent psychosis initiated by high potency cannabis use.”

George M. Realmuto

As a psychiatrist, Realmuto said his research has shown that regular use of high-potency marijuana has the ability to Permanently alters a young person’s brain development, which is something he focuses on when he talks about cannabis use for groups of medical professionals.

“When your brain is still developing, there are consequences that deviate from the structure of the central nervous system,” Realmuto explained.

And while his interest in the subject is professional, he also acknowledges that it’s personal too, a fact he mentioned in his presentations. “As a child psychologist, I am interested in how cannabis use affects my daughter,” he said. “I’m also interested in how it affects the brain development of all children.”

There is no happy ending here

As Kathleen nears the end of high school, Realmuto states that she witnessed the transformation of what he saw as her naturally “independent and creative” spirit into someone who struggled to maintain friendships or full academic programs. She’s talked about people who don’t treat her well. It started in middle school but later became a regular topic, especially with boyfriends.”

During Kathleen’s first year, Realmuto said she spent time with a group of friends known to use drugs. “She was spending less time in school. Her GPA had just gone down. She was getting offers for college and scholarships, and then her last year of high school was disastrous. She managed to graduate – but it was very different from her previous three years.”

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Realmuto tried to find treatment programs that could help his daughter deal with substance abuse. He kept running at a standstill, and eventually gave up. “Kathleen was not interested in the treatment,” he said. “This was 22 years ago. Treatment programs for cannabis use It wasn’t all accessible.”

Over the next few years, Kathleen’s drug use increased. She went to school, found a job, and eventually gave birth to a daughter, whom she loved dearly. Realmuto said she tried to reduce drug use for the sake of her child, but struggled, and the daughter eventually went to live full time with her father.

Kathleen Realmoto
Kathleen Realmuto

“I think one of the worst moments of her life was the feeling that she was so far off this drug route that the possibility of her getting custody of her daughter was nil,” Realmuto said. “I could only imagine the devastation she had experienced when I realized it.”

One day, Realmuto confronts his daughter. She told him, “I use methamphetamine every day,” he recalls. “I’ve used it for 10 years.”

Surprised and frightened, he again tried to convince Kathleen to seek treatment. “I was pissed off because I was asking about this,” Realmuto said. “She was upset. I said, ‘You need help.’ She said, ‘I don’t need help.'”

“As a parent and problem solver, that’s what I struggle with. I went over that schedule a million times at 3 AM, trying to figure out how this could be interrupted.”

By the time he learned of her methamphetamine dependence, Realmuto believes Kathleen was already so far into her addiction that it was nearly impossible for him to help turn her life around.

“I think about the different stages of a chemical addiction or drug abuse,” Realmuto said. “There’s experimental and recreational use and the time you’re still working, and then you start to suffer from dysfunction, and then you have a terminal phase.” He feared that his daughter might have reached the final stage of her addiction.

Later, when a friend of Kathleen calls to tell him he’s found her dead at her home from an apparent overdose, Realmuto says he’s heartbroken, but he’s not surprised. The pain still feels refreshing. “It’s been two and a half years,” Realmuto said. “Does not change.”

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Realmuto thinks he will always feel that way. Since Kathleen’s death, he has been involved in Nami Minnesota. He goes to fundraisers and talks to other parents who have also lost their children to addiction, overdoses and suicide. He seeks support and establishes relationships, but often develops an excruciating pain of frustration.

“There is no happy ending here,” Realmuto said. “It’s part of your life and it affects your life. Kathleen passed away in June. My mood changed in June. My second wife didn’t understand what was going on until I reminded her that I don’t sleep well. I remember these times with Kathleen.”

When people talk about finding “closure”, Realmuto is often scoffed at. He’s not a big believer in happy endings. “There is no shutdown,” he said. “Your child is gone. That’s just how things are.”

I’m not that perfect

In the statewide controversy over the legalization of marijuana, Realmuto . Since 2015, when the push to legalize cannabis started, he’s done it join other doctors in the state to express its reservations on this move.

“There has been a lot of controversy,” Realmuto said of the final step to legalizing medical cannabis. Doctors didn’t want anything to do with prescribing cannabis. We didn’t learn about it in school. We didn’t understand it. We knew it could have negative consequences.”

He is also concerned that the public does not understand that much of the cannabis available to consumers today has been grown Increased strength and addictive properties. He tries to make his colleagues and the general public realize that much of what is available for medical and recreational use today is available Nothing like marijuana that’s been around for decades. while he supports Decriminalization and erasure, would still like to see some of the controls.

“I work to manage people’s perceptions of cannabis safety,” Realmuto said. “When you read what I left out of the literature, you can see that it’s not what it used to be. The potency of cannabis was like beer. Now it’s more like everclear. ”

While his argument has its share of detractors, Realmuto and his psychiatric colleagues have also succeeded in getting their message across. Last December, when Minnesota Health Commissioner Ian Malcolm declared that the state It will not add anxiety disorders to the list of eligible conditions to treat with medical cannabis, Realmuto felt like she read position paper that Minnesota Psychiatric Association They were sent to her office.

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“When the commissioner made that statement, four of the five points you mentioned were the points we mentioned in our letter,” Realmuto said.

Dr. Alec Wedge

Realmuto’s colleagues at the University of Minnesota agree that his focus on cannabis comes from a deep desire to help young people. ““George is coming from the right place,” he said. Alec Wedge, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. “I may disagree with him on some points, but I think his advocacy has been beneficial to his patients. He is a good-hearted man in the right place.”

Wedge added that Realmuto is, “He tries to do what he thinks is really right for his patients. It follows the ethical perspective of,First, do not hurt. ”

Kaz Nelson Associate Professor of Psychiatry, also emphasized Realmuto’s long-standing commitment to his young patients. “I think he realizes that he is in a position of privilege and would not dream of squandering that when he can use his in-depth understanding of child and adolescent mental health. There is a mission driving his desire. He truly is an advocate for children.”

Dr. Kaz Nelson
Dr. Kaz Nelson

While he appreciates the support of his colleagues, Realmuto says his activism isn’t solely driven by altruism. “I’m not perfect,” he said. “I just read the literature. It is very convincing and it seems to me that science still doesn’t know much about it Cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. ”

“I’m doing this work because it’s interesting in and of itself,” he said. “If I were to think ‘I’m saving other kids,’ it would be a cause for my sadness. This is a tough place to be.”

He admits that he struggled to talk about his daughter in this story. “I knew I would be uncomfortable,” he said, but decided that the experience of talking at length about Kathleen might make him, at least for a moment, feel the way he did after he delivered the eulogy.

“I was almost free for 20 minutes,” he recalls. “I told 50 people what she meant to me and they had to sit there while I was going through my stories. It was very liberating.”

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