Medical Cannabis and Me

Former TV talk show host Montel Williams has been public and vocal about his use of medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis. This morning he appeared on a special edition of The Dr. Oz Show dedicated to the issue of legal medical cannabis. It was a heated discussion with each side of the debate expressing very strong opinions. I also have very strong opinions and for very personal reasons.

I have been a legal user of medical marijuana in the state of California for almost one year. But like many of us, my use of cannabis for pain management preceded my legalization. Here’s my story.

For nearly 40 years, from 1967 to 2005, and for 3 days of every month of every one of those years I suffered from extreme menstrual pain. On a pain scale of 1-10, mine went to 11. Early on, the doctor tried birth control, then narcotics, then heavy anti-inflammatories. These all worked in various small degrees with the main problem stemming from the extreme nausea my overly aggressive prostaglandins produced. It was hard to keep a pill down long enough for it to activate. And, believe me, overdosing on naprosin or ibuprofen does really bad things to your stomach. Mostly, all I could do was meditate, hallucinate, and wait for it to be over.

Despite having grown up during the Sixties, I never used pot or any other substance. No alcohol, no tobacco, no LSD. (At one point I decided I really needed to adopt a vice so as not to seem too Puritanical. I chose swearing, something I still love to do.) It wasn’t until moving to Santa Cruz, CA, where, yes, pot is easier to come by, that I found its miraculous power to ease menstrual pain.

I didn’t even know how to smoke; my husband had to coach me. But within minutes, the relief I found was dramatic. The pain was reduced, but more importantly the nausea was subdued enough for me to keep a few anti’s down. And I didn’t need to take as many so the stomach pain was also averted. I couldn’t believe how easily my pain could be managed. To this day (six years since my last period) I still grieve over the time I lost to pain and suffering during years. And for all the women today who are suffering needlessly. It really pisses me off.

Today I use medicann for chronic joint and muscle pain—maybe it’s fibromyalgia, maybe it’s something else. I know my sisters suffer from it as well and one of them uses medical marijuana for some relief. And, yes, it really does alleviate the pain that I wake with every morning making it possible for me to start working at 9 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. I have discovered that there are conditions for which it does not work for me: it doesn’t help migraines and it can exacerbate a panic attack. So I don’t use it for that.

On Dr. Oz this morning, they pointed out numerous ways that California medicann has grown into big business. But let me tell you about my experiences with the dispensaries in Santa Cruz County. These are small businesses, generally run by local entrepeneurs who have some sympathy for medicann users and the need for clean, safe sources of bud. This is important. California’s state forests are plagued by Mexican cartel growers who abuse the land by using heavy pesticides and destroying pristine nature preserves with plantations. Most local growers, by contrast—and perhaps by virtue of living in Santa Cruz—grow in small scale and use organic processes. I know my bud is clean and I know my purchases support local business

The dispensary I frequent is a small family-run business. Most of the people who manage the day-to-day work there are young but they are knowledgeable about the products and their effects and are friendly and compassionate. That’s a word you hear a lot at dispensaries: compassion. They want anyone who needs medicine to have it and will go out of their way to ensure this principle. If you cannot drive, they will bring it to you. If you cannot afford it, they will donate it (I know, I’ve been there). If you are a war vet or a senior, you can get discounts or donations. Compassion.

And I’ll tell you something else I’ve noticed. While most of the people running dispensaries are below 30 years, most of the people who are using medical marijuana are middle aged. The ones like me with chronic pain that traditional treatments can’t manage. Not strung out teenagers or crazed, bug-eyed puffers from Reefer Madness. Just regular working men and women who might be your neighbor or employer or cousin.

As for the accusations that smoking marijuana is dangerous for your lungs…there is no evidence that that’s true and it is in fact a very effective method. Addiction? Again, I personally know two people who have been regular users for decades but who can go long weeks and years without suffering withdrawal. I’ve never seen anyone be able to do that with cigarettes or alcohol.

Sure things are a bit messy right now as state’s figure out how to regulate the industry, but that will fall into place eventually. Meanwhile, why shouldn’t people in pain be given the opportunity to find relief from a safe and well-known substance? (Don’t forget, the underground industry and science of marijuana has way out-paced government research. We know a whole hell-of-a-lot already.) Don’t let the naysayers discourage you from supporting the legalization of medical cannabis. It could be that you will need it yourself one day and will be grateful for its presence.

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