Medical Marijuana: A Personal Perspective

Recreational marijuana and medical marijuana (MM) are the same plant, but when it comes to application there is a great divide. Most people don’t really understand how medical marijuana works – unless you are on a MM program yourself, to get the real story you need to talk to someone who is. There’s a wide range of conditions that are treated with MM, from epilepsy to cancer. My interview is with “Sal,” a 48-year-old teacher, who has been part of the RI MM program since 2014.

Motif: What is your medical reason for using MM?

Sal: I have Crohn’s Disease.

Motif: What form of MM do you use?

Sal: Bud, inhaled. I’d actually prefer to use the edibles, but parts of my GI tract are damaged and I don’t break down fats well. The active ingredients in edibles are fat soluble, so I only get a fraction of the effect. Edibles mostly seem to act as a drag on my system and since fatigue is a problem with Crohn’s Disease, I don’t want anything making me more tired.

Motif: How much do you use daily?

Sal: Now that I’ve found the right balance of CBD to THC, I need very little — literally one hit three times a day. Morning, late afternoon and evening. I wouldn’t say that there is any point at which I get what you’d call “high.” I keep my levels pretty even. Everyone’s experience is probably different, but if I use too much, it just makes me foggy and unfocused. If I get it just right, I feel … normal.

Motif: How do you figure out which MM products work for you?

Sal: At the compassion centers, they have the CBD and THC percentages on everything they sell. The counselors there can advise you on the qualities of the active ingredients in MM, and which ones will work best for your condition. Most people need a combination, and it takes a bit of experimenting to get it right.

Motif: Were you ever on conventional medical treatment for Crohn’s Disease?

Sal: I was for a long time, because when I was first diagnosed 24 years ago, no one talked about MM at all. Marijuana was seen purely as a street drug, smoked by hippies and clubbers. My doctors put me on steroids, broad spectrum antibiotics and antispasmodics, but all of it had a horrible effect on me. First off, it didn’t really work. I still had lumps of inflamed tissue in my guts and a constant sensation of being hung with weights and walking under water. It felt as if silt was going through my veins. The doctors told me that there was a good chance I’d be on dialysis when I got in my 50s or 60s because of the damage all the drugs would do to my kidneys over time. I knew I had to find something else, and eventually I got off the drugs and developed a complex system of alternative care and self-healing practices. Pot was the one drug that I found I could not give up. Without it, I felt like there was a war going on between all the cells in my body. It might be part of the autoimmune thing. As long as I smoked pot, my body could function.

Motif: And what happens when you stop?

Sal: I feel a lot more pain, in my joints and in my gut. Knots start forming and it feels like I can’t breathe. There’s a gradual increase of inflammation that spreads into my hips and back and the nerves start hurting in my legs. It becomes painful to walk, and sometimes I can’t. I feel constant nausea and I just don’t want to eat, even when I’m starving, so I lose weight.

Motif: One use of MM that people are familiar with is for nausea from chemotherapy. Do you know anything about that?

Sal: A friend of mine recently had a lung removed and went through chemo. He told me that the edibles saved his life. They were the only thing that worked for pain control, fatigue and stopping the nausea.

Motif: What would you say to people who think MM is just an excuse to get high?

Sal: I’d say doubters should talk with some nurses at a cancer treatment center or with someone managing a chronic autoimmune disorder. Some forms of MM produce no high at all; there’s a CBD oil that’s given to children with epilepsy. People who use MM don’t use it to get high, although it does make us feel better. We use it to alleviate suffering and regain our quality of life. If your own physical and mental health is good, there’s no reason you’d understand what it’s like to have every day be a struggle. But some day maybe you will become the patient who wakes up every morning to relentless pain, depression and nausea. It can give you a whole new perspective.

Motif: Any parting words?

Sal: MM is a gift — for people who are suffering, it can literally give them back their lives. It’s going to be interesting to see how the recreational and medical realities of marijuana are going to play out as legalization spreads. I just hope the idiots don’t screw it up for the rest of us.

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