Medical Marijuana - It's A Long Way To The Pharmacy by Brady Derrah
Thanks to medicinal marijuana I have been seizure free for over three years.
This is no small claim. Seizures are extreme events of the body. Planning your life around them is like living in San Francisco. You know the earthquake is about to happen, you just don’t know when. But with seizures, the earthquake hits, regularly. You dare not drive because you never know when the shock waves will seize your body and mind.
I was diagnosed with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy in March of 1991 after I began having grand mal seizures in 1990. My doctor, Thomas F. Clark, M.D., prescribed Dilantin for three years but the seizures continued. He switched me to the drug Tegretol in March of 1994 which lengthened the period between the seizures—but I continued to have them. The Tegretol dose was then increased, resulting in slightly longer seizure-free periods. But still, I regularly continued to experience these convulsive, disorienting shocks to my body and mind.
Finally, on my birthday (Jan. 13 1997), I made a resolution to find a way to live seizure-free so that I could get on with my life.
I had previously smoked 2-3 grams of marijuana per week (medically supervised) as an adjunct to pharmaceutical drug therapy, and I was sure this helped control my seizures. But how much? The only way to find out was to use my own body as a laboratory for the experiment. For me, the stakes were high: I wanted to go to college. I wanted to have a “normal” life, something you take for granted unless you’re prevented from it.
In the three years leading up to my birthday resolution, between January, 1993 and December, 1996, I had experienced six seizures, each about half a year apart from the next. These seizures all occurred on days that I did not smoke any marijuana. My last seizure had been on December 15, 1996, and I resolved to make that the last seizure ever.
My birthday resolution was to smoke 2-3 grams each day (not just each week) of high-grade “skunk-bud” marijuana, in combination with my other therapies, carefully assessing the results of this course of treatment as I began striving to achieve my dreams. Here is what I found.
In order to live seizure-free, there are four factors that I MUST do EVERY day. First, I must have a regular sleeping pattern (meaning I have to sleep at night and be awake during the day, and I can’t stay awake for two days without sleeping). Second, I must have a regular eating pattern (I have to eat at least two times a day, and I can’t go for a whole day without eating).
Third, I must rigorously take my Tegretol at regular intervals to keep my blood-level of Tegretol elevated (I have to take 400 mg. when I wake up in the morning at 8:00 a.m., 400 mg. in the afternoon at 2:00 p.m., and 600 mg. before bed at 8:00. p.m.). Fourth, I must smoke up to a gram of high grade marijuana three times a day (at the same times I take my Tegretol, I inhale five good sized bong hits).
To date, I have now gone over three years without a seizure. If I adhere daily, without fail, to the four behaviors described above, I won’t have any seizures. Not being a doctor, I do not know exactly what the marijuana does to prevent my seizures, but I know without a doubt that marijuana is one of the four daily practices necessary to prevent me from having them.
The marijuana helps me in other ways too. First, after taking my Tegretol, the marijuana settles my stomach. Second, the marijuana makes me hungry so I can eat regularly. Third, the marijuana helps me get to sleep so I can sleep regularly. Thus, marijuana is helpful as an adjunct therapy to the other three therapies—taking my meds, eating, and sleeping.
Every new day when I wake up and each night when I go to bed without having had a seizure, I thank God for creating such an important medicine. It lets me live my life.
Other Dreams Come True I started college in September, 1997, a dream impossible to conceive of during the years I was having seizures. Here I discovered yet another positive side-effect of marijuana use—how it aids me scholastically. I find that it relaxes me so I don’t get uptight, discouraged or in a hurry. The marijuana makes me think about what I need to get done and takes away the feeling of being overwhelmed. I relax and get motivated to accomplish what I need to. Contrary to all the hype and exaggeration of its debilitating effect on behavior, I find that it aids in mental focus on the task at hand. In short, beyond the part medicinal marijuana plays in controlling seizures so I can attend college in the first place, I am convinced that the 2-3 grams of marijuana that I smoke each day has helped me give my mother the best Christmas present in years, all “A”s, a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Double Standards Are Crazy Oregon, along with six other states, has provided a solution for me to get the medicine I need. Oregon voters passed a law which “allows” me to grow my own medicinal marijuana at my home. And I am appreciative of this, as far as it goes. But that word “allow” is a misnomer. The correct word would be “force.” Medicinal marijuana is the only medicine that patients are forced to produce themselves.
This requirement raises a burning question for me. If I am legally controlling my epilepsy with medicinal marijuana, why am I expected to grow and process my own medicine? Patients who are prescribed morphine for pain are not told to grow their own poppies. That would be absurd. A rational person wouldn’t even suggest it. No, those patients, like all patients, get their prescription from their doctor and fill them at a pharmacy. So why should I not be allowed to get my medicine from a pharmacy? Why the double standard?
I’ve heard some War On Drug (WOD) spokesmen say that putting medicinal marijuana in the pharmacies would make it easily accessible to anyone. It would send “the wrong message” to youth. It would cost too much money. Some actually purport to believe that the “alternative” solutions to the “problem” of medicinal marijuana—such as growing your medicine at home, having the federal government fill prescriptions through the mail, or having personal physicians dispense medicinal marijuana to their patients from their offices—make better sense than legally dispensing the medicine through a pharmacy. Such notions are ridiculous. A moment of reflection is all it takes to become convinced that putting medicinal marijuana in the pharmacies is truly the best solution.
I’ll grant that the WOD warriors are right about the first part. Making medicinal marijuana available in pharmacies does indeed make it more easily accessible—to those people who legitimately need it. Marijuana should be treated like any other powerful medicine. Doctors would first prescribe it for their patients, and then, in a more sensible world, their patients would get it at the pharmacy. No one would be able to just walk up and get it over-the-counter. Having a doctor’s prescription means that you must first be examined, then diagnosed. Your doctor must decide that medicinal marijuana would be a helpful therapy for your condition. None of this procedure is different from the system currently employed to control thousands of other pharmaceutical preparations available in pharmacies.
Jocelyn Elders (former Surgeon General) agrees that marijuana needs to be in the pharmacies. She writes, “It is criminal to keep this medicine from patients.” It is much easier and safer for doctors and pharmacists to regulate the strength and dosage than for someone to have to guess it themselves. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, MD., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, also advocates the normalization of medicinal marijuana. In a recent interview, Dr. Grinspoon said, “The government is unwilling to admit that marijuana can be a safe and effective medicine because of a stubborn commitment to wild exagger-ation of its dangers. Far from believing that medical availability of marijuana would open the way to other uses, we take the view that free availability of cannabis may be the only way to make its judicious medical use possible.”
Growing Marijuana as Medicine I was one of the first 22 people that the state of Oregon licensed to cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes. But getting the license is only the beginning. People don’t realize all of the factors involved in growing marijuana. Consider, for starters, such factors as space, time, knowledge, and money. I am confounded by these problems even as I write this, even as you read these words. Space is the first concern. Due to the problem of herbal theft, growing marijuana requires a garage, a basement, an extra room, or at least a closet in order to grow the plant indoors. If criminalization didn’t create such an illicit social demand for the plant, I could much more naturally, and with a lot less hassle, grow it out of doors, like any other shrub. Next, it takes time, several months in fact, to get high quality, dried, smokeable marijuana. I personally have had my license for nine months, yet I am far from harvesting my medicine—and remember, this is a medicine I use every day. Where am I supposed to find a reliable source for this medicine while I wait for my seeds to germinate, grow, and flower? The next issue is experience. There are so many gardening questions when it comes to growing marijuana. It takes years of horticultural experience to be able to consistently produce high-grade marijuana. Last but not least, there’s money. It takes a lot of money to pay for the many items necessary to grow medicinal strength marijuana. It starts with the $150.00 a year I must pony up just for the state license. Doing a good job of growing potent marijuana can require thousands of dollars for all of the equipment. I myself have spent almost $600.00 and I have barely begun.
Though I am a capable young person, I’ve had a hard time getting started growing my legal medicine. If it’s this difficult for me, imagine how hard it would be for the little old lady languishing in a nursing home with little money and few friends or relatives. Her doctor tells her that she’ll live for five more years comfortably if she just smokes a little marijuana once in awhile. How is she supposed to grow her own medicine? Her predicament makes her one of the millions of victims of the unintended consequences of our country’s War of Drugs. She should rightfully be able to fill her prescription at her pharmacy, as she does her other prescriptions.
Confronting the Myth of Marijuana I vehemently take exception with the claim that putting medicinal marijuana in the pharmacy gives youth the wrong message about drugs. Thousands of powerful drugs are dispensed through pharmacies without giving “the wrong message.” If we treat marijuana as it should be treated, as a medicine, then the youth of our society will also treat it as a medicine and be less likely to abuse it as a recreational drug.
At last year’s Hemp-Fest in Harrisburg, Oregon, I took an informal poll. I asked everyone I met, “At what age did you first try marijuana?” The youngest had it introduced to him as a medicine by his mother at age nine. He has used it only twice since, strictly for medicinal purposes. He is now twenty-five years old. I think his story is indicative of how many young people would react to treating marijuana as a medicine rather than a recreational drug if our society had a rational relationship with it.
America is schizophrenic about this herb. We outlaw marijuana as a drug and condemn people to prison for its possession, yet we classify it as a medicine and license citizens to grow and use it. We don’t allow prescriptions to be filled in pharmacies, yet people with the power of policy-making offer “solutions” such as having the federal government mail out the medicine or having doctors fill their patients’ prescriptions from their offices. Not only are these ideas costly but they are fraught with the possibility for corruption. There is a reason we have a pharmacy system in this country. It is to regulate powerful but beneficial medicines in such a way as to make their use safe, effective and uncorrupted. What are the people in power thinking?
Let’s get real about this, and consider the alternatives. The answer is as simple as it is elegant. To offset the costs for local, state, and federal governments, we could implement the plan that would have gone into effect if the ballot measure to legalize marijuana had passed in 1987. The Oregon state government took bids from companies to grow, package, and distribute marijuana. Although the plan was discontinued when the ballot did not pass, it was augmented long enough to prove its feasibility. Not only would this offset costs but it would create a profit for all governments—local, state, and federal.
Sane Social Policy All the prohibition laws, the distorted facts and the contorted logic surrounding this powerful herb serve only to confuse people, especially the young, and force people to focus on exactly those characteristics of the plant that are the least beneficial to our society. It is a tragic irony that criminalization of marijuana has made our society act criminally towards its citizens. Our nation routinely damages and destroys millions of lives of young people whose only “crime” was possession. At the same time, society uncompassionately withholds a beneficial medicine from many suffering people who need it. We need to rethink this whole thing. Proving the bumper-sticker wisdom, “When the people lead, the leaders follow,” voters across the nation have already begun the process through ballot initiative, and Oregon is a leader among states on this issue.
I challenge you to think about the social benefits of medicinal marijuana and the crazy double standard that prevents it from being in pharmacies. If you agree with me that something should be done about it, write me c/o Alternatives, or send a letter to your newspaper editor. Perhaps it’s time for another ballot measure to pick up where the last one left off. It’s a long road back to sane social policy and this is only one step along the way.
Brady Derrah is a 31 year old student who lives in Albany, Oregon.