Coming Out of the Closet: My Experience with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program

OREGON: This past week saw groundbreaking events take place in the drug policy reform movement. Most notable were Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary CNN ‘Weed;’ Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement of plans to change to the federal sentencing guidelines that could reduce the number of people in federal prisons for low-level drug law violations; federal Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling that the New York Police Department’s stop-and frisk policies are unconstitutional; and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s announcement that he would allow “edible” medical marijuana products to be used by minors for treating life-threatening illnesses.

While these events can certainly be seen by those of us as activists in the drug policy reform movement as being positive signs that we are winning this battle, we can’t lose site of the fact that there is still a way to go.

In my opinion, it is time for those of us who are medical marijuana users to come out of the proverbial closet and let our elected officials know who we are. And so it is now time to tell you my story.

I am a 63 year old woman who has used marijuana for medical purposes on an almost daily basis for more than 30 years.

On June 28, 1971, I was riding my motorcycle to my nursing job when a lady who by her own admission had two glasses of wine with her friends during lunch, hit me directly with her car when she thought she could beat me across the street. My last thoughts were bouncing off her windshield and flying through the air landing in a McDonald’s parking lot (the tar burns still remain on my arm).

I ended up in the ICU where my ‘significant’ injuries consisted of breaking most of the bones in my face, shattering the bone in my upper left arm and breaking several vertebrae in my lower back. By evening, the swelling in my face had increased to the point where it was cutting off my airway, so an emergency tracheostomy was performed so I could breathe. The doctors told my family it was only a matter of time before I died, so they essentially hooked me up to a morphine pump to manage the pain and waited for the end to come.

Being the stubborn person that I am, I somehow managed to pull through and they began to patch me up. They used my high school graduation picture to reconstruct my face. Multiple surgeries were done to my arm which included the insertion of a steel plate and a number of screws.   Because the breaks to my vertebrae were “clean,” it was decided that no surgery would be done, but I was warned that this was going to cause some serious problems in the future and I would be living with pain for the rest of my life.

It didn’t take long before I developed osteoarthritis in my back and was taking a number of prescription pain meds and muscle relaxers. The doses needed frequent adjustment as anyone with chronic pain issues can tell you, you quickly develop a tolerance for the meds and they no longer work the way they initially did.

Let me mention a bit about living with chronic pain. Every day of my life since my accident, I wake up not wondering “if” I will be in pain today, but rather “how much” pain I will be in and how I will manage it today. There are some days that are better than others. But there are also the days when I literally have to crawl to the bathroom as I can’t stand on my feet when I first get out of bed. However, a lot of people are under the impression that all you have to do to manage chronic pain is to take a pill or just “suck it up.” If only it were that simple.

My experience with marijuana did not begin until after my accident. There were two good reasons for this. First, there was no marijuana available in the Midwest when I was a teen that I was aware of. But the real reason was because of my Dad. My Dad immigrated to this country from Austria – and boy did he love the U.S.A. He never doubted any public policy and he certainly believed that you followed the laws. Dad saw everything as being “black and white” – the idea of a grey area was something he wouldn’t even entertain. So if my Dad had known that I smoked pot, he would have personally called the police and had me arrested – even as an adult!

Fortunately, we had a chance to talk about this whole marijuana issue when my Dad became terminally ill but he still remained steadfast in his belief that while marijuana may have some benefit, you can’t use it as it’s against the law.

Certainly I would not be honest if I tried to say that my first experience with marijuana was for medical reasons. I liked getting “comfortably numb” as much as my friends. But I noticed one real benefit. When I smoked marijuana, the pain was better.

Over time, I conducted my own “clinical trials” and found that if I smoked marijuana, I didn’t need as many prescription meds. And unlike the prescription meds, with marijuana, I did not experience the stomach upsets, constipation or other side-effects I did with the prescription drugs.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam on many occasions. When I’m there and have access to reasonably priced, high quality marijuana, I don’t need pain meds or muscle relaxers.

In 2006 I had a period where I was hospitalized for 6 weeks with endocarditis and some kind of growth in my lower back that increased the pain to the point that I was unable to walk. To ease the pain, the doctors inserted a morphine pump. Clearly I could not use any marijuana while hospitalized but I did make an observation. Even with all the morphine being pumped into me, the pain did not entirely go away.

When I was finally able to go home, I was now using a walker and wearing a morphine patch and had prescriptions to take six Vicodin a day along with a potent muscle relaxer twice a day. (Did I mention that I have a very high tolerance to medication?) As soon as I was once again able to get back into my regime of smoking marijuana a few times a day, I didn’t need the patch and soon was able to cut the Vicodin down to 4 a day and I can now walk with use of a cane.

So for me, I don’t need any more scientific studies – I know that marijuana works for me.

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