My journey down the path of cannabis discovery is like many medical patients. Symptoms led to doctor visits, which lead to failed therapies, and desperate hope for answers. Mine is a story of chronic pain, long suffering, and above all, hope.
In 1996, I was working in a local hospital and walking to deliver some specimens from the ER when a sharp pain shot across my head causing me to lose consciousness. Nearby nurses and doctors rushed to my aid and when I woke up I found myself a patient instead of an employee. After a series of tests were conducted, a brain tumor was discovered – an Acoustic Neuroma.
Surgery was planned a month out and I was given instructions to attend to my affairs. I drew up a living will and talked to family members about caring for my children if I should pass away. At 24, this was a very harsh reality. I became very angry at God as the surgery date grew closer. The night before, I paced my little apartment. I didn’t want my last moments on this plane of existence to be spent sleeping. I watched my children, five and three at the time, so peacefully resting. I cried and I raged. I stayed awake all night. Finally the time came, and I had to start preparing for the hospital.
Surgery was not without its complications. While I was under, a blood vessel was hit and I started to hemorrhage. After nine hours in surgery the doctors got the bleeding under control. However, with 60% of the tumor remaining, the decision was made to leave it intact to avoid the risk of further complications. I slipped into a coma and awoke several days later with a host of complications. I had also suffered a stroke resulting in left-sided weakness, speech and swallowing complications, and issues with coordination and balance. I had some facial drooping and hearing loss in my left ear. I remained in the ICU for 9 days. I was lucky. I was alive.
Recovery didn’t come very quickly.
About 15 months after surgery, still suffering from complications, the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia came. That was added to the already growing list of complex migraines, Occipital and Trigeminal Neuralgia. Pain. Chronic pain was the daily norm.
I missed out on chunks of my children’s lives, as well as my own. I missed out on concerts, games, birthdays, outings, holidays, and vacations. My kids did not have a healthy mom.
In the winter of 2012, I started to decline. I was hit with an especially bad bout of pain and was unable to walk unassisted. I became bedridden. The nausea had become so bad, I wasn’t eating. I started losing weight very quickly and my health rapidly declined. My husband took me to our family doctor where I first mentioned the words “medical cannabis” to a physician. I wanted to try it, but was reminded of the illegality of the substance. The doctor told us about a pain clinic that could prescribed Marinol, an FDA approved synthetic version of THC. THC is one of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant known to help with pain and nausea. I started the therapy and at first it seemed to help, but after two weeks the side effects were too much to endure. This was not an option I could pursue.
Frustrated by another failed drug therapy, I turned to the internet for answers. I came across a multitude of blogs, articles, and forums discussing the differences between Marinol and real cannabis. I wasn’t alone. Other patients had experienced the same poor reaction. But the failings of Marinol led these people to investigate the natural plant. Many were documenting the success they were having.
I reached out to my father, a retired narcotics officer. I told him what was happening with my health and my desire to try the plant as a remedy. We discussed the news coverage and movement happening in states across the country. With heartfelt support he encouraged me to try. This was an important supporter for me. I expressed my concern about being in an illegal state. With a bit of humor, he reassured me I would be able to find a “bag.” That in itself was an adventure but I was able to obtain a sample. Within seconds the nausea subsided. After two weeks, I was able to get out of bed and start walking with the assistance of my cane again. I continued with my trigger point injections coupled with my new herbal medication as improvements continued to manifest themselves. Within a few months, I stopped going to the pain clinic altogether. In 6 months, I was driving. By 8 months after starting this new therapy, I was walking the halls of my state’s capitol trying to learn how a citizen gets a law passed. I couldn’t just be someone who used it. I had to become an advocate for other patients like me.
I am not scared to tell my story but I am afraid of losing my kids over something that is helping me. I am a better mother now than I was when I was sick and I don’t think I should be punished for that. My children absolutely love the mother they get to have now; active, pharmaceutical free, and present. I just wanted my health back. Unwilling to give that up, I have started advocating here in my state because nobody should have to be a medical refugee; nobody should have to run away from their home and support system in fear of reprisal.
I want people to understand that I did not set out looking for a treatment from cannabis – it was my last resort. I went through forty-five different pharmaceuticals over the past decade and a half. I believe cannabis should be an option from the start. If we truly want to address our opioid crisis in our country and state, adopting a patient program is ideal.
I think people need to see a different face of medical cannabis users. They need to see that it is their mother and father, their sisters and brothers, their grandparents and extended family, dear friends and neighbors. Human beings suffer. If suffering is the human condition, then compassion is the cure.
It’s been a long and painful road, but I know this is where I am supposed to be.
I was formally diagnosed with a severe degenerative condition in 2012. I had been struggling with upper back and neck pain for years. I sought the best advice I could afford through private health insurance, consulting with some of the top professionals in orthopedic surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, allergy, rheumatology, physiatry, anesthesia, as well as a few non-traditional options like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage therapy, and floating therapy.
All of these specialties helped me to better understand my condition and help limit its progression, but I continued to suffer deteriorating chronic and often intense pain. As I was living in Seattle at the time, I inquired with one of my physicians into the newly legal medical cannabis. I was surprised by her encouragement and decided to give it serious consideration, and was eventually prescribed medical cannabis for help in treating my condition.
I was very impressed with what I learned about medical cannabis, and I personally cannot think of anything I could find wrong with it from a health perspective. It really helped me with some very significant pain, and I recovered more health in Seattle than I did at any time I can recall since my diagnosis.
In September of 2014, I lost consciousness and collapsed at work. Soon after, I began to experience urinary incontinence while sleeping and awake. Worst of all, I began having moments of disorientation and dizziness to where I could not walk, several times a day. During these episodes I would forget where I was and my vision would effectively prevent me from walking.
Prior to this point in time, I was being treated for undiagnosed seizures and convulsions with a maximum dosage of two dangerous drugs. After meeting with several neurologists and after many expensive tests, I was formally diagnosed with epilepsy. I also received the news that years of suppressing seizures with prescription medications had left me with severe gastrointestinal damage. This damage had essentially destroyed my ability to benefit from medications that are absorbed through normal gastrointestinal processes, and I am still working with a full gastrointestinal team in repairing my gut.
Every morning I start my day with severe nausea and vomiting, and cannot eat until the afternoon. I have to set alarms to wake myself up during the night so that I can take the medications that allow my digestive system to accept the anti-epileptics that I need to take every morning. I have to continue this difficult treatment route because Utah law requires multiple therapies before a person can even submit an application for CBD oil. These drugs come with side effects, including one that brings a 6% chance of death directly related to the drug, but it is a better option than non-treatment and losing my disability subsidy. A side effect of another drug I was prescribed is an increased risk of suicide. I tried but was thankfully unsuccessful. How I survived my attempt at leaving this awful situation, I still don’t know. I stopped the drug immediately and the awful thoughts of suicide quickly faded away. Many of the other drugs carry similarly unpleasant side effects, any one of which, can significantly lessen a person’s quality of life.
As recently as 2013 I had been a personal trainer and nutrition coach, with a BS in Human Performance/Wellness and Nutrition, but my condition has left me without the ability to pursue my passion of physical wellness and health. I have been unable to keep my weight up, and just over one year ago I was in the hospital, weighing in at a meager 125 lbs. It was around this time that my girlfriend told me about full flower cannabis oil, and I decided to tried it.
Now, thanks in part to cannabis, I am back up to 180 lbs. However, I still cannot drive, am home-bound, and struggling to get healthcare coverage and disability assistance. I still have to take pharmaceuticals to show my disability application that I am legally trying to be healthy, while also struggling in an illegal, uncontrolled, and inconsistent environment to get the care that works.
Additionally, cannabis is still highly stigmatized in society, due in part, to its legal status, and medicinal use can come with negative societal repercussions that someone might not consider given the obvious legal risks. After discovering the benefits of cannabis, I wanted to help spread the word about its potential to help others. My name was in a local Utah news article about cannabis policy reform efforts. Certain people within my family circle jumped to conclusions and made assumptions resulting in my separation from my three sons. Threats of legal action have prevented me from asserting my parental rights or even being allowed to spend time with my youngest son. He recently turned one and it has been months since I last saw him. I love being a dad. It is my first and greatest joy in life. But because of the legal status of the only substance that gives me relief from my illness, I am unable to be the father to my sons that they need and deserve. I can’t seem to escape some form of pain – it’s either heartbreak (when I’m healthy but prevented from being with my family), or heartbreak AND physical pain (when my health prevents me from being a father to my sons). Unfortunately, my only defense against this is Medical Legalization.
Although my struggle continues, there are many bright spots in my life. The time I get to spend with my two oldest sons is no longer marred as badly by my seizures and other health issues. When I spend time with them now, we are creating good memories of being together, happy and relatively healthy. My condition is still something that is constantly in the foreground of whatever I do, and sometimes it takes over for a time, but cannabis has at least given me back a portion of my life that I can enjoy, appreciate, and share with my family. I am not afraid to continue sharing my story and lending my voice to those of others in furtherance of change and compassion. I am a better person and a better father because of this plant. Let’s legalize it so that I and countless others can reach our full potential and live life without the fear of prosecution or being ostracized by society.
As a member of the LDS Church, I seek to live my life by its standards. But over the last several years, I’ve been faced with a challenge.
In May 2012, I was walking underneath a stage during a campus activity. It was dark, and I couldn’t see the 12-foot pit in front of me. I fell, breaking my neck and back after hitting my head on a steel beam and the concrete bottom. Since my injury, I’ve had spinal and vertebrae complications, arthritis, fibromyalgia and constant moderate to severe pain.
I tried a variety of medications, but nothing brought substantial relief, and many of the prescription opioids left me immobile and unable to function. After a year and a half of going to pain clinics and specialists, I tried medical cannabis. It relieved my pain more effectively than anything I had tried, and I was able to completely transition off of opioids.
Last year, my wife and I decided to get married. We wanted to be married in an LDS temple, and to do so, we had to follow several standards, including abstaining from all illegal substances. This meant I had to stop using medical cannabis and go back to the prescription opioids that clouded my life. I did so, and we were able to be married in accordance with our LDS faith.
That was a sacrifice I was willing to make, but the experience has led me to become involved in the movement for reform. Before getting married, I was told that if I had lived in another state where medical cannabis was legal, then I would have been able to be married in the temple. I know there are other LDS members who seek relief from medical cannabis but want to do not want to deviate from our community’s principles and teachings; this is why I’m fighting for policy reform.
In Utah, it’s been an uphill battle. Some progress was initially made, and our state allows cannabidiol (CBD), a type of medical cannabis that does not contain tetrahydracannabinol (THC), to be used by patients who suffer from extreme epilepsy. This is good news for those patients; the problem is, the state failed to legalize the production or sale of medical cannabis in Utah. This forces patients to travel across borders to states where it is legal, a process that is not only expensive and onerous but also extremely legally risky.
Another issue with Utah’s CBD law is that by restricting access to only patients with severe epilepsy, our Legislature excludes countless other patients — including myself — who suffer from other afflictions. Furthermore, by restricting medical cannabis to include only CBD but not THC, Utah lawmakers are limiting the potential healing powers of this plant. Research shows that medical cannabis containing CBD and THC more powerfully treats symptoms of chronic pain, Parkinson’s, arthritis and a host of other issues than just CBD can alone.
Last but not least, despite the fact that Utah and 14 other states have CBD laws, and 28 more states plus the District of Columbia have full medical cannabis programs, all types of cannabis — medical, CBD, or otherwise — remain illegal at the federal level. This means that anyone in Utah who uses medical cannabis legally under Utah law is still at risk of federal prosecution.
In Utah, we will continue working toward a medical cannabis policy that expands medical cannabis access to every patient that seeks its relief and allows for all compounds of the cannabis plant to be present.
On the federal level, there is also an opportunity for reform. The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, currently in the U.S. Senate, would protect any individual using medical cannabis in compliance with his or her state’s laws from federal prosecution. Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch should take this opportunity to join in the bipartisan coalition of support for this bill by signing on as cosponsors. The CARERS Act heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Hatch and Lee both holding a spot on this committee, their support would be crucial in moving forward with this important piece of legislation that would help patients in Utah and across the country.
We need laws that reflect the needs of people, safe needs that are supported by science. Every Utahn, including LDS members, deserves access to medical treatment and to be protected by the law.
Brian’s story was published as an Op-Ed article in Salt Lake Tribune: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/3875808-155/op-ed-utah-patients-need-safe-legal
My story starts in the late 1970’s, when I started suffering from pain in my leg. As time went on I ignored the pain and hoped it would eventually go away. I tried to get relief from almost every source one can think of: chiropractic, acupuncture, Rolfing, massage therapy, physical therapy and any other I could find. I refused to turn to drugs.
That all changed in 2005, when the pain got so bad I could no longer function normally. I caved in and decided to explore the opiate route. I had no idea where that road would eventually lead. I will say that narcotics have their place, just not in the treatment of chronic pain.
I began taking morphine and eventually found myself on 400+mg per day. Still, the pain was there… I just didn’t care anymore. I was a zombie. I took narcotics of varying types for 9 years and finally decided to get off them. I was lucky because although I did become dependent on them, I was never a typical addict wanting to get high. I just wanted relief. After nine years I’d had enough. I checked myself into detox and haven’t looked back.
Let’s look at some of the lasting side effects of narcotic use, at least for me. I am told that it will take 1 to 3 years for my body to rid itself of the damage that isn’t permanent. Because narcotics dry the mouth of the essential fluids needed to keep teeth healthy, I lost my teeth. My entire GI tract has lost almost all its ability to function. Narcotics stop the motility of your intestines. Take them long enough and you will spend the rest of your life on laxatives. Trust me, I know. I also suffer from nervous disorders. Narcotics affect the Central Nervous System and can lead to involuntary twitching and spasms.
Another huge potential side effect is immunosuppression. In 2014 I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While I can’t directly relate that to narcotic use, it would seem a likely culprit. A few of the other things I have found that have effected me are reduced energy and drive, reduced fertility, reduced libido, and testosterone depletion. I’ve experienced all of these things. Further, I have been told by a doctor that as the narcotics leave my system over the next couple of years, the pain I do have will be much more intense as a result of pain receptors being compromised over the years.
When I had cancer in 2014 I used cannabis to help with the nausea. But it came with an interesting side effect: it was helping with my pain. It didn’t just mask the pain like the narcotics did. It took it away and I became functional again.
I will never be the same person I was or could have been. Narcotic use will continue to haunt me throughout life with nerve damage, intestinal issues, cognitive issues, and even joint and muscular issues. But I am quite lucky, all things considered. I didn’t die. How many others will not be so lucky before we learn there are better treatments?
My name is Doug Rice. I am a recently retired firefighter paramedic, with over 30 years of experience in pre-hospital emergency medicine. During my career, I served as a structural firefighter, industrial firefighter, paramedic, hazardous materials technician, EMS Instructor, Fire Officer, and was “red card” certified as a wildland firefighter. I was also certified as a Level 2 fire service instructor, a Level 1 fire investigator, and carried numerous certification levels for major incident management (NIMS/IS 100, 200, 300, 400, 700, 800). After 5 years as a part time firefighter and 28 years full time, I retired in July 2016 at the rank of captain, which I held for 19 years. I was also a member of FEMA Utah Task Force 1, and responded to Ground Zero at the World Trade Center with the task force in September 2001. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 that has been linked to my time at Ground Zero.
I have been married to my wife, Julie, for over 30 years. I am a resident of Salt Lake County, and have resided in Cottonwood Heights, Murray, Midvale, South Jordan and currently West Jordan. Julie and I have one child, who was born disabled. And that is why I am here.
Our daughter, 24-year-old Ashley, suffers from Angelman’s Syndrome. As part of her disability, Ashley has Epilepsy, which has responded very poorly to pharmaceuticals. Using prescription medications to “control” her seizures, Ashley was still having between 8 and 24 seizures each day, usually 2 to 5 minutes in length (plus a recovery period after each seizure). With the help of CBD, the severity and length of her seizures has been reduced, and she currently experiences 3 to 6 seizures of less than one minute, each day. Julie and I have purchased a Utah State Hemp Registry card to allow Ashley to use CBD legally.
In 2015, we began investigating the use of “whole plant” cannabis, or at least something more than the narrow use of CBD that had been recently legalized in Utah. So while on a trip to Colorado that year, we decided to try adding THC to Ashley’s daily CBD, with great results: Ashley had her first seizure-free day in years. That was eye-opening to us, since we had never considered cannabis (whole plant) as a viable treatment for epilepsy.
That trip was both good and bad: while we had great control of her Epilepsy, the seizures increased upon return to Utah, where we could not possess THC without the threat of losing my government job and paramedic certification. Loss of my job would leave our family without health insurance.
A lot of friends suggested we move to Colorado or just break the law and use higher THC oil here. But…being in my late 50’s, I understood there was little chance of getting hired in Colorado as a firefighter… it’s a very competitive job even among young people in their 20’s. The opportunity to move to Colorado to treat Ashley with THC just wasn’t presenting itself.
More investigation led me to discover cannabis was helping more than just Epileptics—a lot of neurological disorders, such as MS, MD, and many cancers were responding well to cannabis as part of the treatment. Many patients were replacing opioid pain relievers with cannabis, either as ingested oil, or by smoking it. Gastric disorders were also responding to cannabis. So many people were seeing improved health and quality of life simply by adding cannabis, I was astonished.
We decided we needed to help change things in Utah, for people who couldn’t pull up their entire life and trudge east to a cannabis friendly state. As you can probably imagine, I am a passionate advocate of medicinal cannabis, and I have lobbied for expanding Charlee’s Law to include other patients besides epileptics, and to allow for greater access to more cannabis than simply CBD. I worked a little with Epilepsy Association of Utah as they fought for the use of CBD in epileptics. I’ve grown more passionate about helping people with Epilepsy and have become more involved in EAU. So in addition to working with TRUCE, I currently serve as vice president of Epilepsy Association of Utah.
I should also explain that I was with my mom when she died of cancer in 2009. My wife lost her mom to lung cancer in 2013. That trip to Colorado in 2015 was to attend the memorial for a brother firefighter who died of advanced prostate cancer in March 2015. I bring this up to compare these cancer deaths: my mom was comatose when she passed; she spent the last weeks of her life in a morphine-induced coma in a hospital as the cancer killed her. She never spoke to me that last week, but raised her eyebrows (without opening her eyes) to acknowledge my voice when I spoke to her. My fellow firefighter, on the other hand, was in Colorado. He was using cannabis for pain relief because the use of morphine was killing him. His body was shutting down from the use of morphine, and the pain from his cancer was not being controlled. With his doctor’s assistance, he turned to cannabis. My friend was stage 4 in 2009. He died in March 2015. Two days before his death, we Skyped with him and his wife; he looked tired, but we had a deep, emotional conversation. He was able to smile. And his words made sense. I mention this because of the stark comparison: my mom in a morphine coma and my buddy having a lucid conversation with me, hours before dying. And THAT is the difference between pharmaceuticals and cannabis—the quality of life cannot remotely be compared.
Todd Moon (son, Jeremiah)
My son Jeremiah Moon was born into this world with a number of medical complications. Since his birth he has had upper and lower gastrointestinal complications. We have spent his entire life trying to find answers on to how best help him. There were many trips to Primary Children’s Hospital as well as many different doctors and specialists with a myriad of tests over the years.
At the age of 12 he had his gall bladder removed. As puberty set in his intestinal issues increased, and he was eventually diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As he progressed into his later teenage years he was also diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and frequent bouts of pancreatitis. As all of these medial issues compounded and complicated his life he also began suffering with social anxiety. As he entered into high school some friends introduced him to cannabis and told him it would help with his medical problems. He tried using it and found great relief as a result.
Eventually, as many parents do, I discovered his use of cannabis. As a parent who had grown up as a very conservative LDS church member, I was unwilling to even consider allowing him to use cannabis. We sat down and talked about the legal ramifications and told him that his only option was to go back to the doctors and get current tests and find legal prescriptions to deal with his medical issues. Once he stopped using cannabis his medical condition worsened. Seizures became a new problem to add to his medical issues. He tried using all of the standard medications for seizures but the side effects were horrendous and did not control his seizures. His seizures became more frequent as the years progressed to the point of five grand mal seizures each week and many smaller seizures on a daily basis.
During one particular seizure, as he fell he hit his shoulder on a shoe box in our utility room that separated his should and tore up his ligaments in his arm. He has gone through physical therapy which has helped give back some limited use of his right arm. After Utah legalized CBD oil, my son went to his neurologist at the U of U and completed the paper work to legally use CBD oil. We as family have decided that he will only use medications that are legally prescribed to him. We do live close to Colorado so from time to time we do travel and stay in Colorado for a period of time. While we are in Colorado my son is allowed to use cannabis with THC. The results are dramatic and the effects are immediate. The IBS and Crohn’s symptoms go away and he has no seizures while using cannabis with THC. I as father began to see the benefits of cannabis for my son’s medical conditions. This simple plant can replace a slew of medications that he now takes to try and regulate his medical conditions.
I grew up when the War on Drugs was in full play and heard all of the stories on why cannabis would destroy your life. I have grown up as a conservative active member of the LDS church and had been very opposed to any type of drug that was not legally prescribed. As I began researching CBD and cannabis alternatives and its potential benefits I also realized that many patients, not just seizure patients, need more than CBD oil can offer. Many patients need all of the elements of the whole plant that also help with controlling his social anxiety, Crohns, and IBS. Having access to the full plant of cannabis would allow my son to eliminate all of his other medications and help restore many aspects of his life. One aspect of his life he will not get back is his memories due to damage done to his brain from his seizures. Life will never be the same for him. When we talk about things he did in High School he just smiles and agrees with you because he just does not remember what we are talking about.
There are other medical conditions that he suffers with that we will not detail here, but suffice it to say, we as a family have become converts to the benefits of cannabis use for medical patients. We hope and pray that Utah will allow whole plant access to all medical patients who could benefit from its use. Let doctors who are specialists in their fields decide what is best for the patient.
Picture of my son doing a long term seizure study at the U of U:
In loving memory of Kelli Hessheimer
My “story” begins the summer of 2012. I had just had my baby boy in April, and was breast feeding when I found a lump that I had thought might be a clogged milk duct. I went to my doctor who agreed with my suspicion and gave me advice as to what to do. However, the lump didn’t go away. In fact, it seemed to be growing and getting harder. I went back to the doctor about a month later and she expressed some concern and set up an appointment at the breast care center for a mammogram.
I went in on September 16, 2012, for the exam. Immediately after, I began experiencing pain and I was sent in for an ultrasound and a biopsy. My sister was with me and asked the guy that was doing the biopsy if he was sure that it wasn’t just a clogged milk duck. He responded with a somber look and said, “It’s not.” Two days later I got a call from the hospital and was told that it was, indeed, breast cancer, and they set me up with an appointment to see a surgeon. After examining the lump, the surgeon explained to me that it was too big to remove surgically. He sent me over to the cancer center where I spoke to an oncologist who set me up for all the scans that I needed: PET scan, CAT scan, and an MRI. The results of these scans were terrifying: the cancer had metastasized and was pretty much all over my body. My oncologist told me I had invasive metastatic (stage 4) HER2 positive breast cancer. The prognosis was up to 6 months.
In the past 4 years I have had ups and downs and a whole lot of treatments. I have been on four different kinds of chemo and radiation to my breasts, spinal cord, and hips. I’ve also had a multitude of prescription drugs to fix or help the side effects from chemo and radiation. I was taking morphine every day, lorazepam for my anxiety, Effexor for depression, oxycodone for pain, gabapentin for muscle pain, and promethazine for nausea. Each of them came with their own unpleasant side effects. Last Christmas, a friend who lives in Oregon came down and talked me into trying some medical marijuana. It worked. I no longer had to use the oxycodone or a couple of the other pills that I’d been taking. I decided to go up to Oregon for a whole month and try the Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) treatment. It helps tremendously with all the side effects that come with battling cancer. I have an eight-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son who depend on me and I need to fight, and fight, and fight until I’m better because they should not have to live without their mother. But they also need me now, and cannabis has ensured that the battle itself doesn’t take over my life, so that I’m able to be the mother to my children in the way that they need right now.
In April of 2010 I was involved in an ATV accident. I fell down a cliff in Fish Lake National Park with my ATV and was crushed multiple times. I broke my L3, L5, S1, shattered my sacrum, broke both hips, fractured my right ankle and shattered my right heel.Thus began my chronic pain journey and discovery of the benefit of medical cannabis. For five and a half years I went thru countless surgeries, lost my ability to have children, and was on 13 medications taken multiple times a day.
By August 2015 I was 65lbs heavier than I am now, and heavily addicted to my opioids and alcohol. I decided to detox off of my medications cold turkey, which included: a Fentanyl patch, 100mg of Oxycodone, 4,000mg of Tylenol, 3,000mg of Ibuprofen, 4,000mg of a nerve relaxer, 50mg of a muscle relaxer, a arthritis medication, Xanax, Valium, two antidepressants, and stomach medication to keep my stomach from developing an ulcer. On top of all of this, as of December 2016 I have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
It took me three months to detox cold turkey, at home, alone. I survived three suicide attempts during this time. The only way I was able to get thru this time and continue to function today is Medical Cannabis. I am able to keep my arthritis and pain level in check with cannabis, without worrying that my heart may stop during the night. Something that can easily happen with opioid therapy.
I continue to fight for medical cannabis legalization in Utah because of my past and present experiences. At least seven people in my family are currently on opioid therapy and have been for at least five years. This is common for many families in Utah and something the legislature needs to address now. Let us choose a safer pain management therapy for our family and ourselves.
Amanda Ellis Graham
My name is Amanda Ellis Graham. I am 37 years old and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 19 years ago, when I was just 18 years old. I am a 4th generation autoimmune patient living with MS. My great grandmother and grandmother, had crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis and my mother has been living with MS since I was born. In June of 1998, I had my first symptom that didn’t go away. My right leg went numb, then the other. I was terrified and didn’t want to say anything. When my right eye went blurry from optic neuritis 3 weeks later, I finally went to my Mom. I was diagnosed very quickly by my mother’s neurologist with one legion, July 20, 1998.
Trying at first to hide from my MS was very hard, in my late teens. I was trying to deal with it one year after graduating High School. I ended up having to drop out Weber State after only two quarter’s, when my right hand and arm went numb. I was unable to hold a pencil. Living with MS through my 20s was a constant battle. I was Working two jobs, had my own apartment, and was in and out of school through my 20s. I just wanted to be “normal”. I loved my jobs and was promoted at both, despite dealing with many symptoms at the time. They included vertigo, numbness, spasticity, fatigue, nausea, and weakness in arms and legs. In 2008 after being put on disability 4 times that year, I was put on permanent disability in September. I am still on disability 8 ½ years later.
I was house bound or in a wheelchair for 5 years. I had a hard time with simple every day tasks. I could not shower, walk to the bathroom, make food, go to the store, drive, clean, use my computer or leave the house. I also had a very hard time reading, writing and sleeping. I did not have a life. For those years, I dealt with insomnia, irregular sleeping in the day, atrophy, unable to eat (mal nutrition), and only left the house for my monthly Tysabri infusion for my MS. I have suffered depression and have been near suicide. To put it bluntly I was miserable.
After being diagnosed for over a decade I have been put on many prescriptions for many symptoms. I am now on very toxic doses of medications. I have had and continued to have appointments scheduled for me, suggesting that I get of my benzodiazepines. They worry that I might stop breathing in my sleep, being on that toxic dose of medication. Anytime I tried cutting back I would end up in the ER being diagnosed with stage 3 anxiety and them telling me to continue to take my current medications. After being scared enough times, at one of my appointments I joked about going to Colorado and wondered if that would help? It turned to an actual conversation after that. After that appointment and months of thinking and debating about it, I decided to start using Cannabis. I have been able to cut back on meds and continue to do so. But I had no idea what Cannabis would do for me. I have been using Cannabis now for 3 ½ years. At first I started seeing improvements in anxiety, sleep, appetite, depression, bladder function, pain, and nausea. After just a few months, I started noticing bigger things. It started to help my vertigo, balance, neuropathy, being able to shower on my own, strength, and spasticity (tightening of muscles). I have stretched my gait out more than 3 inches and no longer need a wheelchair. I am mobile with my cane. I can drive again and can now run my own errands. As a result, I am gaining my independence back!
Cannabis has given me the ability to be a part of life again. I get to go advocate for cannabis, because of cannabis. This is the 3rd year I will be up on the hill advocating for medical cannabis. This plant that was given to us then taken away, is harming so many Utahans. That’s why I feel I NEED to speak up about it. I am so grateful that I CAN! Cannabis has given me the chance to do this and get my life back!
Headaches…we all get them, but this one was different. I woke up in March 2011 with a strange burning headache over my left eyebrow. When the pain did not go away, I visited the doctor. I was put on antibiotics for a supposed sinus infection. Instead of getting better, the pain quickly escalated to a 9-10 level and spread to other areas of my head and face.
Over the next year I had a full sinus surgery and went to various neurologists to try and stop this pain, but nothing was working. I was finally diagnosed with Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia (ATN). This is a disease often referred to as the “suicide disease”, since the pain is so terrible and unrelenting. ATN is facial nerve pain. I feel constant burning pain and pressure on my forehead, cheekbones and nose. Imagine living with an ice cream headache 24/7. This is what it feels like.
I have been in pain before, but never in desperation for some relief. When you are experiencing this type of life-altering pain, you will risk your life to find a solution. Life stops. All your brain can think about it how to get relief. You are unable to work, think and function as you did before the pain started. This is my story. Since 2011, I have endured a lot. I have tried dozens of medications that gave me terrible side effects (nausea, fatigue, dizziness, severe and permanent memory loss) and did not help the pain. I became so debilitated that I underwent brain surgery in 2013 to try and relieve a pinched nerve, thought to be causing the pain. I have tried blocks, Botox, lidocaine infusions, IVs, and most recently, I had a peripheral nerve stimulator implant put in my face to try and control the pain. Only minor and temporary relief has occurred.
I am now a chronic pain patient that has run out of options. The only relief I get is from opioid use, and this is minor and short-lived. Many days, even these meds do not touch the pain. My doctors have told me that there is nothing more they can do for me. Each time I take an opioid, I am reminded that I am dependent on them just to function, and should this prescription be taken away (which is a possibility due to the DEA’s opioid crackdown), I would be unable to function at all. I also know that long term use of opioids will cause future health problems, but what option do I have? Medical cannabis offers me hope now that traditional medicine has failed. ATN patients living in medical cannabis legal states have experienced life-changing reduction in daily pain levels. This is why I am advocating for this cause. I want to enjoy life again! I want to exercise! I want to work! I have so much to offer the world, but pain is holding me back.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.” George Bernard Shaw