The patients’ perspective
Locals find relief with medical marijuana

by Jeff Mannix

Medical marijuana is setting root in Durango, throughout Colorado and in 14 other states. The shroud of illegitimacy is lifting, and hundreds of thousands are finding relief from pain and debilitating disease not found with chemical pharmaceuticals and standard medical therapy.

On Nov. 7, 1999, Colorado voters passed Amendment 20, permitting the use of marijuana for the treatment of specified, disabling medical conditions. Regulating the lawful use of cannabis was turned over to the Colorado State Board of Health, which in turn established the Medical Marijuana Registry Program. “Effective June 1, 1999,” Amendment 20 reads, “it shall be an exception from the state’s criminal laws for any patient or primary caregiver in lawful possession of a registry identification card to engage or assist in the medical use of marijuana … .”

With a number of storefront medical marijuana dispensaries now open in Durango and more in the making, law enforcement and municipal and county governments are beginning to accept the volumes of testimony from patients and health providers that this ancient herb is indeed a palliative if not a curative, natural pharmaceutical. The concerns have legitimately turned toward suitable and fair regulation and transparency, similar to scrutiny applied to pharmacies, health clinics and alcohol sales.

Among all the discussions and policy making, the focus has inevitably taken little notice of the patients themselves and the beneficial effects cannabis is having on a variety of infirmities. However, the patient cannot be excluded from bricks-and-mortar policy, just as the baby must not be poured out with the bathwater.

Bill Delany, a 60-year-old businessman living in Pagosa Springs, was one of several certified medical marijuana patients who went on the record, saying his practical experiences were too material not to become part of public discourse. Delany suffers from severe Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea and malnutrition, and can lead to death.

“After 10 years, three operations and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in prescription drugs, I’ve pretty much given up on traditional medicine’s ability to help me,” said Delany. “They term my disease incurable4 decided to seek out people who are more optimistic about the healing powers of one’s body and mind, and this led to much research and thousands of dollars spent on supplements and treatments.

“In January, 2009, I decided to apply for medical marijuana and it has been the single most important ingredient in the search for stability within my body,” he continued. “Now I feel that a healing process has begun rather than just pouring more caustic prescription drugs into an already inflamed system. It has also allowed me to relax more and think less about my disease. The power of the mind and a positive attitude are also a huge part of the healing process, and marijuana, fortunately, also facilitates these ends.”

Qualifying medical conditions for legal use of marijuana include – chronic pain; chronic nausea; AIDS; cancer; glaucoma; hepatitis; chronic muscle spasms and other spastic disorders; multiple sclerosis; seizure disorders, such as epilepsy; gastrointestinal disorders, such as Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Crohn’s disease and the inability to eat; or medical conditions that cause one of these conditions. As research continues and criminal consequences dematerialize, medicinal use of the properties of cannabis may spread to many more diseases and conditions. A pioneer in the field, Aamann Degarth is currently doing research in Durango and feels strongly that the right dose of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – when mixed with other known healing herbs, can stop or cure cancer.

Sherry Smith suffers from multiple sclerosis, an idiopathic, autoimmune disease, meaning that the cause is unknown and affliction can occur spontaneously. With MS, the body’s immune system attacks the protective covering of the long fibers called axons that conduct electrical signals from the brain to the body parts. It effects the central nervous system, interfering with the ability of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate. Typically progressive, symptoms include numbness, impaired muscular coordination and speech, blurred vision and severe fatigue. “I’ve been disabled with MS for so long that I got to the point where I didn’t know which was worse, the dozens of medications prescribed by my doctors or the disease itself,” reported Smith. “About three years ago, after reading about medical marijuana, I applied for my certificate for no other reason that I had nowhere else to turn.

“My prescription drugs were making me depressed and sick in other ways and not helping me whatsoever with the reason I was taking them in the first place,” Smith added. “Now, I take hemp oil capsules three times a day, which completely controls my muscle spasticity and pain, and then supplement, when necessary every once in a while, with smokable herb.”

Smith said that after being on this therapy for two years, her MS has almost completely disappeared.

Dr. Sean Devlin is a primary-care physician practicing at Sonas Integrative Medical Center in Durango. “When I was in college and medical school, I wouldn’t even be around anyone using marijuana,” he said. “I was against recreational drug use, and I still am for the most part because it can inhibit motivation. While treating cancer patients back in 1999, though, I found a number of them were smoking pot and finding relief they hadn’t experienced with traditional drugs.”

Devlin said he researched this phenomenon and discovered that the body produces cannabinoids, which are structurally similar to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. “That’s when I started seeing how effective this organic, herbal remedy was.”

Douglas Shrock is a model-rocket designer and science fiction artist living and working in Pagosa Springs. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002. “My medication was costing $3,000 a month, with little to show but nausea,” Shrock said. “I got my medical marijuana card after seeing some relief from the prescription Marinol, a synthetic THC, and wanted a cheaper and more controllable self-medication.”

Using marijuana helps keep his condition under control, Shrock said. He occasionally experiments by not medicating with marijuana for a week, and the symptoms return.

Another medical marijuana patient, a middle-aged female who wishes to remain anonymous but permitted the use of Lynn, her middle name, suffers to the point of exhaustion from cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) and irritable bowel syndrome. “I don’t know how this started, but since I’ve been 13 years old, my digestive system bothered me, and about 12 years ago, I began vomiting, sometimes so hard I thought I’d throw up my shoes,” she said. “I have visited many doctors, but nobody seems to know what to do but prescribe drugs that didn’t work and threw a wet blanket on my life.”

Lynn has been prescribed Femoral, morphine, Phenergan, Adivan, Fentynyl, Oxycontin, Compazine, and a potpourri of other drugs. None worked. Last year, her weight dropped to 86 pounds. “The doctors just couldn’t do anything for me. I just knew I was going to die,” she confessed. “Then one night we saw a television show about medical marijuana, and my husband and I looked at each other and knew that this could be my last chance.”

Her husband added, “I used to sleep with one eye open. If Lynn had an episode we’d be off to the emergency room, each time thinking it would be the end, and a few times it was close. When we saw the program about medical marijuana, I just knew she had to try it, and I made connections to get her a medical marijuana card.”

Medical records from a primary-care physician must be submitted to the THC Foundation or Canamed in Denver, where an appointment with another physician is scheduled to review your condition and approve or disapprove eligibility.

“I didn’t want to smoke marijuana,” Lynn said. “But I realized that it was my last chance, although I didn’t hold out much hope – for anything.” Lynn went to Denver, got her card, then when she felt my next episode coming on, smoked a few puffs. “Within an hour, my nausea disappeared.”

She takes hemp oil capsules now because she doesn’t like smoking and doesn’t like the high – and is hungry for the first time in years. “And I can stop an episode immediately if I do take a couple of puffs. I’m not over this horrible thing, but I can control the worst of it. And … I can have a life.”



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