Medicinal marijuana users say they're trying to ease their pain, suffering

February 27, 2005

Pat Stanley, Napa News

A punk rocker, a grandmother and a combat veteran all share a secret -- they use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Don, a 47-year-old musician, says if he caught his 12-year-old son with marijuana, 'He would be grounded.'

But Don carries a state-approved permit to use limited amounts of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

'It's less dangerous than alcohol,' he said. 'You don't get belligerent. Don't get sick. Don't slur your speech or go into a spin.'

He's favors taxing and regulating marijuana 'to get rid of the crime element.'

'It's a beneficial drug,' he said. 'But it's not to be played with by kids.'

Don has been living with painful arthritis for three years. He also has a compressed disc in his neck. 'I have radiating pain and numbness in both arms,' he said.

The father of three said he tried standard pain relief medication, acupuncture and herbal relief, but nothing worked like marijuana.

After an MRI pinpointed the source of his constant pain, a doctor recommended he consider marijuana. He obtained a users' card and growing permit from Compassionate Care Givers club in Oakland.

'When I got the cards there weren't a bunch of kids there. No hippies. I saw canes. I saw cancer patients,' he said of the experience.

Don said he is not afraid of the police, even though he was issued a citation for possession outside a Napa club about a year ago. He had just finished a gig and was in pain. 'The scent had wafted out ... police came by,' he said.

He showed his state-approved cannabis club card to the officer, adding, ' I'm perfectly legitimate.'

The officer cited him anyway, and he had to appear in court, where the judge looked at the card and dismissed all charges.

'It was an inconvenience and an embarrassment,' he said.

Don said he has been known to smoke occasionally 'for fun' but said he doesn't drink, which he believes would pose a more serious health threat.

He also does not smoke and drive. 'The marijuana available from these clubs is extremely potent,' he said. 'It's the best in the world.'

He said driving would be dangerous because marijuana affects depth perception.

'You should probably wait at least an hour until you come down from the initial high,' he advised. 'Let it level off.'




Grandma's 'weed'

'Nanna,' a 44-year-old health-care professional with three grandchildren, has been in constant pain since suffering a work-related back injury two years ago. Nothing, including some of the strongest prescription pain killers on the market, seemed to work. 'Prescriptions made me so stupid I couldn't see straight,' she said. 'I wasn't functioning at all.'

The pain was so bad she had to wrap a bathrobe belt around a towel rack to pull herself up from the toilet.

When a sibling offered her a marijuana 'reefer,' she was horrified. 'I said 'Hell no, I haven't done that in years and it's still a naughty thing.''

After a few minutes, however, she took a few puffs.

'I was surprised. I could still think. I could move better. So I got stoned, and I felt better ... able to focus.'

Then her own children learned she was smoking marijuana. 'My family flipped out,' she said. 'My older son was horrified. My daughter-in-law cried.'

They barred her from baby-sitting her grandchildren.

After a few months passed, however, they began to see the change in her. Although Nanna's relationship with her family is still shaky, she is again allowed to take care of the grandchildren. 'But I won't smoke around them,' she said.

Nanna said she is concerned about sending mixed messages to her family, and does not want any other member to smoke grass recreationally. 'I've seen people smoke until they were blithering idiots, and that's wrong,' she said.

She's also concerned her colleagues may learn that she uses marijuana.

She gets her supply from an elderly couple (in their 70s) who grow it near their rural Mendocino County home. She is afraid to get a doctor's prescription.

'I want no paper trail,' she insisted. 'All I want is to be healthy and live a normal life.'




Used for back pain

Freddie, a 50-something Napan, said he tried marijuana when he was in high school and didn't like it. Now, racked by pain from arthritis, Scoliosis, Sherman's Disease and metal screws in his neck, he has turned to cannabis for relief.

'I've got a terrible spine,' he said.

After several unsuccessful surgeries his doctor penned a prescription that he uses at various medical marijuana 'clubs' throughout the Bay Area.

It's part of a program that also involves Vicodin, Prozac and other medicines, including some which are designed primarily for seizures, but have been found to help control chronic pain.

Some of the medicines have nasty side effects, especially to his stomach.

He said marijuana is not a panacea.

'Marijuana is not a pain reliever for me, but it helps with muscle cramps,' he said. 'Marijuana puts me in a place where I can handle the pain on a daily basis. I'm now able to deal with the pain without a lot of Vicodin.'

Freddie inhales the marijuana' from a vaporizer.

Although there have been several sources for marijuana in Napa over the years, he said, Freddie prefers to travel outside the city to purchase it.

'It's damned expensive,' he said. The 'grass' is sold in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, where local authorities don't interfere. 'You have to watch out for the feds,' he said. There's an ongoing battle over whether a federal ban on the weed supersedes local medical sales, approved by 56 percent of California voters in 1996.

Fred said he doesn't want to become a 'pot head,' but at first he did get a 'high.' Now, he said, 'The tolerance is up.'

Does he fear police despite a medical prescription? 'Absolutely. I've got paperwork, but the cops take cases circumstance by circumstance. I've had acquaintances who had to show (police) paperwork, and they let them go. I'm not a recreational user. I'm just a typical person, like lots of others. For some, pot works really well. I wish it worked that well on me.'




Post-traumatic stress syndrome

After combat experience in Vietnam, Keith experienced his first of many panic attacks. He was diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and urged to attend group therapy sessions.

He also had difficulty sleeping and had a number of 'flashbacks' to his war experiences.

'I met some people who smoked pot, and they said it helped them to sleep and not have nightmares,' he said. He tried it and found some relief.

He's been smoking marijuana since 1975, mostly for relief. 'At concerts, sometimes I do smoke recreationally,' he admitted.

He now works as a registered nurse and said marijuana settles him down 'to function as an RN and to contribute to my community.'

'I think it's wonderful, especially for those with AIDS and cancer,' he said.

But marijuana is not cheap and can make life difficult for low income patients who are suffering from these maladies. He said an eighth of an ounce of good quality marijuana can cost up to $55, even at a registered cannabis club.

He prefers vaporizing his pot then inhaling it, or putting it in food. He has five cannabis plants growing in his own Napa yard.

The Napa man, who is 55, said he would not object to a law requiring him to register as a legal grower. 'I'm not a criminal,' he said. 'I have quiet neighbors and it's fine,' he said.




Gunshot victim

Jim is no stranger to pain.

Now in his late 20s, he has been unable to get rid of constant pain from a shotgun wound suffered in 1992. He's been using cannabis for two years, and that, he said, provides his best relief.

'I tried Vicodin and it made me sick,' he said. He had the same lack of results from prescription strength Motrin and several anti-inflammatory drugs. 'It was just messing with my stomach,' he said. 'I couldn't keep anything down.'

The Napa Valley winery worker and father of two then tried marijuana. 'I can take it and function and interact with my kids,' he said. 'I really don't see anything bad if you use it for a medical condition. God gave it to us.'

To date, surgeons have removed 47 BBs from his body.

He said marijuana is the only medication he can tolerate and allows him to function at work. 'And it doesn't make me high,' he said. When trying prescription Motrin, 'I would pop them like M&M's. I just couldn't hold anything down.'

'My children don't know I use (marijuana),' he said. 'I'm real responsible when I use it. It's mostly in food, but sometimes I smoke.'




His legs were shattered

A head-on crash in 1973 left Roger with a foot-long metal plate in one leg. Both legs were shattered.

'I'm in chronic, constant pain,' he said.

He also suffers from severe tendentious, a painful inflammatory condition, in both arms.

Roger, now 62, said he experimented with marijuana during the '60s, but he decided to try it again for pain management after the crash. 'I felt it was a much better drug to use,' he said.

He was living in the Sonora area two years ago when federal agents raided the clinic where he obtained his state-approved cannabis card. 'They took all the records,' he said, questioning the legality of confiscating documents that relate to both doctor-patient and attorney-client affairs. The couple that ran the clinic were a lawyer and his wife, a doctor.

He is not concerned about local law enforcement agencies. 'I'm not in violation of anything. My only fear is of our federal government.'

He admitted, however, that he was terrified when eight armed sheriff's deputies raided his home in the Sierra foothills a couple of years ago. 'My heart was beating a million miles an hour,' he said.

He asked the officers to leave him with three large budding plants. They did. 'It's nuts,' he said.

Roger, who grows his own cannabis plants, said he understands there is limited government research, but 'the marijuana the government grow is so paltry, such poor quality, that it is really very useless when it comes to using it for science.'

He used to smoke his weed from a bong -- a large glass pipe with water in its base -- but now uses a high-tech vaporizer developed in Los Angeles.

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