‘Make medical marijuana legal’

July 26, 2005

Nigel Regan, Bermuda Sun

A woman who suffers from the central nervous system disease Multiple Sclerosis is begging the Government to legalize ‘medical marijuana.’ The woman, a Bermudian working in the health profession, has been battling MS for years. She’s tried a variety of painkillers but nothing has been as effective or agreeable as marijuana, which she ate, straight out of the freezer for almost a year until her supply ran out. Her plea, however, is unlikely to provoke any momentum. The Government says it’s got no plans to conduct a review and the MS Society of Bermuda says its members are content with using legal drugs. It means she’s left with two choices — either she gets ‘lucky’ and somebody provides her with the drug free of charge or she uses prescription drugs, which, like marijuana, carry potential side-effects. A Government statement issued to the Bermuda Sun said: “The National Drug Commission (NDC) took an informed look at the literature and available research and concluded that there was no scientific evidence to confirm claims that marijuana is effective in treating the symptoms associated with certain cancer therapies and chronic conditions.” The NDC, it should be noted, has had a high staff turnover over the past six years and has often been accused of being ineffective. Results from its “informed look” were never made public. It’s now being incorporated into the Health Ministry. Government also reiterated the point that marijuana is illegal adding: “There is no distinction between marijuana, which may be used for recreational purposes as opposed to marijuana which may be used for supposed medical purposes. “At this time the Government has no plans to conduct a formal review of the use of medical marijuana.” U.S. and Canada’s policies The woman, who did not want to be identified, said the Government’s position would be easier to swallow if it were universally accepted — but it’s not. In the U.S., for example, 11 states allow medical marijuana including Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Vermont and Washington State. Canada legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2001. MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, which consists of the brain, spinal chord and optic nerves. Electrical impulses to the brain are disrupted, which can cause fatigue, severe vision problems, loss of balance and muscle co-ordination, which can make walking difficult. It can also cause slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder problems. The woman we spoke to has been managing the disease for several years. “I was at college one day and I couldn’t see clearly out of my right eye. I told myself if I waited long enough it would go away, but a friend told me to go to the doctors,” she said. “The doctor said the condition was ‘suggestive of MS.’” MS symptoms come and go, which is what happened in this case, so she never got tested. Everything was fine for the next two years until the blurred vision returned, this time in both eyes. “I was driving at that time and on one occasion I suddenly started seeing two lines in the middle of the road instead of one,” she said. There were other symptoms, too. “I’d get weaknesses in my left leg, and still do from time to time, if I over exert it,” she said. “My favourite exercise was walking. I used to go for about a mile but then the leg would drag or do its own thing.” Fatigue and co-ordination also became a problem. She was finally diagnosed with MS in 1992. The next hurdle was finding a suitable treatment. “I’m a laid back person. I work in the medical profession and know MS is not a curable disease at this point. I thought ‘What are they going to give me? Steroids. What’s the point, they’re only going to make me fat.’ Call it vanity, but I didn’t like the idea of going on steroids,” she said. “Most man-made medicines have side-effects — I’m more of a natural type person.” She continued: “Initially, I didn’t have any pain. I just managed. Most people didn’t even know I had MS because when you looked at me you didn’t see an ill person until I started to move and then it just looked liked I’d had something to drink.” She took the drug Avonex for a while, but said: “I stopped taking it because I’d heard it caused side effects in certain patients.” After that she said: “I turned away from synthetic to natural products, which is when I decided to try ‘vegetables’, my name for marijuana. After researching it, I thought to myself: ‘Why is this stuff illegal?’” Friends were aware of her interest and one in particular decided to help her out. “One day I was just minding my own business and there was a knock on the door. My friend said ‘I have some stuff for you.’ I put a sheet down on my kitchen floor and he pulled out this parcel with what looked like trees and bushes of marijuana — all locally grown. I looked at it as a blessing from God. God is very important in everything I do. He has to say it’s okay. In fact, I looked it up and found it in Genesis 1, the very first chapter in the Bible. It talks about seeds bringing plants that God has provided for us.” She continued: “I knew I wasn’t going to smoke it so I used my previous knowledge of blanching vegetables and greens and applied it to marijuana — greens and rice. I tried it in tea but it didn’t work quickly enough.” She also took to eating it straight from the freezer. “I’d pinch a bit off and eat it when I felt the pain coming,” she said. Her husband, who supports her 100 per cent, said: “I’ve seen the pain that she’s been through at home and I’ve seen how the marijuana works. What makes it handy is that it’s right there in the freezer, which means we don’t have to go to the hospital when things get bad.” Pulsating pain Describing the pain, she said: “It’s pulsating. It’s like, Bam! It hits you and then it hits you again and it continues like that, intermittent pain every few seconds.” The woman ran out of marijuana about six months ago. She’s been relatively pain free until recently. “I’m beginning to sense that it’s coming back,” she said. The thought makes her anxious and reignites her frustration. “They need to make medical marijuana legal. It’s a plant for crying out loud. You don’t have to do anything to it. That’s what’s wrong with all these man-made things, they add to it. Marijuana is just a plant that I could grow in my own yard,” she said. “It’s all about the Benjamins; all about the money.” The woman says if she has to, she’ll go back to prescription drugs, but she hopes her experience will urge people to do their own research and draw their own conclusions about marijuana’s medicinal benefits. Ultimately, she said: “I’d just like the Government to legalize it.”

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