Marijuana Against Multiple Sclerosis

October 02, 2004

Francesco Veronesi, Tandem

I had to take 32 pills a day, as well as a heavy dose of morphine. Imprisoned in bed by the pain, I did not have the strength to get up, to do the simplest things. Thanks to marijuana, all this is behind me. Now I get up, I move around. I'm alive again.'

Alison Myrden is a courageous woman. She has to struggle every day against a terrible illness, multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease that debilitates her, conditions her life, and always accompanies her with its constant presence. 'An indescribable, continuous pain, a suffering that nobody should have to bear,' Alison told us from her Burlington home, 'because no one could possibly deserve suffering so much.'

Yet Alison is in love with life, even though life reserved her such a cruel destiny. Ever since her illness was diagnosed, Alison decided to resist, to tackle her disease and fight it tooth and nail. In 1992, due to the rapid progress of her illness, Alison was forced to leave her job. The drugs she had to take in order to control the pain were debilitating her. 'We beat all paths known to medicine,' continued Alison; 'alongside traditional drugs I began a cure based on cocaine and heroin, under constant medical monitoring and with a regular permit by Health Canada.'

These attempts, however, soon proved just as useless. 'My health was declining fast. My illness was accompanied by the Tic Doloreux, a persistent pain in the face that often manifests itself in MS patients.' Then, in 1995, she found marijuana. 'I had smoked some cannabis when I was a kid, just out of curiousity. I would never have dreamed that eventually it would help me survive.'

In the same year, Alison obtained a Health Canada permit for consuming marijuana for therapeutic purposes, the very first ever granted in Canada. 'When I tried it for the first time I didn't expect too much. But 10 minutes later things had completely changed: after such a long time, I finally felt good. Pain decreased, I could move, I could smile once again.'

In March 2000, Alison got the Authorization to Possess, partly exempting her from the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substance Act: she was allowed to grow, possess and smoke marijuana. 'Until you get the Authorization, some absurd situations can arise: you have to supply yourself from the illegal market, with all the risks this entails. That's why I decided to fight another battle, just as difficult and hard: the battle for the legalization of cannabis.'

In the same period Alison became an activist against the 'prohibitionist' law, and she had to confront an apparently insurmountable obstacle, the cultural gap of Western society that sees marijuana as an evil to be avoided at all costs. 'Marijuana never killed anybody,' remarked Alison. 'There is scientific evidence of this. From this standpoint, Canada is even considered too permissive, in comparison to many other countries where not even therapeutical use of cannabis is allowed. I wonder, why should a government force me to suffer? Why do they deny a patient an opportunity to alleviate physical pain, especially for incurable diseases like MS, where the illness cannot be defeated but its effects can be reduced? Trying to answer these questions, I decided to fight for legalization.'

In recent years, the Canadian situation has changed, probably thanks also to the commitment of Alison and the numerous groups of activists all over the country. A bill, first tabled by Jean Chrétien and then by Paul Martin, asks for the decriminalization of possession of small quantities of cannabis. And the Marijuana Party, a political formation that ran in the latest Federal election, is alive and growing.

At the same time, due to the sensitivity of the issue, strong repressive voices have also emerged, both in society and among politicians, urging harsher punishments for those who possess and use marijuana. 'In a nutshell, we ask for choice, freedom of choice. Thanks to marijuana, my quality of life has sharply changed.'

At present, some 70 patients all over Canada hold Health Canada's Authorization to Possess. Health Canada also grows therapeutical cannabis through a private company, Praire Plant System, which has been awarded a government contract for $5.57 million.

Some problems and incongruities of this system, which on the one hand represses and on the other promotes, came to light in the past few months, with a controversy between the patients and Health Canada about the alleged low quality of government-grown cannabis. 'I can only confirm,' added Alison, 'that there are big problems with the content of THC, the active principle of cannabis: Health Canada's marijuana has a very low level of it. Once again, people resort to the street market.'

'Thanks to marijuana,' concluded Alison, 'I am able to alleviate my pain and muzzle my illness. After so long, I smile, I hope, I look forward with faith. I'm alive again.'

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