Amy Catterton, North Carolina

Pain and nausea have been part of Amy Catterton’s life since 2015. That’s when, at age 28, she was diagnosed with stage-3 invasive breast cancer.

The mother of five had a mastectomy and 32 lymph nodes removed, 19 of which showed cancer. That led to more surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy with doxorubicin, a drug known as the Red Devil. Amy and her husband Greg decided to try cannabidiol (CBD) to mitigate the intense nausea, even though their state of North Carolina had approved CBD use only for childhood epilepsy.

“I don’t know how the old people do it,” says Amy. “I was 29, and it knocked me down.”

The CBD allowed her to tolerate the chemo without other anti-nausea medications and only limited use of opioid painkillers.

In August, 2017, Amy was hit by intense pain throughout her body. The cancer had metastasized into inoperable stage-4 bone cancer. Her doctors advised acting fast, which meant 18 rounds of chemo over 10 weeks and Percocet and fentanyl patches to control the pain.

“It did her in really, really bad this time,” said Greg. “I was watching her decline in front of me. She was basically lying in bed dying.”

Greg researched making cannabis oil extracts and got a donation of two ounces of cannabis. Within five days of using the extract he made for her, Amy stopped taking the Percocet. Within a week, she said she wanted to get off the fentanyl patches. Two weeks after starting whole-plant therapy, Amy was off all the opioids with minimal withdrawal.   

“Medical cannabis has been such a blessing from God sent to me and my family,” Amy says. “My children are able to sit and do homework with me, and my husband can enjoy some of my cooking again because of medical cannabis.”

After that, Amy switched to a high-potency RSO extract and saw her cancer cell count drop, but it has been hard to maintain a supply. She ran out for a week and had to restart narcotic painkillers after three days. It took five days of cannabis to get back off.

Amy has a recommendation from oncologist to use cannabis, but the state of North Carolina does not yet recognize cancer as a qualifying condition, nor does it allow whole-plant medicines. After attending ASA’s Unity Conference in Washington, D.C., Greg began lobbying his state and federal elected officials, sharing the story of Amy’s success with cannabis and what it has meant for their young family.

“We have the medical evidence from Amy’s treatment that full-plant extract works,” says Greg. “For them to want to push opiates with this opiate epidemic just doesn’t make sense.”

North Carolina saw a trio of bills --  HB 185/SB 648 and SB 579 -- introduced during the 2017 session that would have created a robust medical cannabis program recognizing a variety of medical conditions. Advocates are hopeful similar measures may pass in 2018

This profile was originally published in the December 2017 ASA Activist Newsletter