Migraine sufferer finds relief from marijuana

Shirley Hsu, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Not a week goes by that Julie Garcia doesn't get a migraine.

It's not the type of headache you can take two aspirin for, or draw a hot bath and wait it out.

It's a splitting, unrelenting pain that lasts hours and renders her unproductive for an entire day.

'It's just pounding and pounding ... It's awful. It's really awful,' said Garcia, 36, who's been getting the migraines since she was a teen.

Garcia, who lives in Santa Fe Springs, used to take drugs such as ibuprofen and codeine to treat the pain, but worried about the cumulative effect a lifetime of using the drugs would have on her liver.

Then, last September, a doctor recommended that she use marijuana.

'It does wonders for the migraines,' she said. 'It relaxes your head, and the muscles in your head.'

The drug doesn't have the side effects the prescription medications had, said Garcia, who also smokes to relieve the pain from back and neck injuries from several car accidents years ago. The former manicurist is now on permanent disability.

Her case isn't unusual, said Dr. Philip Denney, a family practitioner based in Orange County who now specializes in medical marijuana.

Denney said he recommends marijuana for many of his patients who suffer from migraines.

'Cannabis is one of the best medicines for migraines,' he said. 'It's so effective - it works rapidly, and it has limited toxicity,' although lung damage from smoking is a concern, he added.

Marijuana can effectively stop a migraine from happening if used at the first onset of a headache, Denney said.

What's more, it takes 'relatively small amounts,' to treat some pains, he said. 'People don't have to get high. You don't have to be impaired,' he said.

Meanwhile, Garcia makes the three- or four-hour trip, with traffic, to West Hollywood, where at least seven marijuana 'collectives' or clubs dispense the drug.

A dispensary a little closer - like in Hacienda Heights - would be a godsend, she said.

She also dreams of a day when the medication will be covered by her insurance - she spends hundreds of dollars a month on the drugs, she said.

But for now, Garcia wishes people would stop demonizing the drug and people who use it.

'Drinking is far more dangerous (than smoking marijuana),' she said. 'I don't understand. It gets me so mad - that something so lethal of a killer (is legal) ... and something that can save lives isn't.'

Shirley Hsu can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306, or by e-mail at [email protected] .