Coltyn Turner Family, Illinois

Coltyn Turner climbed a mountain last weekend. Two years ago, at age 14, he was largely confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk for more than a minute. The difference has been cannabis.

Coltyn lives with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) he was diagnosed with in 2011 that can be as painful as it is debilitating. Morphine, oxycontin and codeine were among the many medications doctors prescribed, along with asacol, prednisone, methotrexate and others that were unsuccessful at controlling his condition. The end of the line came with Humira, an immunosuppressant that triggered first a false positive for tuberculosis on a skin test and then signs of cancer. Those side effects led his doctors at the Mayo Clinic to conclude he was at a 66% chance of developing T-cell lymphoma, so all treatment was stopped, all western medicines having failed.

Coltyn’s parents, Wendy and Tommy, had heard cannabis can be an option for treating Crohn’s, so they became part of the fight for safe access in their home state of Illinois two and a half years ago. But the process was slow, and Coltyn needed help immediately, so the Turner family made the hard choice to split up, with Coltyn and his father moving to Colorado Springs on March 4, 2014, without Wendy and the other three kids. After six months, Wendy was able to move out with two of the children, leaving behind not just their oldest daughter but five generations of family roots.

The move proved worth it. After just seven months of using strictly cannabis, a colonoscopy revealed that Coltyn was in remission. Getting the pediatric recommendation was challenging, with the doctor threatening to turn them over to child protective services if they didn’t comply with the treatment plan. Now the doctor consults with Wendy about new patients and how they might use cannabis, and the Mayo Clinic is following his progress closely.  But some in the medical establishment remain skeptical or fearful. The American Journal of Gastroenterology rejected the case study on Coltyn his doctor submitted because it was about cannabis.

The dramatic turnaround Coltyn experienced left him and his family determined to educate others about cannabis as a treatment option. They created a Public Service Announcement on facebook that went viral, and now more than two dozen people a week reach out to them on social media. They fought for research money to go to how cannabis can treat IBD, helping secure $1.3 million in Colorado, where Coltyn was the first patient enrolled at Denver Children’s Hospital. Currently, Coltyn travels to conferences for speaking engagements and is featured in an ad being run in Arkansas in support of the medical initiative there. Documentary filmmakers will be premiering a film about him, Illegally Alive.

He may no longer be stuck in a wheelchair, but now he is legally confined to the State of Colorado. Travel means breaking the law to transport his medicine. After a year in remission, the family chanced a trip back to Illinois to visit grandparents and friends. As law abiding citizens, they left his cannabis in Colorado. Within a week, a flare up of his condition had put him in the hospital. Back in Colorado using cannabis, he returned to remission.

“We would like to go home,” says Wendy. “The whole world can’t move to CO. Your zipcode should not determine your health.” Or as Coltyn says, he’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead. Climbing mountains instead of being carried to bed

This profile was originally published in the August 2016 ASA Activist Newsletter