Reprinted from "Cannabis" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5(4), p. 19
At the tender age of 15 I started to experience severe stomach pain, nausea, cramping and diarrhea; a cycle that, I didn’t know then, would repeat my whole life. Nobody seemed to know what it was or how to treat it, and my symptoms persisted with no relief for over two years. After many uncomfortable and painful tests, I was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s disease by my gastroenterologist, who specializes in diseases of the bowel. There is no known cause or cure for Crohn’s disease, also known as inflammatory bowel disease.
Technically speaking, Crohn’s is a wasting disease; the body is depleted of nutrients that are vitally important for survival. Treatment includes a whole list of medications that have side effects that are each miles long, including prednisone (a steroid), anti-inflammatory pills and painkillers. In severe cases, like mine, surgery may be required. The delayed diagnosis caused me further damage, and I needed immediate surgery. In 1989 the doctors removed a small portion of my small intestine and appendix. Unfortunately for me, surgery was not the solution and the disease continued, maintaining its destructive course.
I started a full-time bank career when I was 18 and just out of high school, all the while dealing with painful spells of uncontrollable diarrhea and constant nausea. The prescribed medications were costly and didn’t really alleviate any of the symptoms of my illness, but helped enough that I could continue working at the bank. Then my weight ballooned up over 20 pounds due to the prednisone. Food became my enemy. At any moment the disease could flare up and the cycle would repeat itself. Over and over again. I was on a merry-go-round with, seemingly, no way off. I began to seek alternative treatment.
Where the docs, drugs and research stand
A friend, who saw my terrible suffering, suggested that I experiment with marijuana. He had done an extensive research report in college on cannabis and its broad-range medicinal benefits. I had smoked marijuana a few times, recreationally, during my high school days, but hadn’t been a regular user. In 1993, at his suggestion, I tried it—and the results were immediate and amazing.
I began self-medicating with marijuana—hiding in my bathroom with my vent-fan on high to avoid the stigma of being caught by neighbours or family. Far from getting high; I was getting well—my nausea subsided and my intestinal spasms, along with the still persistent diarrhea, were much less painful. My appetite increased, eating became healthy again, rather than damaging, and my overall energy levels increased. I had none of the side effects I’d experienced with pharmaceuticals (which I had quit at that time). I’d found a miracle!
Acquiring marijuana was not easy—or legal. I risked the possible consequences of using cannabis because I needed the relief that I got from smoking pot. But finding a trustworthy dope dealer with a reliable supply of a quality product at a rational price and is virtually impossible. And the expense—I paid $80 for a quarter-ounce and that wasn’t enough to last a week for my medical needs.
Finally, in the late ’90s, information started to trickle to the surface about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, even though it has been used for its therapeutic value for centuries. And in 2001, the federal government’s Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) came into effect. Under the MMAR, Health Canada started a program for individuals suffering from certain diseases and life-threatening illness. People who were eligible could apply for a licence to legally access marijuana for medical use in Canada.
Even though Crohn’s is considered an autoimmune disease and other autoimmune diseases such as AIDS were eligible, it wasn’t until 2005 that Crohn’s disease was included in the list of eligible conditions.
The MMAR application process was overwhelming. There are 33 pages of paperwork; a doctor’s approval and/or specialist acknowledgement is required and much, much more. (I never had to fill out forms for the pharmaceutical drugs that were actually causing me harm!)
I wasn’t able to convince my family doctor of 34 years to sign the Health Canada MMAR application. My doctor was completely supportive—and still is supportive, because he has documented how cannabis has helped me. However, there is still anti-cannabis propaganda in the medical field and a stigma that doctors who sign have to contend with. The College of Family Physicians of Canada has to date not stated an official position on cannabis’ therapeutic value. The Canadian Medical Association has officially been opposed to the MMAR, and Health Canada hasn’t assigned cannabis a DIN (drug identification number). (See text box for related resources.) Thankfully, my gastroenterologist was willing to sign my application and now I can legally possess and use cannabis.
Beyond a licence to use—taking control of your own health care
After a three-month wait, a few tense phone calls and a few faxes, I was finally approved for a Health Canada licence in 2005. Health Canada has had a contract with a producer that grows only one strain of marijuana. That strain of isn’t suitable for my disease: I tried it and wasn’t impressed.
Compassion clubs, which still operate under a grey zone legally, sell to Health Canada–licensed users and to some unlicensed users. But the compassions clubs purchase their marijuana from underground growers who can’t be identified, questioned, inspected or second-guessed by users. For these and many, many other reasons, I’ve chosen to grow my own medicine. It’s grown under my quality control and with my love and care—naturally as well as organically. By growing my own medicine, I can cultivate the strains that work best for my illness and can also maintain a certain high standard for curing it and using it.
Marijuana saved my life many times. I encourage everyone to investigate and research alternative medicines. Taking control and being responsible for your own health can only benefit you and your family.
For more information, visit Michelle’s advocacy website at www.michellerainey.com.
About the author
Michelle is a cannabis patients advocate, Vice-President and Financial Agent of the BC Marijuana Party, Director of Treating Yourself magazine and the producer of Michelle’s Medicinal Marijuana on YouTube. Visit www.michellerainey.com for more information