It was April, 2006, North Carolina. The members of Journey for Justice 7 were meeting at the home of Ken Locke, the lead bicycler and founder of our groundbreaking trip. Ken had a remarkable home, built with his hands, far up in the Appalachian hills, practically unreachable except for a rugged truck or four wheeler. Remarkably, I made it to his door in my little Miata.
We were preparing for our trip. Three bicyclers and two trucks, crossing the country to bring awareness of the incredible medicinal value of Cannabis. It was truly insane, particularly for a group of battered and disabled Cannabis patients, but we were going to make it happen or die trying.
Ken had been putting the word out regarding our impending excursion and that we would be heading to the beach in Charleston, South Carolina on the following day, where our four month journey would begin. There was excitement in the air as vehicles and trailers were being loaded and bikes readied. Early afternoon, patients began arriving to see us off. Some came quite a distance. Once it was understood that I would be recording patient stories, many were eager to be heard.
Diana and Eddie Davis were the first two patients that I would be interviewing that evening. They were from Walhalla, South Carolina.
Diana had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1996 while she was still married to her first husband. She had two children.
“I was numb from the waist down. My bowels didn’t function properly. Four days, I couldn’t use the bathroom. My kidneys weren’t right, either. A couple months later, the doctors diagnosed me with Multiple Sclerosis.”
In January of ’97, she lost the use of her right hand. “My right hand was numb, tingling. I lost motor function. I had difficulty writing my name. I had to borrow a typewriter to pay my bills because I couldn’t write checks. If I did, they couldn’t read ‘em. I couldn’t even feed myself with a fork.”
She went to the doctor and he put her on a steroid regiment. At that time, she weighed 140 to 150 pounds. She had to go to the doctor’s office four days in a row for a five hour steroidal IV treatment. Then prednisone pills at the end to taper her off her IV steroids. By the time she finished that regiment, she was up to 200 pounds. Steroids can do that to a person.
Diana: “I felt terrible. I couldn’t move around.”
Walking even a short distance left her out of breath. She had to rely on others to help her. “That’s all the doctors had to offer me.”
Eventually she got the use of her hand back, though it’s not like it used to be.
Diana was still married to her first husband at that time. He was an alcoholic and abusive, so she left him. She needed to get a job to support herself and her children, but with her strength and dexterity issues, she was limited.
She eventually secured a job that involved sorting papers. Unfortunately, at one point, she lost the use of her shoulder for a time and couldn’t do her job properly. She couldn’t make production. She went back to her doctor but he informed her that he would no longer be able to treat her until she got insurance to cover the expense. She had already incurred over $3000 of debt. She had no insurance. Low paying jobs rarely offer it.
She was receiving MS pamphlets in the mail from the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. She came across a story regarding medical Cannabis and how it had shown promise in treating the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
Diana: “I smoked pot back when I was younger. I put it down when I started having kids and having a family. It wasn’t something I was gonna do forever, you know. It was just something I tried.”
She thought that if it were something that could help her, she’d try it again. Most patients that I have interviewed who had smoked Cannabis in their earlier years were more prone to return to Cannabis as medicine because they already knew through their previous exposure that it was safe.
Diana: “So I started smoking marijuana again. That was in late ’97. I haven’t lost the use of anything since then. The only time that I’ve had problems is when, you know, I couldn’t find it…because of the way you have to buy it. Illegally – on the street. Because we have no choice. Sometimes you can’t get it when you need it.”
Diana related how they had gone without for a few days and the tingling in her lower extremities returned. She continued to work, though it was difficult. But once Cannabis was available again, her symptoms gradually faded.
Diana: “As long as I kept it in my system, I did fine.”
She still had reminders of her MS. Her legs would burn and tingle at night sometimes. But with her Cannabis, she could still work. “I do medical transcription from home, now. I do very well with it. I typed 10,000 lines in two weeks.”
Diana prides herself on her production.
Diana: “They say people with MS aren’t able to learn new skills. Took the medical transcription course at Tri County Tech in 2001. Passed the course. They told me that class would take five or six months. I passed that course with highest scores all the way through in three months time. I was done and out and had my graduation certificate in my hand. Even WITH smoking marijuana. If I don’t have it, I have physical problems…from my MS. My hands will tingle. I’ll get to where I won’t type as well. I sit down and I smoke one and I go back to work and type just fine. I’m very productive with my job.”
She doesn’t consider her Cannabis use an addiction. “No. I consider it my medicine. It’s the same thing. You have a pain, you take a tablet. Bottom line. Its medicine. ”
When Eddie was seven years old, he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He sustained an injury to the left side of his head. Shortly thereafter, Eddie was diagnosed with Epilepsy. He has suffered with seizures ever since that life changing accident. Though he was put on medications early on, he has never been completely free of the seizures.
He heard that Cannabis could be effective in treating seizures, even cancer, glaucoma and pain. Frustrated by his condition, he decided to try it. Soon after dosing regularly, he noticed that he didn’t have the funny feelings in his head anymore. (Seizure patients often refer to the weird sensations they would have in their head before a seizure – tingling, even the sensation of something crawling inside the scull or under the scalp). Even with the prescription meds, he continued to have blackout spells, but no more once he started using Cannabis. They just faded away.
He knew it was a big risk, buying Cannabis from the street. It was still very much illegal to smoke, or even possess. So he stopped the Cannabis and just tried to muscle through with his prescription meds. That was around the time that he met Diana.
Years passed and Diana bought a car. It was a big deal. She tied a lot of money up with it. Eddie got off work one day and went to pick his son up from school and onto his oldest brother’s home to drop him off for a visit. Shortly after he let his son off, just up the road, Eddie had a blackout spell. He doesn’t remember what happened but he hit a telephone pole, totaling out Diana’s car.
He recalled that he had blood running down his face.
Eddie: “I was picking glass out of my scalp for months. I decided right there that I’ll never again go through this.”
So Eddie obtained some Cannabis and began taking it regularly. It was then that he truly realized just how important Cannabis was for him. Once again, his episodes quickly subsided. He no longer had the “funky little head spins or the blackout spells.” His life started feeling somewhat normal.
About three years prior to my interview with him, Eddie was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. The small dose of Cannabis that was sufficient to alleviate his seizures was no longer enough to deal with the pain he was experiencing with the MD.
Eddie: “Chronic pain will make a person commit suicide. You know, you can only hurt so much. There’s only so much that you can handle.”
It was getting to the point that it was a real struggle for him to just get out of bed. “I hated waking up in the morning. I really did. I just knew it would be jus like the day before. ”
So he increased his Cannabis regiment and his pain continued to decrease. Unfortunately, it got to the point that he could no longer conceal his Cannabis use from his Carolina doctors, something I have seen with Cannabis patients in other non-legal states. He ended up visiting no less than twelve doctors before finally locating a doctor that would tolerate his Cannabinoid therapy.
Eddie: “He (his new doctor) said ‘that don’t matter’. He understood what I was using it for.”
Eddie continued his Cannabis, taking it much the same as he did his pharmaceuticals. He gained back 45 pounds and he no longer had to depend on his cane – what he would call his “third leg” nearly as much. Needless to say, his wheelchair sat idol far more as well.
The judge for Eddie’s disability case was aware that Eddie was using Cannabis as an adjunction medicine and he stated that he didn’t believe that it had any bearing on his case and granted Eddie his disability.
Mark: “How has your Cannabis use affected your family?”
Eddie: “It’s cost me everything,” he responded. “Its cost me my kids. All four of my kids.”
When Diana and Eddie were married, Eddie already had two children that he had been raising alone for fifteen years. Diana had two from her first marriage.
Three years prior to this interview, Eddie’s Cannabis use was reported to the police. During their subsequent raid, six grams across the bottom of a sandwich bag was found.
Eddie: “They took my kids. Took my license, wrecked my life…jus’ turned my life right around. They took a big piece of my heart and stomped on it. I’ll never get it back. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never get it back. Never.”
Diana: “I go to work April 20th to fight to get my youngest one back. The two older children, their lives haven’t been real good either. We’re not able to get custody of them. Our son has quit school. Our daughter was beggin’ me on the phone jus’ the other day. (She said) ‘I can’t wait til I turn 17 so I can move to my Grandma’s house. I’m quittin’ school’. That’s not what we want for our children. We were encouraging them to do well in school. We wanted them to have a life when they got outta school. To continue on with school if they wanted to. For them to do good so they could have a life and be somebody. Now, they (foster care) just let them drop out. My daughter’s not living with me anymore. She’s living with her Grandmother. She (the Grandmother) is the one that helped turn us in. And now she’s told my daughter that she doesn’t want her anymore.”
She continued: “As long as alcohol is illegal, I don’t see why marijuana can’t be. Because alcohol causes so many more problems. I don’t even get high when I smoke. When I smoke, I get a relaxed feeling. I have a brighter outlook on life. It eases my depression as well. I can think more clearly. If I don’t have it, when I’m typing, I hit the wrong button. I’m constantly hitting the backspace button.”
Diana currently smokes her Cannabis, but she would like to try alternative methods of consumption.
Diana: “My neurologist told me if it works, do it. But when I said I need you to back me up in court because of losing my kids, he said ‘I can’t do that’. He did write me a letter stating that he was aware that I was using it and it was helping me. But he couldn’t say that he was behind me using it cause he was afraid of losing his license.
Since 2004, physicians have not had to fear losing their license to practice just for recommending
Cannabis to one of their patients. Unfortunately, in 2006, most of the nation didn’t know that. Back then,
most doctors still didn’t know it either.
Eddie: “It jus don’t make no sense. All these legal medications out here that they’re feeding these people. Next thing you know, they’re killing somebody. Like this Oxycontin they have me on for my pain. It keeps me constantly sick. My wife has to do 90% of the driving. I jus don’t know how to describe it to you. Makes you totally dysfunctional. It’s the closest thing to heroin that you can get. But it’s legal.”
Mark: “But how are you (cognitively) on marijuana?”
Eddie: “Just as normal as anybody.
Mark: “You can think clearly?”
Eddie: “I can think clearly. I can drive clearly. I don’t hurt half as badly when I’m up walking around. And I can stay up a bit longer. Without it, 15 – 20 minutes is all I can do. On a scale of 1-10, my pain is over 100.”
Mark: “What would you like to tell America?”
Eddie: “I would tell them, all these people who are so strongly against medical marijuana needs to wake up. They need to realize something. Who do they trust, man or God? Who makes the most mistakes? God made this earth. God made all these plants, right? It also says in the Bible that you use the herbs of this earth to heal your body. Everybody needs to wake up, pull together and get this stuff legalized. Whether people realize it or not, this is a more important medicine than anything that’s ever been made. No one has ever overdosed on marijuana. No one has ever died from marijuana. You can OD on two Oxycontin. We need to get this legalized.”
Eddie’s Oxycontin cost $800 to $900 per bottle, 90 pills. His Advare regularly costs $450/month. Muscle relaxers $100. If he had to pay for his medications himself, it would be over $2000/month. Fortunately he collects medicare/disability.
Eddie: “My world has been ripped apart for three years. I don’t have any of my kids because of 6 grams of marijuana. Over a gift that God gave us to take care of ourselves I have lost all four of my kids. That’s a shame, especially when they can prescribe you something that could kill you twice as fast.”
Eddie continued: This government needs to wake up. People like us need this. Let us take care of yourself . This thing is crazy. The whole thing is crazy. We should have the right to decide what medications we put in our bodies. All I’ve had for the last three years … basically suicide thoughts, all I’ve wanted to do was crawl into a closet, put a gun in my mouth and just pull the trigger. Cause I’m tired of hurting every day. So tired of being depressed every day.
Its like I said,
I pick up a joint or a pipe or whatever and have me a little bit and … it’s like life after death. “
* * *
I continued to check in with the Davis’ in the years that followed. At five years, they still could not see their children without supervision from the state. Unfortunately, their children have endured abuse in foster care.
The Davis family is only one of many that have paid a terrible price because of Cannabis prohibition. And as you can see, it’s our nation’s most vulnerable who have suffered most. Now, over sixteen years later, the laws are changing, but the scars of prohibition persist. So many have suffered. Many have died. Too many to expect reparation? Perhaps. But we still have so very far to go to finally put to rest the injustices that have been committed on so many.
Cannabis is nontoxic. Cannabis is food. Cannabis is the single most important medicine of the 21st century.