“We are prone to thinking of drug abuse in terms of the male population and illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. It may surprise you to learn that a greater problem exists with millions of women dependent on legal prescription drugs.” Robert Mendelsohn, M.D
“You do realize that cannabis does not cure cancer?” The question startled me. I was in the midst of my very first appointment at the local Cannabis Clinic. After a prolonged period of sitting in the waiting room, my body had begun to ache badly. My mind was a bit preoccupied with the indignity of having to pee into a cup moments earlier to demonstrate that I was not a “drug seeker” looking for a “legal high.” And now, the physician’s assistant was obviously questioning my motivations for seeking a medical marijuana license. His job was to screen legitimate applicants from the drug users, and to highlight any potential problems for the prescribing doctor at the clinic.
I gave him the best side eye I could manage. Of course, an objective observer might have found the question reasonable. My style that day could best be described as “unmade bed chic.” My dull hair was dishevelled, dark circles ringed both my eyes, and my skin glowed from the sheen of a cold sweat. A taste of stale vomit clung to my teeth, despite my efforts to brush it away. The physician’s assistant was concerned that what he was seeing was not a victim of chronic pain, but a cancer patient who was in the midst of an unconfirmed relapse. He assumed I was desperate for a life saving cure rather than relief from the pain the dogged my every move.
“Of course,” I smiled feebly. “I don’t have cancer. I’m in remission. This,” I gestured at myself, “is the CIPN. Nothing more.”
Weeks earlier, I’d had another difficult conversation with my family doctor. She’d made it clear to me that cannabis was not a legitimate treatment in her opinion. Citing the lack of quality research into medical marijuana, she emphasized that there was a strong prospect of developing an addiction. Ironically, she also scolded me for not tapering off my current pharmaceutical prescriptions, noting that by going “cold turkey” I had likely put myself into withdrawal.
From the legally prescribed medications that were obviously harming my body, I wanted to point out. It was a contradiction that galled me, but I held my tongue. Because I did not want to taint our relationship, I did not challenge her concerns, nor react when she quite firmly stated “I do not prescribe cannabis.”
I found a way around her by locating a doctor who would prescribe. Or at least I thought I had, because now that I was sitting here at the Cannabis Clinic, I wondered if it was going to close its doors to me that very moment.
Mr. “Cannabis-doesn’t-cure” nodded while typing dubiously on the computer, wished me luck and instructed me to go to the office across the hall.
I was met by a young doctor on a Skype call, who instructed me to sit down in the chair while he reviewed my file. His first words were “Cannabis does not cure cancer.” Obviously he had speed read the notations from the physician assistant. I mustered another grim smile. “Yes, so I’ve been told by your assistant.”
We reviewed my history, and the fact that my oncologist had put me back on the testing circuit because my symptoms mimicked relapse: nausea, vomiting, headaches, bone pain. He also worried about the medication regime and its potential interaction with cannabis. And then, the question: “Have you ever tried marijuana before?” No. There was a pause as he took in my appearance, and pointedly asked the question again. I sighed, saying “I am a high school vice principal. I spend my days busting kids for bringing in illicit substances to our school, not blazing away in the smoke pit with them.”
Finally, a smile. Geez, I thought, for a cannabis clinic everyone was really uptight.
In the end, the best the doctor managed was a thirty day prescription for synthetic cannabis, which had been designed to help cancer patients with nausea and vomiting. Pills. My concern about puking those up too were waved away, and I was dismissed.
I had no idea the stir these little pills would cause at the hospital ER only weeks later.