More MS news articles for January 2001

Oregon patients who use marijuana face tough battles

Updated 12:00 PM ET January 23, 2001
By Tara Moore
OSU Daily Barometer
Oregon State U.

(U-WIRE) CORVALLIS, Ore. -- You won't see many people turn down the possibility of taking the medication widely known as marijuana.

In 1998, Oregon voters passed the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act -- also know as OMMA -- which allows people diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions to obtain an OMMA card. Card members can legally grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

There are currently eight states other than Oregon that offer programs such as OMMA to their residents; they include California, Alaska, Washington, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Colorado, and Nevada.

According to ORS 475.300, qualifying debilitating medical conditions include: "cancer, glaucoma, a positive status for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. A medical condition or treatment for a medical condition that produces, for a specific patient, one or more of the following: cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures -- including but not limited to seizures caused by epilepsy, or persistent muscle spasms -- including but not limited to spasms caused by multiple sclerosis."

On June 14, 2000, the Oregon Health Division added agitation of Alzheimer's Disease to the above list of qualifying medical conditions.

Three years after its initial approval, groups such as Voter Power -- an Oregon political committee that was one of the original initiators of OMMA -- are urging the Senate to amend the current act.

Among the currently requested modifications are larger protection factors for patients and the caregivers that grow marijuana for them, and a larger amount of marijuana plants which a patient is allowed to possess.

Also requested is an increase in the number of plants a caregiver is allowed to have in one garden. As the law currently stands, a caregiver can grow marijuana for several patients, but is only allowed to have seven plants at each growth site.

Where and how to get marijuana is also one of the many topics currently being discussed regarding the upcoming Senate bills.

"My prediction is that at least two bills will be introduced to the Senate," said John Sajo, director of Voter Power. "I wouldn't rule out a lot of forward motion taking place."

Before OMMA was passed, people like Robert, a Corvallis-area resident, were forced to illegally buy and use marijuana to ease the pains caused by their illnesses.

Robert, who spoke to The Barometer on the condition that his real name not be used, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1998. As a result of the illness, he underwent four months of chemotherapy at the Corvallis Clinic.

Not only did he endure much pain from the chemotherapy, but he also lost 25 pounds during those four months.

"Marijuana helped to relieve the pain, and also brought back a little bit of the appetite," Robert said.

To obtain this relieved state, he found that he had to smoke marijuana once or twice every day until his cancer ceased on Jan. 4, 1999.

Since May 1, 1999, when the act became law, nearly 1,500 Oregonians have successfully obtained their OMMA cards. One such person is Brady Derrah, an Albany resident who was diagnosed with epilepsy in December of 1996.

"I haven't had a seizure in four years as a result of marijuana," said Derrah, who smokes two or three times a day.

Andrea Canulette of McMinnville was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in February of 1992, and has been a registered OMMA patient since Feb. 1, 2000.

"At first it was really funny, because before I even started smoking I ended up busting two of my kids for sneaking around and smoking marijuana," she said.

"I almost felt like a hypocrite, but I'm doing this as a medication," Canulette said. "And they can see when I get to a stage where I'm crying and in extreme pain. And I go back and I smoke, then I'll come out and it's calmed me down and it's handled a lot of the problems for a while. It's been really hard for one of my children, because she doesn't really like smoke, and she doesn't like marijuana."

One of the most problematic aspects of OMMA is the need for the marijuana to be grown.

"There's a big problem right now with theft of the gardens from patients," Canulette said. "And so it makes it dangerous for patients."

She has had her garden stolen twice in the past year.

"The last garden I had was seven days old," she said. "We know the person who stole it -- he's a crack addict. He had to get money for his habit, and that's what he did."

Finding a trustworthy caregiver is also of great difficulty when dealing with a plant from the Cannabis family Moraceae. A caregiver is a person who is paid by the state to help assist in the patient's production of their medicinal marijuana.

"The time before that, I had a caregiver who stole from me," Canulette said. "People would give me the little plants. I gave them to him. He killed about 13 of them, and then he proceeded to grow the others, smoke it himself and then gave me about four or five little buds and said that was what grew."

In an effort to solve the ongoing problem with caregivers, Canulette is attempting to make arrangements with her local senior center to find interested people willing to grow medicinal marijuana.

"Who best would care and grow the best, but these older senior citizens?" Canulette asked. "They'd be helping patients and they're wonderful at nurseries and growing."

As a result of the loss of a garden to either theft or an untimely death of a plant, many OMMA patients are forced to buy their medication on the black market in order to replace what they have lost. Canulette has been forced to do so on several occasions.

In effort to keep as many OMMA patient's marijuana prescriptions filled as possible, networks have been created such as Project CANE, The Stormy Ray Foundation, and Oregon Medical Marijuana Network.

When all is going well, and the gardens are in their proper place, those patients with OMMA cards are faced with constant financial burdens. After the initial $150 to receive their OMMA cards, Oregon patients are nearly always required to grow indoors, which requires the proper lights -- usually about 100 watts. The electricity to run the light bulbs is expensive. In addition, there is a space requirement, because two rooms are needed for growing a marijuana garden -- one for growing and the other for budding.

When the possibility of theft or plants dying is taken into consideration, Canulette spends several hundred dollars every month on her garden.

Despite the hefty costs, Canulette sees this as a worthy purpose.

"We have found that a lot of people associate growing or having marijuana with making money," she said. "With the OMMA program there is no money to be made off it. It's mainly to help the patient. Some of these patients are dying, some of them have cancer, some of them don't even smoke it -- some eat it because they can't smoke. They have asthma or hepatitis, and they try to get it into those organs."

Canulette has found that she needs to smoke at regular intervals, all day and all night long.

"I find I have to smoke at least every two hours, and it's just a few puffs, so it's not like sitting down and getting stoned," she said. "It seems to go directly to the pain and the spasms and that's what it addresses."

Despite their different illnesses, many patients find that it temporarily relieves some of their symptoms.

"I was not into that. I had smoked a tiny bit when I was in my 20s. But I really worked on natural health, on cleaning out my body and working with it. That worked for a while, but then the MS progressed to a point where it wasn't taking it," Canulette said. "And so my boyfriend at the time just said, 'try it, it works for me.' I was sitting on the floor, he gave me some. I smoked it ... and it was like I didn't have MS anymore."

Not everyone who can legally obtain marijuana decides to use it.

"You have to try a medication to see if it's a good one for you. Marijuana might not be for everybody. If you get to a point, try it and if it works for you then use it," she said. "Otherwise, work with your doctor to find something that will work for you."

Canulette, like many OMMA patients, is having issues with how the law is currently written.

"My main problem is having to grow it," she said. "It would be so much easier if you could go to a pharmacy and buy it there."

(C) 2001 OSU Daily Barometer via U-WIRE