A year ago, Kimberly Cole was taking 11 different prescription drugs to try to control her epileptic seizures, neuropathic pain, and other health issues. Then, on her doctor's advice, she tried marijuana.
Today she doesn't take any of those 11 drugs.
Marijuana was a choice of last resort. Cole has suffered from epilepsy since birth and was not a candidate for surgery because seizures were on both sides of her brain. It was not unusual for her to suffer numerous seizures per day — sometimes losing consciousness and control of her body. The effects were so severe she sometimes had to learn how to count again — and she's an industrial engineer. In 2012 she had a seizure, fell down a flight of stairs, and broke her back that brought on the neuropathic pain.
"We had tried so many different drugs through the years over the course of my life and even participated in some clinical trials," says Cole. "I was using medication but I still would have seizures."
Then her doctor at Henry Ford Hospital suggested she try marijuana, telling her that it's been found to control seizures, nausea, and pain — all conditions that Cole suffered from. Cole says she had never used marijuana before. She had always been told she was walking a fine line with her epilepsy and to stay away from so-called recreational drugs.
"I was shocked actually," says Cole. "He gave me a stack of studies because he knows I research everything I can. I continued to study it for quite a while. It was to be an adjunct therapy in addition to my other medication."
Last spring Cole's seizures were so bad she decided to try the drug so many had warned her against over the years. She went to meetings of the group My Compassion to learn more. After she got certified by the state, she started slowly with gummy bears infused with a low dose of a high-CBD strain. After not noticing any ill effects, she slowly raised her dosage. She continued her research, experimenting a bit and listening to her body for guidance. She tried a tincture. She tried vaporizing, which her doctor didn't approve of. In late summer 2014 when she felt she had a handle on things, one by one Cole began dropping her medications. By November, she was off all of her pharmaceutical drugs.
Now she mainly uses oil made from the marijuana strains Cannatonic #4 or Cannatonic #7. It's a sativa with high content of the cannabinoid CBD and low THC content. Cannabinoids are compounds in marijuana that affect cannabinoid receptors in the human body. There are several dozen cannabinoids in marijuana. The oil she's currently using has a 63 percent CBD content, 5 percent THC, and around 1 percent each CBG and CBN. She also uses it in other forms, depending on what's happening and where she is at the time.
Since last fall, she's only had to deal with seizures once. That was brought on when she slipped on some ice and broke her ankle. The accident also shifted her leg bones and required surgery — which led to another breakthrough of sorts for Cole.
Back in 2003 she had surgery. During the course of her surgery she had a seizure and didn't come out of the anesthesia. Cole couldn't breathe without assistance and was in the neurological intensive care unit for 10 days.
She again had surgery on her ankle and leg this winter. Her medical team understood and approved of her marijuana use. Right before surgery and in front of her doctors, Cole's father gave her a larger than usual dose of cannabis oil. She had no seizures during her surgery and came out of the anesthesia with no problems.
Even at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where Cole sometimes sees doctors, her marijuana use is accepted.
"I was a little nervous to tell them this is what I'm doing," Cole says. "Every single physician I have there from neurology and across the board supports it. My doctor at Henry Ford says he's been using it for years to treat people. It's unfortunate when people still have the idea that it's bad."
Cole is 42, vice president of a company, and works in the corporate atmosphere of the automotive industry. And at the same time, she is now one of medical marijuana's biggest cheerleaders.
"I still function just fine," she says. "I'm highly functioning in my career; it's so exciting to me."
Stories such as Cole's are coming from all corners these days and should at least prod the Department of Justice to downgrade marijuana to at least a Schedule 2 drug so that research can be done to figure out how to use it medicinally. But anyone who watched Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Weed 3 on CNN a couple of weeks back knows that is still the big obstacle to the advancement of medical marijuana. Science and evidence are not the guiding light on this issue. Fear, hysteria, and decades of lies and propaganda are still the basis of public policy regarding marijuana.
At least for Cole, seeing marijuana from that perspective is a thing of the past, and it has changed her life for the better.
"I was always trying to balance stress, medications, and other things," Cole says. "This really seems like taking it to the next level of living. I go through my days and I don't worry about having a seizure now, and that was always at the back of my mind … now I don't even think about it. I really feel safe."
Now that's the kind of drug-free life that's worth living.
Larry Gabriel writes the Stir It Up and Higher Ground columns for the Detroit Metro Times and is editor of The American Cultivator.