Bill had six back surgeries by the time he was 31 years old. The first was during the ninth grade after he injured his back getting tackled on the football field, rupturing a disc in his lower back. The surgery followed a few months later, resulting in his missing most of that academic year.
In 10th grade, some not-so-smart kid pulled a chair from under him as he was going to sit down, which led to another ruptured disc and another surgery. In 11th grade he slipped on some wet grass. Disc fragments and other effects from his injuries led to nerve problems. He underwent the knife a third time.
He said things weren’t so bad after that. Although he had ongoing back issues, he lived a fairly normal life and didn’t have to take pain medication. Then, at age 29, he entered his car to go to work one day and felt a pain run down his leg, which subsequently led to surgery No. 4 and the removal of disc fragments pressing against a nerve. Then there was another … and another.
“I continued to have severe nerve pain down my right leg,” Bill says. “It felt like someone took a knife, stuck it in some hot coals, stabbed me in the leg and dragged it along. I started seeing a pain management doctor. I just lived that way every day. Surgically there was nothing else they could do. The doctors didn’t want to do another operation.”
Bill is not his real name. He asked for anonymity because, after recently returning to work after years of painkiller addiction, he doesn’t want his employer to know about his current use of medical marijuana.
“I tried the basic narcotics, Neurotonin, Alyrica, the list is a mile long,” he says. “I was taking OxyContin, stuff like that, time release Codeine. That started out in relatively small doses. Over the next 10 years I fell into a downward spiral. Pain medication allowed me some semi-functionality but I became a dependent. Your tolerance level goes up over time [and] was all supervised by my pain management doctor. There was no recreational use.”
Bill and his wife had a daughter right before his back went out at 29. He was divorced about two years later and all those surgeries kept him out of work. As his life swirled down the toilet, he moved in his parents’ basement. His weight soared up near 400 pounds; he was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes. Blood flow in his legs became so constricted he was developing ulcers in his lower legs.
“I was getting to the point where something had to happen,” says Bill.
What happened was that, in 2008, voters approved Michigan’s Medical Marihuana law. A friend of Bill’s dad suggested trying marijuana instead of painkillers. While Bill had smoked pot when he was younger, he had stopped in the early 1990s. He didn’t know where to get it. His pain doctor didn’t know anything about it and wouldn’t sign his state recommendation to get certified for medical use. Then he met a medical marijuana activist and found a doctor who would sign his recommendation.
“I started eating and smoking copious amounts of marijuana,” says Bill. “At the same time. I was tapering off my narcotic use and, after eight months, I was off narcotics 100 percent. That was the beginning of the change in my life. I lost 175 lbs., everything changed. It alleviates some of the nerve pain, but doesn’t take it away. Still I was able to use that to get off narcotics completely.”
Thereafter, Bill began receiving sporadic work in computer technology and now he’s working fulltime. “My motivation came back. I started looking for more serious work. That led to where I’m at now,” he says. “My life has gone 180 degrees the last three years.”
When Bill prepared to kick the painkillers, he used Simpson oil and smoked about two ounces of marijuana a month to break his narcotic dependency. Now, he says, he doesn’t even use the oil and smokes less than an ounce a month.
“I don’t smoke when I’m at work or during the day,” Bill says. “Previously, when I wasn’t working, once the pain reached a certain threshold I used it. I’m having pain in my leg constantly. I have techniques that I use to control it, like deep breathing.”
Bill went back to his pain doctor after he beat his addiction. Now his doctor will sign his medical marijuana certification application. Not only that. His doctor has asked him to speak to other patients about how to use marijuana to control pain.
“He’s got patients asking me about it,” says Bill. “Initially, when I talked to him about it, he was not even remotely receptive.”
Bill’s experience with marijuana has been the exact opposite of what folks with a Reefer Madness mindset would expect. I wonder what else the substance might be useful for.
Not all oils are the same: The past few columns I have discussed Simpson Oil, the highly concentrated preparation that some people use to treat very serious illness. However, there are less concentrated preparations that some people are using for topical use. Gershom Avery, a medical marijuana activist and former lab tech at Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, who lives in Dexter, has developed what he calls Peanut Butter’s Topical Oil.
Avery’s nickname is Peanut Butter, but there is no peanut butter oil in the preparation. His mixture is 95 percent olive oil. In addition to marijuana, Avery uses a collection of herbs and spices, “that interact well with what cannabis does.” Those include Echinacea and turmeric, but Avery doesn’t want to give away the entire formula. He sells kits with all the ingredients except marijuana.
The kits have instructions on how to infuse your own marijuana for patients. Avery claims his oil works well for diabetic neurotic pain, and ailments with inflammation such as arthritis and bulging discs. Fibromyalgia and migraine headaches (rub the oils on your temples) are also on the list. There is plenty of information on Avery’s oil available on YouTube. Avery is also familiar with Simpson Oil preparation and will advise others on how to make it. You can contact Avery through his Facebook page “Peanut Butter’s Topical Oil.”
This is the end of the series on how people are using medical marijuana. I’ll return to looking at legal issues and public activities around the subject. Of course, I’ll also discuss medical use when those stories present themselves.
Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.