I spoke with Steve at the Capitol City Compassion Club. He represents one type of medical marijuana patient, the type who really need marijuana to function and carry on a normal life. There are varying degrees of medical marijuana users, some ranging from chronic and severely sick, to casual users who seem to have found a way to legalize their habit. In my opinion, Steve seems to represent the more typical medical marijuana patient.
A single window facing the street lights a dim room at the Capitol City Compassion Club on Michigan Avenue. We are sitting in a spare room. I am speaking with Steve, a medical marijuana patient. He is telling me about his life with Crohn’s disease.
After trying drug after drug, desperately seeking a cure to the disease which was ruling his life, Steve finally gave in and tried medical marijuana.
“I ended up being diagnosed with Crohn’s at the age of about 21,” said Steve, a medical marijuana patient and member of the Capitol City Compassion Club. “Pretty much we tried drug after drug, and it ended up I was allergic to every single medication that they had for Crohn’s.”
Crohn’s diease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause loss of appetite along with several other side effects, ranging from abdominal pain to fever and fatigue.
â€œThe theories vary, but they basically think itâ€™s an autoimmune condition, specifically in the intestines where basically your body thinks that incoming food is actually a bad thing, so it sends out antibodies to attack it,â€ Steve said. “There’s Harvard research coming out that says it may be the opposite, that it may be an underactive immune system. So they’ve got people on these crazy immunosuppressant drugs when they don’t even really know what causes Crohn’s; they have no idea how to cure it. They just know it lasts forever.”
Trying medical marijuana was not a decision made lightly. After months of research, Steve finally elected to try the drug. It was his last resort.
“When the law started coming to pass, I started speaking with my regular doctor, whom I’d been seeing for years, a family doctor, and just brought it up to him,” Steve said. “[My doctor] was a little skeptical at first and didn’t understand how it would help with Crohn’s. We talked about it over six to eight months, and when the law passed, we had one hard talk about it and he said he thought it would work for me. I have not had to be hospitalized for Crohn’s since I’ve started.”
Previously Steve might be hospitalized at least once a year because of Crohn’s. With medical marijuana, he is able to work and live as a student at Michigan State University, giving him hope for the future.
“Rather than disabling me as a lot of people think that cannabis does, it enables me to have a life,” Steve said. “I think of myself as being a little bit under where most people are normally. So it’s not that I’m getting high and having a good time, I’m just trying to get to a point where I can enjoy the day. So when I’m smiling, it’s that I’m enjoying the day because I can go out and I don’t feel like crap. And that’s I think what’s really hard to get across to people.”
One of the most important benefits Steve is able to take from using medical marijuana is that it allows him to eat on a regular basis and helps him to maintain a healthy weight.
“Mainly [Crohnâ€™s is] just a lot of pain and discomfort. You just have an upset stomach almost all the time,” Steve said. “So that’s actually really the best thing, emotionally, about the cannabis with the Crohn’s, is that it lets you enjoy something which is a major part of your life function, which was getting really unenjoyable for me.”
Although Steve admits he hasn’t encountered many people with misconceptions about his marijuana use, he did put some thought into it before attempting to bring his family around to the idea.
“When I wanted to do this, I started just kind of vaguely throwing stats out there, like ‘I heard a German study that this helps people with Crohn’s.’ And I’d wait a month and I’d say ‘I don’t want to be a pothead necessarily, but isn’t that interesting? If it helped, wouldn’t that be good?’ And I just kind of vaguely broke down these barriers every time,” Steve said. “And at Christmas dinner one year, I just told everybody that, ‘This is what I do. I’m using medical marijuana. I don’t have any other drugs for Crohn’s.'”
One of the reasons his family has been so accepting of his medical marijuana use is because Steve vaporizes his marijuana as opposed to smoking it.
“By [vaporizing] you’re not getting the carcinogens and bad stuff that you get just from burning any plant material in general, not that pot is inherently bad, but anybody who’s burning anything is long term I would imagine might irritate the lungs. That’s the benefit of vaporization,” Steve said. “There’s a lot of other ways that people can use medication without smoking. There’s topical oils. There’s foods. I mean it’s just amazing what can be done with it.”
Despite his enthusiasm about the possibilities that medical marijuana provides to patients, Steve still has some misgivings about the new law.
“I think the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act is an amazing law, I mean it’s a step in the right direction. It was something that needed to be done in Michigan for a long time,” Steve said. “I think the law is a good law in that it allows us to medicate. I think though that there are some areas we need to improve the law for its intended purpose. More safe access to medication, more clear definitions on patients being allowed to medicate. Those are the shortcomings with the law, the stuff that needs to be more clearly defined. It’s a bit vague, but I think the law’s a step in the right direction.”
* Name has been changed at the request of interviewee.