The new face of medical marijuana


I spoke last week at the Marin County Board of Supervisors workshop on the proposal for medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated Marin. A variety of opinions on the proposal, and on medical marijuana in general, were voiced, and a shocking level of naïveté displayed. Apparently, when some hear the words medical marijuana, the only image they have is of someone smoking bud all day to stay blazed. Some voiced the ridiculous notion that by not allowing storefront dispensaries, their children would have less access to illegal marijuana. The fact that youth can get virtually any illegal drug without a problem did not put a dent in their fears.

Stereotypes are difficult to overcome, but that’s not why I’ve become an advocate for medical marijuana, or why I hope a store dispensary eventually opens somewhere far from schools in West Marin. The reason I spoke, the reason I’m writing and the biggest reason I’ve become an advocate is C.B.D. 

C.B.D. is cannabidiol, the compound in medical marijuana with the greatest concentration of pain and spasm-reducing medicine and the least psychoactive side effects. You don’t feel stoned. You don’t feel drugged. What you do feel is profound pain relief, a return to some semblance of normal—and a return of hope.

I have personal experience with C.B.D. Last year, after prostate cancer surgery, I had some unexpected complications. I had to wear a catheter for 34 days, and I suffered from the worst pain I’ve ever experienced: bladder spasms. If you are a man who has ever had these, you know what I’m talking about. I had a prescription from my surgeon that stopped the spasms for a few hours, but it made me feel bloated and sedentary, and the spasms always returned.

My delivery dispensary knew what I was going through, having done their own research on my behalf. They happened to call me during one of the worst periods of these spasms and offered to drive out and bring something they thought would help. It was a small lozenge of C.B.D. I was curled in the fetal position, unable to do anything. I sucked the lozenge. About 15 minutes later, I noticed the spasms lessoning. After 30 minutes, they were gone. I was impressed, but I wasn’t yet convinced. It could have been the placebo effect, because I was so desperate for relief. 

Two days later, the spasms returned with a vengeance. I took another lozenge. The spasms went away again, and never returned. There was something to this. During the remainder of my recovery, I took only C.B.D. for pain and discomfort. The difference was like night and day. I no longer felt drugged. I felt like myself.

A few weeks ago, Karen and I were preparing for a joyous 30th wedding anniversary trip. Three days before leaving, Karen was diagnosed with fibromyalgia—not terminal, but not curable. Her condition is characterized by periods of chronic pain in the joints, muscles and extremities. At its worst, everything seems to hurt. There is no test to verify this diagnosis; doctors test for many other illnesses, and by process of elimination, they settle on fibromyalgia. We are grateful it was not something worse. No lupus, A.L.S., M.S., rheumatoid arthritis. Yet despite the complete mystery of this syndrome, a specialist wanted to put Karen on anti-depressants, and he offered an impressive array of narcotics and steroids. This struck us as a pincushion approach, and we are both wary of narcotic pain medicine.

We began to research how these drugs affect women, and also how women are dealing with the syndrome holistically. We saw a profound difference in the long-term health effects and comfort between the two approaches. The holistic approach consists of a daily protocol of stretching, gentle exercise (bike, hike, swim), an anti-inflammatory diet, warm baths and a strict adherence to a good sleep routine. And when Karen experiences a bad flare-up, she takes a tincture of C.B.D. oil under her tongue. Tylenol helps with any feverish feeling, but Aleve and Advil do nothing for fibro. 

To be clear, this syndrome has a mind of its own. No one can truly predict how the pain will be from day to day. But there was a turning point for us, not only in dealing with fibromyalgia, but also in our support for medical marijuana.

We were visiting Karen’s brother, on the first leg of our anniversary trip. Air travel is cruel for people in chronic pain. Karen got off the series of flights and needed a cane for the first time in her life. The pain worsened through the early evening. When we got to her brother’s house, she was in a very bad way. She needed a warm bath and a much stronger dose of C.B.D. than she’d taken up to that point. The bathtub was upstairs. Her brother and I watched as she insisted on crawling up the stairs. She could not walk, and did not want our help; she needed to know she could do it on her own. It was very brave of her, but it was also one of the most difficult things I’ve ever witnessed. Both Karen and I were thinking, “This is the rest of our lives?” Her brother and I sat, shell-shocked, in the living room. 

Then, an amazing thing happened. About 30 minutes later, she almost bounded down the stairs and confidently strode into the living room. She proceeded to do a couple of belly dance shimmies for us. My jaw still resides on that carpet.But the look on her face said it all: Hope had returned. As soon as her pain began to lift, any hint of depression was gone. “It’s a frigging miracle,” she said.

If you know Karen, she is not prone to that sort of hyperbole. But it was exactly that. The rest of our trip was great, in part because of C.B.D., in part because we learned to battle through this thing and make the best of it.

Since then, there have been very good days (swimming at Shell Beach, then walking slowly up the hill to the parking lot without aid) and days that are not so good. But her worst days are still significantly better than what she experienced during our travels. We are continuing our research and networking with women who are finding success in this approach. But mostly, we are sticking to the daily protocol, and helping control pain exclusively with C.B.D.

We have also both found other uses for C.B.D. For example, one of the medicines (Cipro) I was given for my prostate caused my left Achilles tendon to tear (a known possible side effect of the drug in men over 50). It may need surgical repair, but in the meantime, when it barks at me, I take C.B.D. and the pain leaves for 12 hours. Karen’s monthly menstrual cycle is pain free. In other words, we use C.B.D. for all our pain, and it is spectacularly

We are not naïve about medical marijuana. I have seen marijuana addiction, and it is not a pretty sight. Neither Karen nor I smoke it. I don’t mind the buzz you get from T.H.C., but Karen does not like it. So we use a tincture that is high in C.B.D. and low in T.H.C. I’ll say it again: You don’t feel stoned. 

We are advocates out of necessity. Western medicine does certain things very well, but it does not do well with fibromyalgia, or chronic pain in general. There are better alternatives to strong anti-inflammatory medicines that have long-term impacts on kidneys, and to addictive narcotics. Many studies of possible side effects to C.B.D. are now under way, but there are none currently known. The only advice we have about it is to take it with food.

Everyone should have access to C.B.D., and it should not involve a 90-minute drive to San Francisco. It should not involve long delivery distances and the extra costs associated with them. It should be easily available for those with chronic or spasmodic pain. It should not be the Wild West out there for those choosing an alternative to Western medicine. It should be entirely legal. And it should involve the sort of careful, person-to-person relationship we’ve had with the staff of our dispensaries. They are not doctors, but increasingly they are becoming experts in advising their patients. I understand people have concerns about the security of a storefront, among many other things. But I haven’t heard a concern that cannot be addressed.

People need to know about C.B.D. It is the new face of medical marijuana, the breakthrough medicine that will hopefully bring this plant out of the shadows of its stereotypes and into the lives of the people it can help. Don’t take my word for it. Google it. Educate yourself on how it is helping people around the globe. Dateline just aired a special last Sunday on how it is helping change the lives of children with epilepsy, and the minds of skeptics everywhere. It is only a matter of time before it catches on, but we are not content waiting. We want it as soon as possible.

As we get older, we all have aches and pains. Karen and I are no different than most of you, except that we use C.B.D. for our pain. With the lemons we’ve been given, Karen and I are choosing to make lemonade. We proudly and happily count ourselves among the many faces of the new medical marijuana. Peace.


Jeffrey Hickey is an Independent Publisher Book Award-winning novelist. He has lived with his wife, Karen, in Inverness for 17 years.