I grew up associating cannabis in a very negative light. A good deal of my childhood was spent sitting in the back of an Alcoholics Anonymous room listening to scarred old men talk about how drugs and alcohol ruined their lives. If it wasn't an AA meeting it was NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or Al-Anon, which helps people recover when someone in their life is an alcoholic. My father was a lifetime recovering addict. Alcohol was his drug of choice, but he certainly didn't discriminate. Cocaine, heroin, crack – all the good, hard stuff that made rock and rollers infamous back in the day. The truth about those individuals doomed to chase dragons is far less glamorous than movies have made it seem.
I saw the pain and suffering that the addicts I knew struggled to overcome and I hated what drugs had done to the people I loved. As a child I vowed never to become a slave to any substance that possessed the possibility of abuse or addiction. My first two years of high school, I refused to hang out with people who smoked pot and shied away from any illicit activity. Drugs were all bad news; especially marijuana, the notorious “gateway drug” I’d heard so much about.
When I was sixteen, everything changed. My mother was diagnosed with brain cancer the day before Mother's Day. I was the only child, out of three daughters, who still lived at home. Teenage angst aside, she and I were exceptionally close. While most kids my age were worried about sports, parties, weekend plans or college admissions, I was busy taking my mother to her chemotherapy appointments. I fed her, clothed her, wrapped her bandannas ever so particularly around her head as she tried to hide the shame of her hair loss. I was there to witness, to count, to know with repulsive intimacy each new burn that that scarred her body from the radiation treatments.
It seems a lifetime ago those first doctors saying she might live two or three years if her body responded well to treatment. I remember as if it were yesterday; nine months after her diagnosis, the day I held her in my arms and watched her take her last breath as she lay comatose in a Hospice bed. I cannot describe the torment she went through, nor the pain my family experienced as her health rapidly declined. There are no words. If you have lost someone to an aggressive, terminal illness then I'm sure you understand. It was heartbreaking to witness and sent me spiraling down a dark, desolate void to which there seemed no end.
In late 2010, I began experiencing what I now believe to be nerve pain in my lower back. The pain was crippling and the episodes would strike without any warning. I would go from some mundane activity to collapsed and convulsing on the floor in the most intense physical agony of my life. I sought emergency medical attention numerous times, racking up thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills, which I continue to pay off to this very day.
"You have muscle spasms," they'd tell me and send me off with some new prescription for muscle relaxers or pain relief. At first, I rushed to swallow all the drugs and radiology orders thrown at me with hope and gratitude. But the drugs didn't work. I kept having episodes and I started dreading going back to see another doctor. I didn't want to be high, I didn't want to feel like a zombie - I simply wanted to feel better.
I had smoked marijuana a fair bit in my junior and senior years of high school. After losing my mother, I fell into that cycle of social pressure, the party scene – you know the story. But I didn't like the way weed made me feel and I loathed the sense of paranoia and wrongness that it gave me. However, years later, as I faced my unexplained pain with no diagnosis in sight, I decided to put down the prescriptions and self-medicate with cannabis. The strangest thing began to happen. The spasms began to appear less and less frequently during my daily routines, and I stopped being constantly afraid that I was going to collapse every time I made my bed or carried a laundry basket up the stairs.
In July of 2011, I was thrown the most unexpected curve ball of all. I received a phone call from my brother-in-law informing me that my father had passed away in his sleep. My legs buckled from the weight of his words. “Katie, your dad died last night.” I had spoken to him days prior – he was fine! Sort of. A lifetime of hard drug abuse had already destroyed his body and his multitudes of medical problems were only intensified by his primary care doctors' disregard for his well-being.
As an Army veteran he was subject to the award-winning care practices of the Veteran's Administration. Seroquil, morphine, Vicodin, Clonazapam. Anti-depressents, pain killers and anti-psychotics like you wouldn't believe. The shipment of meds that arrived shortly after his death was as shocking as it was grotesque. Final cause of death? Polydrug therapy. An interaction between two medications which led to an accidental overdose of prescriptions issued and managed by the VA. Over twenty different medications, a majority of them high-dose narcotics, were listed on his health records at time of death. My dad had expressed a sincere interest in using cannabis to treat his depression, neuropathy and degenerative discs. However, fear of his religious conservative mother for whom he provided home care and companionship for stayed his efforts. My ailing grandmother happened to be the one to find her youngest child and only son dead upon the sofa.
A year after my father's death, I became a medical marijuana patient in Michigan and shortly after began working with the Society of Healing Arts Institute. Over the next few years, I gleaned a remarkable insider’s view into the world of medical marijuana. My greatest moment of clarity came while I vending at a Medical Cannabis Expo in Grand Rapids, MI. I was introduced to a sixteen year old girl diagnosed with terminal brain cancer whose parents turned to marijuana as a last-ditch effort to save their daughters' life. In ninety days, using Rick Simpson Oil, her tumor disappeared. Her cancer was 100% gone. Unsurprisingly, her team of doctors refused to acknowledge the miraculous healing.
Meeting that young girl and her family drove home the realization that perhaps there had been more options for my mother than the treatments that inevitably hastened the painful end of her life. Did the lack of accessibility to this life-saving plant limit my mother's options from one of hope to a certified death sentence? A couple years after that meeting, I was visiting my aunt at her home in Park City, UT, a place where marijuana possession of the smallest amount is considered a felony charge. She shared with me that my mother had used marijuana in extreme secrecy during her illness, but because of my childhood and the perceptions myself and my sisters had about drugs, she had hidden this from us.
Had you told my younger self that someday I would be writing this piece arguing the value of marijuana as a medicine, I would have thought you were insane. Never did I imagine that someday I would be wishing my mom had and dad had both used cannabis. Yet now I stand proudly as a witness to the powerful healing that this plant is capable of.
I have heard the testimony of thousands of people, many of whom have found it to be a life-changing cure.
Their stories have settled themselves into my bones and made my heart a home, intertwining with my own experiences. Marijuana not only helped me heal physically, it led me to a deeper passion for natural health. My journey with cannabis gave me a lifetime career in something that makes a difference in people's lives every day, sharing my knowledge of healing without sacrificing my soul to a pharmaceutical company like so many in the health profession do.
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Thank you and have a blessed day.
Kaylyn Hansen has worked in the alternative medicine field for over four years as a patient liaison, educator, and physician's assistant.