Turning Over A New (Pot) Leaf

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Turning Over A New (Pot) Leaf

By Amy Dresner 07/16/14

My fear was that I would spray this stuff under my tongue and 20 minutes later I’d be listening to The Grateful Dead . . .

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I’ve never liked stoners or pot. Pot always made me feel paranoid and extremely stupid. Of course that didn’t keep me from smoking it when no other drugs were available. When somebody comes into the program and their main drug is pot and they cry about their detox, I roll my eyes as any good ex-junkie would.

“Go to Marijuana Anonymous where they give a shit,” I think.  

I was sitting in an AA meeting when I realized I had a ziplock of one hitters, rolling papers and both of our pot cards in my purse

Every stoner in LA has their medicinal marijuana card and, let’s be honest, not many of them have fibromyalgia or cancer. I’ve always been irritated by the seeming righteousness of potheads with their whole, “Pot is natural. It’s a medicine, a gift of the earth, dude.” I never thought any great works of art claimed pot as their muse…..unless you count Lady Gaga—and I don’t. Freud was on coke when he wrote his best shit. Burroughs on smack. Bukowski on booze. Honestly, I hated potheads until my best friend turned out to be one, and so did my brilliant writing partner. Then I was tolerant. Now I’m an advocate.  

Let me explain.

I’ve had drug-induced epilepsy for 11 years. It started out of nowhere when I was five years sober. No head injury. No brain surgery. No genetic history. But suddenly I was keeling over, shaking violently, biting my tongue and frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog. Tests revealed “hyperactive lesions” on my frontal lobe. The only possible explanation: my exuberant meth addiction. Brain was fucked, but my teeth were perfect. Them’s the breaks. 

I’ve been able to control it pretty well with phenobarbital. Some program people don’t consider that sober, but they don’t have to live their life wearing a helmet if they don’t take it. All other anti-convulsants (and I’ve tried them all) didn’t control my seizures and the side-effects (memory loss, weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, nausea/vomiting, vision impairment) were unbearable.

I had a seizure this last December, first one in almost five years, but I was unmedicated at the time. (My previous neurologist thought it was safe to try free balling it as I’d been seizure free for years but boy, was she wrong.) Got back on the pheno and been good ever since… or so I thought until my latest EEG. It showed prolific and regular bursts of seizure activity which, according to my doctor, should be controlled or masked by the medication. She was concerned. 

“Have you seen any blood on your pillow?”

“No, I’m divorced now,” I said.

“Have you seen any drool?”

“No more than my normal slobbery self,” I joked. 

She was not amused. She said I was at high risk for having a “breakthrough seizure” and she recommended adding a secondary medication.  

“You’ve had a lot of fails with medication…..There’s a new one called Ovni but it makes people violent.”

“Yeah with a past assault charge, I think I’ll pass on that.”

“Depakote,” she offered.

“Oh the one that makes you tired and fat? Tried it. I already sleep a lot and I’m too vain. Next.”

“Keppra”.

“I’ve been on that and it didn’t do a thing.”

“It can also make you aggressive and depressed,” she said.

“I’m already both of those things,” I countered.

As I drive a lot and I also help take care of a six month old baby, I had to think of the wellbeing of others. (Ain’t that some program at work?!)

“Can’t we up the pheno?”

“You’re already on a massive dose and you’re very petite. I’ll give you a script for the Keppra and you can decide if you want to fill it or not. Whatever the case, I’ll see you in three to six months for a follow up.”

I started on the Keppra to placate her but I knew it would do little except exacerbate my already unhealthy love of napping. My options were looking dire until my toker writing partner told me about a little girl in Colorado with intractable epilepsy whose seizures were brought under control through the use of a medical marijuana extract.

I began to do some research and came upon dozens of medical articles about the anti-epileptic property of cannabidiol or CBD which is the medicinal component of pot. It is not psychoactive like THC. GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK is currently developing and is in phase one of testing a drug based on CBD for epilepsy. To top it all, CBD increases the potency of certain pharmaceutical anti-convulsants, specifically phenytoin and my loyal buddy, phenobarbital.  

I felt like I might be onto something here. I called my sponsor who is a nurse and pain management specialist with 25 years of sobriety. His take, which surprised me, was “If your motives are clean and you have a real medical need to take it, then explore it.”  

As my liver is already a little enlarged I was hesitant to take yet another pharmaceutical drug, especially one that I knew hadn’t worked for me in the past.   

My writing partner told me of a Jewish doctor, Dr. Allan Frankel at Greenbridge Medical in Santa Monica, who dispensed medical marijuana cards. 

“Most doctors talk to you for 10 minutes but this guy talked to me for an hour,” he said. 

A pot-head doctor who cared and was serious about the medicinal properties of the devil’s lettuce? I immediately made an appointment. 

I walked into the tiny waiting room and was greeted by a young smiling long haired kid. It was not five minutes before I was in the good doctor’s office. His walls were plastered with photos of velvety green pot buds and scholarly articles, his desk covered with Jewish chotchkes and pics of his daughter and baby granddaughter. 

I handed him a hefty envelope full of a decade worth of epilepsy tests and hospital visits. Dr. Frankel was in his early 60’s with smiling eyes and a great sense of humor. He began to read my file and then told me of the large number of epileptic children and adults that were being helped by CBD. 

“I can’t handle the meds,” I said. “They’re so heavy and most don’t even work.”

“Can you imagine being a six year old and having to take that stuff?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m also a recovering drug addict and alcoholic so it’s important that I don’t feel…..’stoney’,” I said.

He circled number one on a psychoactive scale. Number one is ALL CBD. Number 10 is ALL THC.

“I understand. This should address the spikes in your EEG. I’d love to see another test in a month.”

I nodded. 

“You spray this under your tongue 3 times a day. No eating or drinking for 15 minutes after. You might feel a tiny bit relaxed but you won’t feel any psychoactive effects.”

“Cool.” 

He went on to explain that marijuana used to be 50% CBD and 50% THC until the 60’s hit when it was grown to highlight its more hallucinogenic qualities. Now most of the pot is all THC. The medicinal properties are in the CBD part and although it’s more difficult to get all CBD products, it’s not impossible. 

He went on to explain that there are eight or nine neurologists using this for their patients but that it is not widespread yet. 

He instructed me to contact State Wide Collective to order my product. The process of verification on that website alone would make the FBI blush. I had to fax specific documents and my driver’s license as well as fill out a multitude of forms complete with my doctor’s information and my recommended id #. Within 24 hours, I was notified that I had been verified and accepted into the collective. I called and ordered my CBD spray. It would be overnighted to me.  

Then I called my neurologist and spoke to her nurse.

“I’ve decided to forego the Keppra. I’m going to try CBD, an extract of marijuana and I’d like to have another EEG soon to see if there is any improvement.”

“We cannot suggest that you take the marijuana for the seizure,” she said in a heavy Mexican accent.

“No, no, I’m sober. I’m not taking ‘the marijuana.’ This is a specific extract that they’re actually making into a pharmaceutical. It doesn’t get you high.”

“If you want to try the marijuana, you can. I'll let the doctor know. Your choice. But we don’t suggest marijuana…”

I attempted to clarify my position a few more times but then finally surrendered and said, “Okay. That’s fine.” 

Later that day I did a first step with my sponsee. She confessed that she still had a slew of pot pipes and her medical marijuana card in her apartment. I took all that off of her to dispose of. A few hours later I was sitting in an AA meeting when I realized I had a ziploc of one hitters, rolling papers and both of our pot cards in my purse. Fuck. I kept opening my purse and anxiously sniffing it. The guy next to me looked at me oddly.  

My fear was that I would spray this stuff under my tongue and 20 minutes later I’d be listening to The Grateful Dead with a daisy-chain headband staring vacantly at a blacklight poster ending all my sentences with “totally, braaa,” despite the doctor’s reassurance that there was barely any THC. But I sprayed the stuff and waited. It tasted like pot. Was I going to be roaming around AA meetings and sober living with blunt breath? Did I feel a little relaxed or drowsy? Maybe a tiny bit but definitely less than any previous new anti-seizure drug. They all sedate you a tiny bit until you build a tolerance because they are in essence calming your brain the fuck down. But high? Definitely not. Not at all. Bummer. I mean, thank God. 

Will some people think I’m not sober because I’m taking cannabidiol? It’s possible but it’s none of my business. Unlike other seizure meds like Ativan, this nonpsychoactive compound has NOT woken up my disease. And even if it did, I don’t believe in the whole “nothing, ever” Christian Science wing of AA.  If you wanna be one of those freaks that has a root canal without novocaine, have at it. (FYI, Novocaine is chemically related to cocaine, has some similar characteristics but lacks the toxicity or addictive properties.)

I respect my disease and my sobriety but I’m not going to let some evangelical 12 step weirdos put my life in danger. You go have a few grand mal seizures and tell me you wouldn’t go to any length to avoid another. You take those gnarly anti-convulsants that lower your IQ 30 points and add 30 pounds, and tell me you wouldn’t search out some alternatives. 

In addition to my new ganja medicine, I’ve quit diet coke. Evidently the phenylalanine in aspartame is an excitotoxin and can cause/contribute to seizures. Yeah I know. I’ve become one of those annoying healthnut ex-junkies who used to snort shit made of Drano but now only eats organic.

And you know what? I kind of get the whole “pot is medicine” thing now. And according to many lawmakers I’m not alone.  

Amy Dresner is a columnist at The Fix.

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