What do you know about Medical Cannabis, and how much of that is based on fact? All I knew was that medicinal marijuana was very different from recreational, but I had no idea why. This two-part post won’t cover those differences; you can discover that information on your own. This is the story of my own recent journey into this world, a world I hope will finally provide me some relief. A much needed respite from my Cervical Dystonia symptoms that have plagued me for the past 6 years.
As of August 1, those of us with “intractable pain” now have access to Medical Cannabis in the state of Minnesota. Since I don’t personally know anyone else who is taking this for a neurological movement disorder, I feel like a pioneer. That’s exciting for me. If I can help just one person find something that makes a positive impact on their pain and suffering…that’s my reward.
So what does this alternative medicine journey look like in Minnesota?
1. First, I had to talk to my doctor to make sure he was certified to enter me into the system. I was thrilled that he was already treating another movement disorder patient with it. That meant the path had already been paved. Once entered into the system, I received an e-mail from the Minnesota Department of Health, telling me I was “pre-approved” and that I needed to register online to get approval.
2. Registration: I entered my personal information, medical information, and prescription drugs I’m taking. Once I paid the $200 registration fee, I was approved.
3. Making an Appointment: With my registration complete, I was approved to see a pharmacist at one of the 8 Medical Cannabis centers. I immediately made an appointment for my initial hour-long consultation and was scheduled for August 2.
4. Life Survey: Before my appointment, I had to fill out an online survey. Essentially, it asks you to rate your symptoms on a scale of 1-10. Due to the timing of taking a hard fall on some concrete stairs the day before, it was easy to mark 10 for just about every question. Everything was at its worst.
These 4 steps led up to the big day. My neighbor picked me up Tuesday morning and drove me down to Eagan. Having grown up in our traditional family-owned pharmacy, that’s exactly what I pictured: walls lined with bottles of tinctures, pills, and in this case, large glass containers filled with a variety of strains of leafy marijuana. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Entering the building, I found a waiting room that resembled a doctor’s office: chairs against the wall, coffee tables littered with magazines, and a reception desk. My pharmacist led me back to her office where she asked a number of questions about my Cervical Dystonia and what I was hoping the medication would do for me. She spoke about the different strains available, the various options for ingesting the drug, side effects, cost, which ones she thought would be most effective for me, and the laws regarding its use.
In my constant role as a student and teacher, I bombarded her with questions.
“Are you a licensed pharmacist, and how did you end up here?”
She’d been a traditional pharmacist for years. When medicinal marijuana laws began to go into effect around the United States, she took the classes necessary for certification.
“Given my conditions with chronic pain and muscle spasms, which option would be best?”
She recommended the oils because of the fact that they lasted longer throughout the day. Their downfall? It takes 30-90 minutes for the healing effects to kick in (if they work, that is). The vaporizing benefits would be felt immediately. However, I’d have to inhale all day long, which didn’t seem practical.
“So are all the options oil-based, or are we inhaling parts of the plant with the vaporizer?”
Everything is oil-based. Coconut oil, in fact. There are no leaves, even with the vaporizer. For those of you who know me well, then you know I’m vegan and gluten free. When going through my allergies, we discussed my concerns. After going through all of the ingredients for the oil options, we discovered that all of them would be available to me. What a gift! How many of us actually know which allergens are in our regular prescriptions?
“How is this going to affect the prescription drugs I’m already taking?”
Since I’m taking a narcotic-like drug that’s very similar to Medical Cannabis, lower doses are a necessity. Clonazepam, I was told, is very hard to stop taking, which is another one of my prescription drugs. So it was better to take fewer milligrams of a different medication. I would double check with my CD doctor to make sure he agreed with her suggestions, but she really seemed to know what she was talking about.
“What are the side effects?”
Very similar to the other drugs I’m taking. Fatigue is probably the main one, but there’s also dry mouth, lightheadedness, dizziness, paranoia, and nausea.
“How many months will it take for me to know if it’s working or not?”
At least 3 months. In September, I will go see my pharmacist again for a 20 minute consultation so that we can tweak the medication. If it seems to be going well, then I can just call for a refill the following month. Otherwise, I can see her for as long as it takes to pinpoint the dosage that’s right for me.
“I’d recommend that you take the oil with high concentrations of THC at night, about an hour before you go to bed. That should help with your insomnia and muscle spasms, lasting a good 8 hours. In the morning and early afternoon, I want you to take the strain that has equal parts THC and CBDs. That will last about 8-10 hours each time.”
How much will all of this cost?
For me, it was $227 for the month! Well, I had to try it. I’d come this far. She led me to a different waiting room where the actual pharmacy was.
“You can help yourself to snacks and a beverage,” she said motioning to the water dispenser, Krueger coffee maker, refrigerator with juice boxes, and several snacks. Now that’s service!
As I waited for my prescription to be filled, I naturally assumed I’d be able to pay with a credit card. But the sign read
“Cash or Debt Card Only”
I inquired about the payment policy. Until the state of Minnesota changes this requirement for our cannabis centers, it’s the only way we can pay.
So what are the laws surrounding Medical Cannabis? What kind of obstacles exist for those of us wanting to try something new in a world that has been overtaken by pharmaceutical companies? And what can you do to help others gain access to this alternative they desperately need? Come on back for part 2 to find out.