Guest Commentary

Don’t let taboo keep you from getting relief with a Missouri medical marijuana card

More than a decade ago, surgeons removed a softball-sized tumor from my brain.

So began the start of a life-changing medical odyssey that’s left me unable to work, or even leave the house some days. I am dependent on a daily chemical cocktail with a torrent of intolerable side effects. Even worse, those eight pharmaceuticals do little to prevent the periodic epileptic seizures that continue to put my life at risk.

Fortunately, Missouri voters overwhelmingly agreed late last year that state residents like me who suffer from cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and certain other chronic, debilitating conditions are legally entitled to consume, purchase and cultivate medical marijuana, subject to a doctor’s recommendation.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services began accepting patient and caregiver applications in late June — and in a little over a month, more than 5,000 Missourians have submitted their paperwork, according to the state agency. The agency expects to award nearly 350 medical cannabis business licenses by the end of the year. By early 2020, medical cannabis should be available for purchase and legal consumption in Missouri. The Show-Me State joins 31 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing this medicinal plant.

That’s not an option I envisioned needing in 2007, when blurry vision and pulsing headaches hindered my ability to continue working as a security guard at Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville, Missouri.

The initial 18-hour surgery to remove my tumor was followed by a second invasive procedure. Despite the intervention, a walnut-sized tumor remains attached to my brain stem and optic nerve.

Worse, I developed intractable epilepsy soon after, which typically means the onset of life-threatening seizures every few months. My daily medications — from the anti-convulsant Keppra to the diuretic Torsemide to control swelling —bring regular bouts of nausea, appetite loss, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches and more. Fearful of the risk of a seizure onset in public, I spend most of my days at home.

It took a trip to Colorado, where medical marijuana was legalized a decade ago and recreational sales were approved in 2014, for me to realize that a measure of relief could be found outside the bevy of pharmaceuticals I take daily to manage my condition.

As the new year approaches, Missourians will no longer have to travel out of state (or break the law by obtaining cannabis on the black market) for relief.

Don’t take my word on the efficacy of cannabis, though. The first step: Talk to your doctor to determine if medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment option.

Under Article XIV of the Missouri Constitution, which enshrines into law the constitutional amendment approved by 63% of state voters (a vote total higher than that received by any single statewide candidate), patients with qualifying conditions have “the right to discuss freely with their physicians the possible benefits of medical marijuana use.”

Doctors, conversely, have the “right to provide professional advice concerning the same.” And in addition to the listed qualifying conditions, physicians now have the option to recommend medical marijuana for other ailments “normally treated with a prescription medication” that could “lead to physical or psychological dependence.”

It’s a long overdue alternative in state with nearly 1,000 deaths from opiates in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse — a rate of 16.5 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Estimates suggest that just 2 to 2.5% of the state’s 6.1 million residents — roughly 125,000 to 150,000 people — will obtain a medical marijuana card as part of a tightly regulated, compliant industry.

So far, so good: Missouri is already gaining national notoriety for the relative hurdle-free implementation of a law with the potential to vastly reshape our state’s culture, economy and health delivery systems.

At this early stage of implementation, it’s important that prospective patients and caregivers fully explore their options. Consult your doctor, and if your doctor isn’t equipped to have that conversation, do what’s within your rights as an empowered patient and seek a second opinion.

Missouri voters spoke forcefully in November to end cannabis prohibition. The taboo is in the rearview mirror. There’s another tool available now in our collective toolkit.

So study the evidence. Ask questions. Explore your options and consider, in conjunction with a health professional, whether this soon-to-be available medicine is right for you.

Lonnie Kessler is a Moberly, Missouri, resident and a medical cannabis patient advocate.