The San Bernardino Sun wrote:Group backs medical marijuana
Diana Sholley, Staff WriterThe San Bernardino Sun
Article Launched: 07/19/2008 05:59:27 PM PDT
LaVonne Victor is not a criminal, but sometimes she feels like one.
"Why?" she asked emphatically. "Why should we be made to feel like lawbreakers when we're only taking what our doctors prescribed?"
Victor, a Temecula resident, is talking about medical marijuana. It's a volatile subject, and the ongoing debate over its use is a source of great concern for people like her. A new support group in Riverside is offering help.
Victor suffers from multiple sclerosis, seizures and agoraphobia. She's taken many traditional medications with little results and life-altering side effects including depression, mood swings and exhaustion.
About nine years ago her husband attended Hempfest, an event promoting the positive aspects of cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is a dry, shredded green and brown mix of flowers, stems, seeds and leaves derived from the hemp plant cannabis sativa. The main active chemical in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC for short. THC acts on specific sites in the brain, called cannabinoid receptors, kicking off a series of cellular reactions that ultimately lead to the high users experience. Cannabis can be smoked, cooked into foods and ingested from a vapor.
After talking to several doctors, Victor's husband thought the infamous plant might help her. She obtained a legal prescription and started taking the cannabis. Her
health improved, and she showed no side effects.
There are thousands of stories like Victor's, where cannabis has succeeded in relieving excruciating pain when traditional medications have failed.
However, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Web site, "there is no consensus of medical evidence that smoking marijuana helps patients."
On the site the DEA shows supportive statements from the American Medical Association, which has rejected pleas to endorse marijuana as medicine, and instead has urged that marijuana remain a prohibited substance ... at least until more research is done.
Also, the American Cancer Society "does not advocate inhaling smoke, nor the legalization of marijuana," according to an official statement by the organization. However, the society does support carefully controlled clinical studies for alternative delivery methods, specifically a THC skin patch.
Many who suffer from various ailments and choose cannabis as a treatment support its legalization and believe in its health benefits. Their own bodies are proof, they say.
But they face such daily challenges as where to get it legally, battling the high cost of it, and fighting the stigma that surrounds it.
About three months ago, the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project started the Inland Empire Medical Marijuana Patient Support Group for patients to discuss their individual hardships and share information.
Meetings are at the THCF Medical Clinic in Riverside, which serves the Inland Empire. The clinic does not dispense cannabis.
Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse at the clinic, has been involved in the campaign to legalize cannabis for decades. He facilitates the meetings, sharing his knowledge of the subject.
Fidel Valenzuela, 29, attends the support group regularly. Nearly three years ago the Colton resident was in a devastating motorcycle accident, colliding with a truck at 45 miles an hour.
The nerves from his right arm were disconnected from his spine. They are held together now with two plates and eight screws.
"The pain was unbelievable and constant, 24/7," he said.
The pills he was prescribed changed his personality from a laid-back, even-tempered guy to someone he didn't recognize.
"I had really bad mood changes, I was real snappy, got angry real fast," Valenzuela said. "They also gave me stomach problems, so bad I couldn't eat. I had blood in my stool. I started just taking the pills at night, but sometimes the pain was still so bad. Then, I started drinking to stop the pain."
Before his accident Valenzuela was a health nut, watched what he ate, worked out at the gym and didn't do drugs.
A family member who saw Valenzuela's pain offered him some cannabis and something unexpected happened.
"Smoking the marijuana gave me such relief," he said. "It took the edge off the pain without side effects."
He felt better but was uneasy about how little he knew about what he was putting in his body. The support group helped fill that void.
Venezuela was able to share his story, listen to others and learn from their experiences.
"At the support group you can ask questions and find out the do's and don'ts," he said.
One of the most intense topics at the meetings is availability and cost.
According to www.marijuanagrams.com
, seven grams, or one-fourth of an ounce, for most varieties can run between $85 and $400. Prices on the street can be less, but there is a legal risk and no quality control.
For Valenzuela, who's been out of work since his accident, all options are a hardship.
"I can only buy a little at a time, then I have to ration it out," he said.
Though there are long-standing debates about the positive and negative effects of cannabis, it is, to date, illegal except for those Californians who qualify under The Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
The general public is invited to attend the clinic's support group meetings.