Monday, August 27, 2012

Cannabis smoking moms crusade for decriminalization

By Valerie Hauch, Toronto Star

One is a mom, the other a grandmother, and they both use marijuana.

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Diane-Marie Williams — who started the Canadian chapter of Moms for Marijuana in March this year — and her mother laugh about how Williams got grounded at age 15 for using pot.

Now, mother and daughter both use cannabis for medical reasons — and they want to see it decriminalized.

It relieves chronic pain and the symptoms of fibromyalgia for Williams, 50, and provides relief for her 68-year-old mom, who has multiple sclerosis and is also in remission from cancer.

Both have medical prescriptions that allow them to use marijuana legally in Canada.

Williams, who lives in Kelowna, B.C., drove to Quebec two years ago to help her mom, who was suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, in addition to dealing with her MS.

“I made her some (marijuana) brownies and she ate them and she started to cry,” says Williams, mother of two adults now in their 20s. Her mom had suffered pain from multiple sclerosis for 30 years, and the effects from the laced brownies brought such relief she was emotionally overwhelmed.

“She applied for a medical licence,” says Williams, who had been a member of Moms for Marijuana International for a couple of years and thought there was a need for a Canadian chapter.

The activist group disseminates information about the drug and supports decriminalization. Recently mentioned in an online Today Moms article, the Facebook page of Moms for Marijuana International has drawn more than 24,000 “likes.”

The more recent Facebook page for Canadian Moms for Marijuana, which went online in March, has had more than 370 “likes” and garners 9,000-odd visits per week, says Williams.

An occasional recreational user of marijuana for 30-odd years, Williams said she came to use the drug for medical reasons after gall bladder surgery left her in chronic pain. She was given opiate medication for a year, which affected her liver and “made my brain mush.” Then she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Williams says she found that marijuana, which she puts in juice smoothies, took away the pain. “It gave me my life back,” she said.

Interest and support comes from fellow mothers who use marijuana recreationally or can’t get a prescription, but they don’t want to go public about it, she says. There are obvious legal implications and there’s still a stigma attached to using the drug, though that’s lessening.

Dr. Leonardo Cortese, chief of psychiatry at Windsor Regional Hospital, thinks that’s not a good thing. He remains convinced “marijuana is not as harmless as we all used to think and some people still think.”

There’s evidence, he says, that for people who have certain risk factors for developing psychosis, “marijuana may be the light which gets the bomb going.” Once schizophrenia and psychosis enter the picture, he said, “it’s a very difficult place to be.”

“I’m absolutely terrified that this is not taken as a serious issue.”

Cortese said some medical studies also show marijuana use can result in structural brain changes. “It’s changing the brain . . . how can things like that not have some sort of harmful, potential repercussions?”

He does acknowledge, however, that “there are tons of people who smoke (marijuana) with no ill repercussions” and that there are some medical applications for the drug.

“I have some patients on it for medicinal purposes . . . with cancer, and they’re in intolerable pain. If someone has cancer and this is the only way to deal with it, I’m all for it. But I tell them, there may be some harmful effects.”

He thinks groups like Moms for Marijuana are “absolutely” sending the wrong message.

Williams disagrees and believes that keeping the drug illegal and therefore lucrative contributes to violence and crime.

She doesn’t see Moms for Marijuana as promoting the drug.

“I think it’s about making it apparent there’s an injustice out there, and that (the illegality) is hurting our children and promoting the crime aspect. I’m not saying you need to try cannabis.”

Waterloo mother Cheri Sulker, 47, got in touch with Williams after Canadian Moms for Marijuana was launched and offered to be the Ontario “mom” for the provincial chapter’s Facebook page, which went online at the end of March.

The single mother of a 15-year-old boy, Sulker has a medical prescription for the drug, which she says eases pain from fibromyalgia, scoliosis and a skin disease. She puts her marijuana into food, such as cookies and muffins, because the pain-relieving effects last longer, and sometimes smokes it.

“I don’t share anything I have with anyone — that’s illegal,” says Sulker, who started using it when her son was about 10. She has always been transparent with him about her usage and why.

“He’s very happy about it, that it works for me and I’m not angry or frustrated because of pain,” says Sulker, who doesn’t drink alcohol.

People who drink and criticize moms who smoke marijuana should think twice, she says. “I think it’s sad . . . alcohol is legal but it causes aggression and extreme stupidity. Cannabis calms you down, it makes you relaxed.”

Sulker says her son shows no interest in trying cannabis or alcohol. “He’s only interested in girls.”

Nonetheless, she’d like to see marijuana legalized, with regulations about age set.

The Ontario Facebook Moms for Marijuana page has garnered more than 280 “likes” and registers hundreds of visitors weekly, with 53 per cent of the hits coming from the Toronto area.

“I know personally people are afraid to ‘like’ cannabis pages because of the negative stigma, negative because of all the lies that have been told about this plant since the 1930s,” says Sulker, who uses a wheelchair and says she has spent hours online researching cannabis.

Mary is one of those who regularly visit the Ontario Moms for Marijuana Facebook page for information and to interact but will not go on the record with her real name. The 39-year-old Scarborough mother of five boys, aged 2, 8, 10, 15 and 21, doesn’t want to be arrested.

“I wish I could be honest and open about it,” says Mary, who adds that she and her husband, who doesn’t smoke or drink, have explained to their older children that she smokes marijuana for medical reasons, but asked them not to tell anyone outside the family.

“I hate having to have that conversation ... but I want to be truthful and honest with my kids. We’ve taught our kids that not all laws are right or just or perfect.”

Mary’s doctor won’t give her a prescription for the drug, which is not uncommon. “It makes a lot of doctors nervous,” she says. So she buys it regularly from a dealer she trusts.

She was on prescription medications for years to treat stomach pain from polycystic ovary syndrome, high blood pressure, Crohn’s disease and a degenerative disc disease. A friend offered her some marijuana one time and she felt better. She started using it regularly in 2007 (though not in front of her kids) and is now off all prescription medication. Her blood pressure is normal.

She says she knows at least 10 other “soccer moms” who also use marijuana and are among the two-thirds of Canadians who have indicated in recent polls that they believe marijuana should be decriminalized or legalized.

She’s “hurt’’ by any implication that what she’s doing is harmful to her children. “When people says, oh, you’re a bad mom if you use pot, that stigma is so hurtful. Nothing could be further from the truth; my kids are the reason I get up every day,’’ she says.

Andrea Matrosovs, a spokesperson for NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws) Women’s Alliance of Canada, said she’s not going to “pass judgment’’ on mothers who choose to smoke marijuana.

“The harms of prohibition are far more than the harms of usage,’’ says Matrosovs, who points to findings from a two-years-in-the-making 2002 special Senate committee report that recommended legalizing marijuana, quoting scientific evidence that cannabis is “substantially less harmful than alcohol’’ and should be regulated.

Many scientific studies have attributed medical benefits to cannabis use, in treatment for patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain, for instance. Germany approved a cannabis extract in 2011 for treatment of spasticity for people with multiple sclerosis.

A 2010 study by McGill University Health Centre and McGill University researchers found cannabis offered relief to patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain.

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1 comment:

  1. Fibromyalgia Symptoms
    may intensify depending on the time of day -- morning, late afternoon, and evening tend to be the worst times. Symptoms may also get worse with fatigue, tension, inactivity, changes in the weather, cold or drafty conditions, overexertion, hormonal fluctuations (such as just before your period or during menopause), stress, depression, or other emotional factors.