After the US election last month, legal medical marijuana became a reality in three more states, bringing to the total to 29 states. However, just a few decades ago, those who used marijuana to treat their conditions faced decades of prison and massive fines. Despite the risk, one woman chose to use marijuana to treat her condition and to defy the odds.
Cathy Jordan was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) over thirty years ago. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes the death of motor neurons over time, leading to a loss of limb control, breathing, swallowing, and speech as well as widespread cellular dysfunction. In 1986, Cathy’s doctors gave her three to five years to live if she followed conventional treatments. Cathy, however, opted to try a different approach, looking instead to plant medicine. Marijuana’s medical use has been known for centuries, though modern Western medicine has largely dismissed its use until studies in recent years proved its effectiveness and lack of ill side effects for a wide range of health issues.
Cathy began self-treating with marijuana, due to its neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidative properties. A Florida grower, Donny Clark, supplied Cathy with medical marijuana until he was caught and sentenced to life in prison. The strain of cannabis she had been using was lost. Clark was sentenced to life prison, though he was eventually pardoned by President Clinton in 2000. Despite this setback, Cathy’s use of marijuana for medicinal purposes showed spectacular results. She outlived her doctor’s expectations but her success caused an unforeseen problem. She lost her social security benefits for a time because the state of Florida did not believe she was still alive despite her state ID and regular documentation.
Cathy’s doctors were outraged at her decision to use cannabis, despite its beneficial results. One doctor, a neurologist at Duke University, was so uncomfortable with her upon learning of her marijuana use that he became “afraid” and wouldn’t even take her blood pressure. Another doctor even threatened to have Cathy committed just for believing that cannabis was helping her treat her disease. Now, decades later, Cathy has managed to outlive nearly all of her doctors, including those who criticized her decision. In total, she has outlived 5 support groups and 4 neurologists.
Finally, the science is finally catching up to show that Cathy was on to something after all. A 2004 study showed that mice with ALS who are were treated with cannabis lived prolonged lives and slowed the disease’s progression. Now, researchers are finally calling for clinical trials in order to prove that medical marijuana can help treat ALS patients. Cathy, in an interview with Americans for Safe Access, questioned why such a life-saving treatment had been kept illegal for so long:
“There are ALS patients associations that fight for the right of patients to die with dignity. But what about my right to life? Keeping my medicine illegal removes my right to life.”
However, due to changes in recent years, Cathy’s remaining doctors all agree that she should be smoking cannabis. Her original neurologist even worked to fight for the legalization of medical marijuana in Delaware. Even though medical marijuana is now legal in a majority of the country, the federal government still refuses to budge from its assertion that marijuana is a “dangerous drug” despite the fact that no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. The same cannot be said for pharmaceutical drugs, however. Hopefully, the stories of Cathy and others, as well as new research, will help to finally change their minds.
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