Medical Marijuana

By: Robin Pyatt Bellamy, Mountaineer News Contributor

Posted: April 12, 2020 | 03:59PM EST

The song says, “I get high with a little help from my friends” and getting “high” is often what we think of when we think of marijuana. Growing up it was indoctrinated in all of us that “pot” is a horrible, addictive, gateway drug. Now, 40 or so years later, the only gateway it is for is the gateway to pain management.

After a debilitating car wreck in 2017, I was prescribed opiates for pain. The oxycodone was a godsend, but it was also troubling. The side effects-primarily an extreme sense of well-being called euphoria and the constipation-were worrisome and prevented me from enjoying being pain reduced. I had managed to get through addiction twice before. The first time was after spraining my back in 1999 when the doctor immediately put me on oxycontin, and the second time after a more minor wreck where the doctor prescribed a fentanyl patch. To be honest, though, I could have used some fentanyl in the early days of the most recent wreck. After about 6 months of Percocet, I wanted to be off of them. I still needed pain management, and was in physical therapy, but the inability to function wasn’t a good feeling.

A friend was using cannabis oil for pain. At 72, that sort of surprised me. I always though of marijuana as a young person’s thing. She encouraged me to speak to my doctor about it for my own pain. My doctor was hesitant at first. It was fairly new as a legally prescribed option, and she needed to do some research and make good choices for me. A few weeks later she wrote the prescription and the learning journey began.

It isn’t as easy to get as opiates. You can’t just take your prescription to a pharmacy and walk away with the goods. Most insurance doesn’t cover it, even when legal and prescribed, and it’s quite expensive. In my case, it costs about $200 per month when the opiates were covered for under $5. I certainly wondered who had my best interest at heart. It clearly wasn’t the insurance. Before I could even order it, there were lots of forms. The state has to approve your application and issue you a license to possess these products.

Fortunately, West Virginia legalized cannabis in 2017 for some uses. Bills had been introduced since 2010, but this was the first approval. Senate Bill 386 went into effect July 2018, but it wasn’t until summer 2019 that it became possible to apply for the patient and caregiver identification cards. Likewise, you have to be licensed to sell the products. Applications to be a provider were no longer accepted after February 2020. Most forms of the drug are acceptable with the exception of dry plants-the smokable kind.

The State of West Virginia has a list of medically acceptable conditions that can be treated with cannabis. It’s fairly extensive, but does not cover nausea or anxiety unless it accompanies one of the listed conditions. Here’s the list:

Cancer Position status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Parkinson’s disease Multiple sclerosis Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity. Epilepsy Neuropathies Huntington’s disease Crohn’s disease Post-traumatic stress disorder Intractable seizures Sickle cell anemia ​ Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain Terminal illness that is defined as a medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course.

To get a medical cannabis patient card, you submit a form and pay a fee. Caregivers to those who use the drug must also get a card. The process begins with the application after you have been seeing your doctor for at least six months. This is to prevent “drug shopping” and consolidates your use under one physician’s care. Keep in mind that not all doctors are approved to prescribe marijuana, so have a conversation about that first. If they knowingly certify an individual who does not qualify, they face a felony charge and could spend six months in prison. They are also required to report when the patient no longer needs the drug.

Once you receive your ID card, you can buy your cannabis product from an approved dispensary. Be aware that although new applications are being assessed, there are a limited number of places to make a purchase. Part of the reason for this is that each application must be accompanied by over $12,000 in fees. Right now, the law provides for only 30 licensed dispensaries in 5 districts. These rules and the actual number of dispensaries is evolving, but currently the list of towns allowed to host a dispensary includes Charleston, Elkins, South Charleston, Huntington, Clarksburg, and Wheeling.

The West Virginia DHHR has disclosed that a release date for applications “has not yet been determined for patients and caregivers”. They say a press release will be issued, and to check for updates. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing that website could not be reached. In fact, I couldn’t find an online form anywhere so you may have to visit a DHHR office directly, or contact them through the website. In other states, the application fee runs about $50 and takes about 6 weeks to process.

As a patient, finding the right combination and right products can be a challenge. If you manage to get through all the permit and licensing stuff and find a doctor and a dispensary, you then have to understand THC and CBD quite thoroughly. Start your use at the minimum dose. While you can’t really overdose on marijuana, ingesting too much can make you quite disoriented and physically ill. You want to find the right level for your pain management without being non-functional. Typically for pain management only, very little THC is needed. It is the CBD that affects pain. THC affects mood (and appetite!) so a higher level of that would be used for anxiety or sleep assistance. Never attempt to drive or operate machinery if you are taking anything with THC. There is also a difference between hemp and marijuana you should consider. This is a great website to start your learning.

Because I was granted permission to use medical cannabis, my opioid use has been cut considerably. I have a maximum of two 5mg pills per day. Largely this is because of the longer time it takes for marijuana to take effect and not having any in my system when I wake up. I’m certainly still addicted, but two pills a day is far less guilt inducing than 6 pills and a patch. Given that West Virginia is at the top of the list of states with an opioid problem, one would think they would be moving faster to get people a cannabis option. Unfortunately, the political machine moves like, as my grandma used to say, a herd of turtles.

As you start your journey, and the difficult navigation through approvals and forms, keep the faith. It takes a while, and the rules are a bit ridiculous, but it’s a great time to start the conversation with your doctor. You may also find the links below helpful.

Stay safe and keep it legal.

Robin Pyatt Bellamy was born in Point Pleasant, WV in 1961 and grew up in Ravenswood. She is a professional paranormal researcher, family history researcher, and author. Currently living in Toronto, Canada she is the mother of three adult children, grandma to two littles, and a modern day “southern belle”.

More Reading: