Marijuana only option, claims one Alabamian
By Cara Parell
March 17, 2005
Some mornings Laura Campbell wakes up with pain so severe that leaving her bed hardly seems like an option. But unlike most sufferers of chronic pain, Campbell can’t reach over to her nightstand and pop a pill.
She is allergic to nearly 95 percent of pain medications, including morphine, Demerol and Codeine.
So she finds relief with a drug that isn’t available with a prescription — at least not in Alabama.
To manage her pain, Campbell, a 32-year-old mother of three and Cullman resident, smokes marijuana several times a week.
Campbell said the illegal substance is her only option for pain management.
“If I take pain medication, I’m going to vomit and go to sleep,” she said. “With three children, I can’t do that.”
Campbell’s only other options are Marinol, a pill formulation of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC and methadone.
Campbell said she and her doctor considered Marinol, but its price— $400 a month— was too expensive. And Methadone, a synthetic narcotic used to treat drug withdrawal, seemed too extreme to Campbell.
“Isn’t methadone for people coming off crack?” Campbell responded to her doctor after mention of the drug. “It’s pretty much ruled out.”
She started getting sick four and a half years ago and suffers from three forms of arthritis, which cause pain throughout her body and in all of her major joints, she said.
She has fibromyalgia syndrome, a muscoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder, with ailments that include fevers, achiness, irritable bowel syndrome and lack of tolerance to extreme sunlight.
Campbell also has chronic fatigue syndrome and idiopathic hypersomnia, which is similar to narcolepsy and causes excessive sleepiness during the day.
In connection with the idiopathic hypersomnia, Campbell has restless leg syndrome, which makes her legs twitch at night and prevents her from experiencing deep sleep.
“There’s no cure,” she said. “It’s like having a bad toothache. It won’t kill you, but sometimes you wish it would.”
Campbell already takes six prescription medications for her multiple health problems.
After researching her options, four months ago Campbell chose marijuana to treat her pain and has been happy with the results.
“Marijuana helped the irritable bowel syndrome, and I was able to keep weight on,” she said. “I sleep better, my nerves are not as bad and it stops the pain without any other negative side effects. The only downside is the smoking thing.”
Campbell said she mainly smokes the drug because it produces the fastest results.
Campbell said her three doctors support her choice and have noticed change.
She said sometimes she has to travel to Birmingham to get her marijuana.
“Unfortunately that’s the seedy part, instead of going to the pharmacy where it’s safe,” she said. “I could lose my kids, my house, my car.”
In an effort to legalize the drug, Campbell has sent letters to federal and state lawmakers like President George W. Bush; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; and Gov. Bob Riley. She has yet to receive a response.
“If they have an answer, they won’t say it,” Campbell said. “They don’t want to be pot advocates, but they know there are people who could use it.”
She also contacted the district attorney’s office, whose advice, she said, was to have the marijuana delivered to avoid arrest.
“I’m stuck being a lawbreaker, but I have no other choices,” she said. “Either I can have a quality of life and be a lawbreaker or not break the law and not have a quality of life.”
Campbell’s next step is to testify before state lawmakers when the House considers a bill in the next few weeks to legalize medicinal marijuana use.
The Compassionate Use Act for Medical Marijuana will be introduced by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Madison, and if passed would add Alabama to a small but growing list of states that allow medical marijuana use.
The bill stipulates the use of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription, and the drug could only be prescribed for certain conditions like AIDS.
“The fact that a single mother of three children is willing to risk arrest, prosecution and jail in order to obtain pain relief should speak volumes to Alabama state legislators about the effectiveness of medical marijuana,” said Loretta Nall, founder of the Alabama Marijuana Party and president of the U.S. Marijuana Party. Nall is engaged in lobbying legislators to approve the bill.
Dr. Michael Saag, Director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for AIDS Research, works with AIDS patients who are outlined in the bill as potential benefactors of legalization of the drug.
He supports legalization for medicinal purposes, saying marijuana as a medicine has “definitive medical benefit for patients who have wasting, loss of appetite and persistent nausea.”
“Testimony to its medicinal effect is the development and approval of Marinol for those indications,” Saag said. “I cannot imagine a logical rationale regarding why marijuana is not allowed as a prescription drug.”
Saag said risks associated with smoking marijuana on a regular basis include lung irritation and long term potential hazards like asthma and bronchitis.