Rumor has it receiving and maintaining a medical marijuana card in California is easy; fact is, doing the same in New York is not.
My pain relief from medical cannabis tale begins long before the major neck surgery I had in 2016 that led me to the Samaritan Medical Pain Center in Watertown, NY. It goes back to the first time I smoked cannabis and felt less anxious within minutes. I knew after that initial hit 25 years ago, marijuana would change my life, but I had no idea just how much.
So, my story goes, after self-medicating with marijuana for more than two decades, all the while graduating college and working as a professional writer, I was told exactly this time three years ago, the reason I was losing feeling on my left side was due to crippling arthritis in my neck.
Bottom-line, surgery was a must.
Less than a month later, and a new set of hardware holding up my neck, I was on pain medication. Between pre- and post-surgery, I’d been prescribed Percocet for almost a year. I had two choices, smoke marijuana to ease anxiety, but live with migraines; or take the Percocet and be anxious with excruciating head pain. I choose the latter.
Dilemma was, when I stopped taking Percocet, I suffered headaches that began to overwhelm my life. Yes, my neck was new, but so was the stabbing pain. After one visit to my general physician, I was referred to the local pain center.
I will forever remember the year I spent there, going faithfully every month for consults and medication refills, all the while having one procedure after another. Months of trigger point injections, occipital nerve blocks, repeat MRIs and x-rays to pinpoint why the post-surgery headaches were to no avail. Simultaneously, I was becoming more immune to the prescribed Oxycontin I needed to bear the daily pain.
When I first visited the pain center in November 2017, I was prescribed 5mg of Percocet every four hours for pain. Within a year, my dose doubled with no relief in sight. Throughout the entire year, I asked repeatedly if I could be a candidate for medical marijuana. My physician said it could be possible, but before I had more injections and procedures while I remained on Percocet.
I agreed. Then I realized that I was becoming part of the nationwide opioid epidemic. At the time, I was covering the Illinois General Assembly via web stream, reporting how proposed Prairie State law could permit the temporary use of medical marijuana to combat the opioid crisis. It all seemed so surreal. Here I was writing stories about how people just like me, to no fault of their own, ended up on painkillers after a needed surgery.
I got scared. And not just because of what I was writing, but because of how feeding my body with Percocet everyday was changing my life. I was not me at all. Tired all the time, and anxious like never before. I tried not to take Percocet for periods at a time, but I always got a headache or started to go through withdrawal. That was when I knew I had to do something, which required breaking the rules. I chose pain relief from medical cannabis.
I signed a drug policy at the pain center in 2017 promising not to take any other drug while in treatment. One dirty urine sample meant no more pills, inevitable pain, and withdrawal, but a year later, I had to be heard. So, one morning, instead of taking my prescribed 10mg Percocet to start the day, I smoked marijuana for the first time in a year hoping somehow, someway relief would be mine. It was. Not only when I smoked did I relax, but I didn’t get a headache the usual three hours later.
For two days, I smoked and still had no headache. Finally pain relief from medical cannabis. That was when I went to the pain center and told my physician what I did, knowing once I told her, she would stop prescribing Percocet per the drug contract. She did, and for the first time in more than a year, I had hope I was not going to be an opioid statistic.
I left the pain center that day with a Medical Cannabis Consultants business card. Within a month’s time and a nightmare withdrawal from Percocet, I was issued a New York State Medical Marijuana Card after following all of the protocol. However, the card came with a price tag, and a very high one at that.
Yes, I could now attain a prescription in various forms including powder, concentrate oil, or a cartridge to relive pain with pain medical cannabis, but in order to do so, I had to have a minimum of $500 to order a month’s supply. I remember sitting in the Syracuse dispensary, Etain Health, an hour from my home recalling how expensive my physician said it was to both acquire and maintain a medical marijuana card. She was right. After all I had gone through, now I’d have to come up with hundreds of dollars more a month than my $30 Percocet prescription.
I could see the hustle clearly. First pharma concocts Oxycontin, second insurance covers the cost of prescribed supply, third addicted before you know it. It was no different than black market drug dealing. With no choice but to pay up for my first month’s supply, I left the Liverpool office a certified medical marijuana patient. Only problem was, now I had to figure out how to afford it. A year later, that is a tale for another time.