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Three Teenagers Explain Why They Turned to Marijuana to Help Their Medical Conditions

Children and teens have many conditions that are amenable to treatment by cannabis, but the political and emotional intensity around the issue prevent serious research.

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Joanie: I knew it was legal medically in California, but I was just trying it with friends.  But I could tell instantly that it made me feel a lot better: it took my mind off the pain, and made me less depressed.  

Dr. M: And did you start using regularly right away?

Joanie: No, only occasionally, for the next few years. I would get it from friends a couple times every week. 

Dr. M: What happened with school during those years?

Joanie: Well, l could have done better if I hadn’t been so depressed and in so much pain.  The fluorescent lights gave me a headache every day, so I had really poor attendance. For a two-year period I never made it to a full week of school because of the headaches and medication side effects. Finally, I sort of gave up on the kind of academic pre-college program I had been working on, and went to culinary school at the Skills Center.  I couldn’t do school work or study, but I figured it was okay to be in the kitchen. 

Dr. M: How did that work out?

Joanie: Not too well. The teachers were sending me to the office all the time because of the way the antidepressants and antipsychotics were making me act. They thought I was on drugs, which I was.

Dr. M: So, when did you start using cannabis regularly?

Joanie: When I was 18.

Dr. M: And how has that helped?

Joanie: Well, you could call it a complete turnaround, I guess.  First, I figured out that what I had been getting from my friends was not good quality, so when it became legal and I got my card  I started growing my own much, much better stuff. I smoke it every day—my vaporizer broke—and I’m back in school.  I have a double major now, in French and Linguistics.  I have a 3.88 GPA in my junior year, and am doing very well, thanks to the cannabis.  I also make an arthritis balm with olive oil and beeswax, and put it on my knees and my back.

Dr. M: Do you still take any prescription medications?

Joanie: I take Fiorcet, because the lights at school still give me headaches. Fiorcet takes the pain down to where I can function, and when I get home in the evening, the cannabis takes it away completely.  I’m off the antidepressants and psych drugs completely. 

Dr. M: What is your parents’ attitude towards your use of cannabis?

Joanie: Oh, totally supportive. My father is a builder, and he has back pain. We smoke together.  My mother gets too spaced out from it, so she just uses the topical butter for her back pain.  They are both just very happy to know that I am doing better, and functioning again, after seeing me on so many pills for years, and not wanting to get out of bed. Even my grandma is so happy to see me back in school.  But she doesn’t know about the pot! 

Dr. M: Do you have many friends who medicate too?

Joanie: Not too many. There have been so many raids around here lately that I keep pretty quiet.  But I keep in touch with a few people about their grows, and different strains we try out.


Jack: Pediatric Diabetes and ADHD

Jack is a seven-year-old boy with type-I diabetes and ADHD who was brought to the clinic one recent afternoon by his mother.  Michigan requires two physician certification signatures for children under 18. The family had already gotten one from another doctor —not one of Jack’s personal physicians—so it was my call about his card. 

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