Vietnam Veteran, Christian, Medical Cannabis Patient
By: Pamela Jayne
Iâ€™ve had the privilege of meeting some truly amazing people while writing about the medical cannabis movement in San Diego, and Neil is no exception. He is honest, down to earth, and just about as laid back as a person can be when theyâ€™ve had to endure what he has. Actually, he reminds me of my father. The way he speaks, the lingo he uses and his mannerisms are tell-tale of the men from the generation that brought us the horrors of the Vietnam War and the life-changing music of The Beatles. Itâ€™s a generation that fought a war they did not necessarily want to fight, and some of them are still fighting. Although Neil may not be carrying a gun through a foreign jungle like he did in Vietnam, he is carrying something that is just as taboo in todayâ€™s world â€“ a joint rolled with medically prescribed cannabis. Interestingly enough, it was easier and more socially acceptable for Neil to smoke marijuana recreationally while in the United States Marine Corps over 40 years ago, than it is for him now with doctor prescribed medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of hepatitis C and the side effects of the harsh medications he must take to combat the constant pain from neuropathy and other medical problems. Because his condition is worsening, Neil has no choice but to take prescription pain pills. Without medical cannabis, there is no way he would be able to physically tolerate the side effects of the other medicines.
â€œThe pills, especially the OxyContin, are incredibly taxing on the body. It ruins your appetite, you have a stomach ache all of the time, and you canâ€™t even go to the bathroom. Youâ€™re just blah all of the time. The side effects are brutal. If I smoke a joint, I can eat a little bit. It may not be a four-course meal, but at least itâ€™s something. It makes my stomach feel a little bit better and Iâ€™ll have some energy â€“ be more alert. And at night, it helps me fall asleep. It may be only for an hour or two, but at least I get some rest.â€
Neil describes his day-to-day life: â€œYou know how awful it feels to have a really bad hangover? Well, thatâ€™s how I feel when I wake up every single morning. Thatâ€™s how my day starts, everyday. So the first thing I do when I wake up is take my medication, make a pot of coffee, and smoke a joint. After about an hour, I feel alright. If I just take my pills and donâ€™t smoke a joint, I feel terrible.â€
Simply eating enough to meet his daily nutritional requirements can be a challenge. â€œI am afraid to eat sometimes,â€ Neil said. â€œItâ€™s because Iâ€™m afraid Iâ€™ll get sick or wonâ€™t be able to go to the bathroom.â€ Because he can only ingest small amounts of food, he makes sure that what he does eat is healthy. On the day we spoke, he was having a small fruit smoothie with wheatgrass that he picked up from a restaurant in his North Park neighborhood. Also in his neighborhood is The Green Door Collective, where he has safe and convenient access to medical cannabis. â€œSome people just donâ€™t get it. They think we come in here (The GDC) to have fun. Thatâ€™s not it at all. Iâ€™m not having fun; Iâ€™m just trying to feel normal. I walk in here slow, and I walk out of here slow. Hell no, itâ€™s not recreational for me. I need it in conjunction with all of that other crap I have to take. Given that pills are handed out so freely, it blows my mind that we are still having this debate about the safety and usefulness of marijuana. Itâ€™s sad because itâ€™s such a great medicine.â€ As I mentioned earlier, the only time Neil used cannabis â€œrecreationallyâ€ was while serving in Vietnam.
When the subject turned to the recent decision made by the San Diego City Council, the frustration and disappointment on Neilâ€™s face said it all. â€œI donâ€™t know what they expect people to do,â€ he said. â€œThey are making it even harder on people who already have it hard.â€ I asked him if he thought they cared about medical cannabis patients or if they were just playing politics as usual, and he said, â€œIf they are going to do this, they obviously do not care.â€ As for those who claim that cannabis has no medicinal value, Neil was earnest when he said, â€œI hope they never have to use it,â€ but added, â€œHow could anyone make a statement like that? Who are â€˜theyâ€™ to say what is best for me? It really shouldnâ€™t be any of their business, anyway. Thatâ€™s how I look at it. I donâ€™t want to break the law; I just want to stay healthy.â€ Although complete strangers seem to have no problem judging Neil (and medical cannabis patients in general), he has the full support of his family and friends. Because he is so discreet about his medical cannabis use, he could probably get away with not even telling them about it; but he is honest and upfront and says they have no problem with it whatsoever. Like he says, â€œAs long as you are not harming anyone â€“ to each his own.â€
Like cannabis, faith is also a normal part of Neilâ€™s everyday life. Raised Catholic, he was an altar boy as a child and is now a member of the Horizon Christian Fellowship in Clairemont. He made it a point to say, â€œYeah, I am a Christian, but I donâ€™t feel comfortable pushing my religion on others.â€ He reads The Bible and prays to God every day. â€œI just try to be the best person I can be. The people I hang with at Horizon know that Iâ€™m sick and they are fine with what I do to make myself feel better. They donâ€™t have an issue with it.â€ It is incomprehensible to me that although Neil has the support of his doctors, family and friends, and even his church, this group of public officials, who have never even met the man, believe they have the right to take away the one thing that enables him to live a normal life.
I didnâ€™t really get into the details of Neilâ€™s illnesses because although this is a patient profile, Neil is more than just a patient. He, like all other patients, is more than what is written on his medical records. He is a person; a really cool person who happens to rely on cannabis. That is what I want everyone to know. These patients are real people. They really need cannabis and no one should be able to deny them safe access to it.