By Mary Lou Smart
Suzanne Sandala (not her real name) has found that honey works. Amazing, news, really, because before she discovered cannabis nothing was working.
When she was 18, a drunk driver with no license rear ended the car she was in with two friends. It was estimated that he was driving 110 miles an hour. She was thrown through the windshield at a force and speed great enough that her head’s imprint was left in the glass. The drunk, a 23-year-old whose license had already been taken for his first three DUIs, left them for dead.
Suzanne’s injuries included a major
concussion and a dis- located knee, which has required
several surgeries and causes pain to
this day. The knee pain varies; it often keeps her up at night, and
occasionally is so bad that she drags that leg when she walks. Now
43, Suzanne lives with clus-
ter and severe migraine headaches.
Over the past 20-plus years, she has tried many drugs to control the migraines. One of the many traumatic aspects of migraines is that severe ones often arrive with no warn- ing. The intense, throbbing pain makes sufferers nau- seous, dizzy, sensitive to noise and sound, and unable to move.
While teaching — she has a degree in elementary educa- tion with a minor in child development — she would leave the classroom and lie on the floor in a coat closet for hours. She eventually ran her own day care, and was for- tunate enough to have family close by so that when she did have a bad episode, they helped out. More than once while driving, she would clutch the steering wheel and brace her head against the window. Unable to hold her head up or see with blurred vision, she maneuvered hand- icapped until she could pull over and stop the car.
One of the pharmaceutical medications that controls the severe headaches is Imitrex, generic name Sumatriptan, which narrows the blood vessels believed to become dilat- ed during especially severe episodes. Literature for the medicine stresses that the drug cannot prevent a migraine from occurring or reduce the number of attacks, but it can be taken after the migraine begins.
The lengthy list of side effects and warnings listed for Imitrex include heart attacks. The drug it is not supposed to be used by people with heart issues such as high blood pressure. Suzanne hates taking Imitrex.
“When I took Imitrex, it was a very scary ordeal,” she said. “I would hold off as long as I could until I could not tolerate the migraine anymore because the medicine was so scary. After taking it, it would take at least one half hour to 45 minutes to even do anything, and then it would make my heart race, and then it felt like there was pres- sure on my chest like someone was standing on my chest so then I had trouble breathing. Imitrex did take the headache and numb it, but then I could not breathe, and so I was still in bed. The rest of the day I’d be nauseated and sick from the Imitrex, because it made me dizzy. It made me feel terrible.
Around the time she turned 40, Suzanne was diagnosed with high blood pressure. At that point she’d been taking Imitrex for 20 years. She started taking high blood pressure medications but nothing was working.
Her blood pressure numbers were 158 over 110. She went to a neurologist and cardiologists, but nobody was successful in getting her resting pulse down to a normal level.
Suzanne, who jokingly refers to herself as a boring house- wife, has four children, ages 4, 3, 16 and 19. Her family attends church weekly. She’s proud of her sons; one sings in the church choir and the other is studying bio-chemistry in college. She lives in a quiet enclave where she and her husband are good friends with their neighbors. She does- n’t drink alcohol, has never smoked a cigarette, and had never used cannabis before she found it as medicine.
Two years ago, Suzanne began using cannabis to help get to sleep at night when her knee pain was keeping her up. She found that infused honey works the best. She tried edi- bles and tinctures and did not like the taste of either. She does not want to smoke. She found out about honey by talking to people at different storefronts and getting refer- rals to herbalists. She never wants to make her own medi- cine.
“I’m not going to grow a plant myself,” she said. “I’ve got little girls. I didn’t want plants in my home. I’ve got two teenage sons, and they are all fine with everything. They look at me and say, “That’s good. I’m glad that mom sleeps better.” They spent half of their childhoods coming in when I had migraines and feeding me peanut butter crackers and oranges. Seeing their mom laid out for hours and hours was really scary for them.”
She bought a small bottle of honey and brought it home. After experimenting with dosage levels, she realized that
¼ teaspoonful in a cup of hot tea before bedtime would make her feel better.
“The thing is, I have never been high,” she said. “The honey does not make me high. I take it, and I just go to sleep at my normal time. I do not feel my knee as closely. I have less knee pain during the day. With cannabis, I’m noticing a huge improvement. I have more good days than bad days, and it used to be the other way around.”
With just a tiny ¼-teaspoon dosage taken before bed, Suzanne’s body is experiencing other, significant, round- the-clock benefits. She can now feel the migraines coming on.
“It’s just a slower process, and I think it’s because the cannabis is in my system,” she said. “I seem to catch them quicker because they don’t come on as sharp.”
uses a cannabis-infused salve applied directly to her knee,
which she finds alleviates pain. She’s considered
applying the topical on the left side of her face to
see if it helps with cluster migraines that occur there.
An unforeseen benefit of the medical cannabis is that her therapy appears to have lowered her blood pressure. Her latest reading was 117 over 73.
“It’s amazingly good, and I feel so much better,” she said. “My doctor was thrilled to see the numbers go down. And it’s all from taking ¼ teaspoon at night. That’s all I take. The cannabis brought it all down.”
Finding Honey and Spreading the Word
While researching medical cannabis, she learned about the sad state of compassionate care in Montana. Wanting to see where the cannabis she was using was grown, where edibles were made, and to find the most natural product, she visited storefronts and nurseries. Several days later, when she drove by one of these places, she saw the people that she’d spoken with tied up outside as DEA agents ran- sacked businesses.
“The feds came in and ripped up the nursery where they had all of these plants,” she said. “The people I had spo- ken to a few days earlier were zip tied and standing out there for hours. It was very, very terrifying for them. That was their income, and they were legit. Patients were also zip tied and had to stand out there for hours too. I have a legitimate card, and that could have been me. I would have been terrified.”
She was outraged and wrote to the Governor, Brian Schweitzer, stating that the media coverage was biased and had tainted the image of medical cannabis in Montana.
“I told him that the TV campaigns talking about marijua- na only showed a bunch of hippies with long hair missing half their teeth, and smoking joints,” she said. “I told him that I’m a mom. I’ve never seen or smoked a joint, and that these legislators are drinking on their lunch hours and then driving back to work. It was disgusting to me that the media only portrayed the negative side of the story. He wrote me back and said that he agreed totally that med- ical marijuana had never been fairly represented.”
With Montana’s new law, infused medicine is barely men- tioned in relation to patients, which might make them tough to defend in a lawsuit, according to attorneys con- tacted for this story. Delivery methods outside of smoking were not given much attention by legislators drafting the Senate Bill 423 (SB423). Choosing primarily smoke, they did not seem to understand the idea that patients need to put thought into a delivery method.
Smoking, which provides immediate, short-term benefit, is not the best solution for many. Ingested cannabis is metabolized by the liver before traveling through the bloodstream, a journey that can take up to 18 hours. Ingested cannabis, therefore, can be a powerful medicine.
“We tried to explain to legislators that different methods of medicating depend on what the illness is, and what the patient is trying to accomplish,” said Jim Gingery, cannabis advocate and former caregiver. “We tried to explain dosing to them. Yes, legitimate patients do dose. Why? Because they have jobs. They have families. Mom may be very sick, but she still wants to take care of her kids and make dinner. These are real people.”
To protect another innocent, the herbalist who created Suzanne’s honey is not revealing his name. Producing infused honey with a highly concentrated cannabinoid extract is an art. With the proper science and lab-tested edibles, tinctures or honey concoctions, many patients’ conditions have improved. The 8-ounce jars of infused honey that Suzanne first purchased were tested by Montana Botanical Analysis, a company that stopped testing cannabis following passage of SB423.
“It’s all math,” the herbalist advised. “Everyone was fol- lowing hippie recipes from the 60s before. With science we’ve been able to zero in on strains. You need to proper- ly activate the cannabinoids, and to grasp the knowledge of dosage levels and milligrams, to be able to capture that in a preparation. You don’t want to over-heat it or you’ll destroy the cannabinoids.”
Forced out of business, the herbalist, who is also a patient, has begun teaching people how to make tinctures, salves, edibles, oil extracts and honey.
“We’ve got sick people here; we’ve got to keep it
rolling,” he said. “We’re all trying
to do it right, but nobody
knows exactly what the law is. We don’t
know if we’re safe
because of the federal government. We’re under an injunc- tion with the state law, and nobody knows what’s going on with that. There are lawsuits, and it’s a mess.”
Spreading the Word
The prohibition brought on by SB423 will not prevent the science from being passed on from practitioner to patients, and from patients on into the general population. Despite the mainstream media’s negative spin, the real story of medical cannabis is finding a wide audience. Suzanne, for one, has been spreading the good news to friends and relatives.
“I just put that honey jar on the table, and tell them,” she said. “I was a good Catholic girl growing up, and never smoked or did anything. At first, they are shocked. Then they’ll ask if it helps my migraines, and I say absolutely. They’ve seen me suffer for more than 20 years, and are happy for me.”