Bill Smith (still not his real name) went back to school this week for the first time in nearly a year. Fifteen minutes into second period, he had an attack and had to go home to get his medicine. Things could have been better for Bill, and they could have been worse.
The 16-year-old high school student suffers from a rare condition–Myloclonus Diaphragmatic Flutter–that causes his upper body to go into convulsions. Without treatment the convulsions can last as long as 48 hours. After about a year spent in hospitals or dreading the next trip to the hospital, he and his family finally gave in and agreed to try medical marijuana.
They didn’t want to. Bill’s parents have some history of substance abuse and weren’t comfortable with their child taking marijuana. Bill himself had tried marijuana once with some friends and hated it. “It made me feel weird. I didn’t like how it made me feel, and I didn’t want to end up like (someone who uses drugs).”
Bill said they probably wouldn’t have agreed to take the medicine if he would have had to smoke it. “I just didn’t want to do that,” he recalls.
It took he and his family several months to agree to their physician’s recommendation.
“I thought it would be like the rest of the drugs (morphine, xanax, atavan, valium), that it would work at first and then stop working after awhile, but so far it works great.”
He says taking the pills or the lozenges don’t make him feel the way he felt the one time he smoked it. Asked if he is ever tempted to just pop a few pills for fun, he said he isn’t. His dad then said they have a number of broken lozenges, but they are going to throw them away because they can’t be sure of the dosage.
Because the school district won’t allow Smith to possess or consume medical marijuana on campus, he had to change schools, from one where he had friends and had played in the band and on the baseball team, to one where he doesn’t know anyone, but can walk home to get his medicine as needed.
“I knew everyone up there and they knew me and knew about my condition. The nurses knew me and liked me, and now I have to start over. It’s a lot more comfortable being around people you know,” he said.
His dad said the new school (Sierra HS) is doing its best to accommodate Bill while following district guidelines not to allow Bill’s medicine on campus.
Still, he loves being back in school.. “You don’t even know how happy I am to be back in school. I used to hate school. The first few weeks I was out of school it was like a heyday, but then I started getting bored and I missed it. I’m so happy to be back,” he told The Colorado Independent.
Being out of school for so long, being in and out of hospitals, and then being put through the wringer over his prescribed medication, he says has given him a new perspective on life. “I want to be a therapist and work with kids, especially kids who need medical marijuana. I’ve heard of kids who can’t go to school at all because of this. That’s not right, and I want to help kids.”
He hopes to graduate from high school a year late.
He says he is angry about how he has been treated by the Harrison School District and by the state law that says kids cannot consume medical marijuana on school grounds. “I shouldn’t have had to miss second period,” he mused.
Comparing the marijuana to the drugs he was on before, he said there is no comparison. “They’d give me the drugs and I would get loopy. The attack would still be going on, so they would give me more drugs and I would feel worse. It kind of bummed me out,” he said.
“When an attacks comes on, it scares me a lot. It’s a really bad pain in my chest and it feels like I’m being eaten alive from the inside out. Even more, I really worry about what it has put my family through.”
As with the narcotics he was on, his marijuana dosage varies depending on the severity of the attack. With a small attack, he said he hardly notices any effect from the medical marijuana. “It’s just like being me. A small dose relaxes my body (thus easing the attack) but doesn’t affect my head. With a larger dose, it does affect my head but not nearly as much as the other drugs. On the marijuana, I can still function.”