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Article about Lynn Harichy

>SOURCE: Chatelaine Magazine
>PUBDATE: November 1997
>Rx: marijuana
>People with MS, glaucoma, AIDS and cancer say smoking pot eases their
>symptoms.  But is marijuana good medicine?
>By Katrina Onstad
>A year ago, Lynn Harichy, now 36, was a different person.  Diagnosed at 18
>with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease of the central nervous
>system, Harichy was rapidly succumbing to the disorder.  Periods of
>blindness would come upon her; limbs would tingle and fall numb.  The
>mother of four was confined to a wheelchair.  "It felt like someone was
>breaking my bones," she recalls from her home in London, Ont.  There is no
>cure for MS, only treatment in the form of drug therapy.
>At one of her lowest points, Harichy read a story in the local newspaper
>about a man facing charges for selling marijuana seeds.  His defence
>revolved around marijuana as a pain reliever for the chronically ill.
>Harichy as intrigued.  It had been years since she'd smoked pot, but when a
>friend gave her a joint as a gift and she lit up, the effects were
>immediate.  Averaging a joint a day, Harichy found that the muscle spasms
>that racked her body ceased; the bouts of paralysis grew less frequent,
>finally vanishing.  Most important for Harichy, her mental state shifted.
>"I could focus," she says, and in her life, that matters:  Harichy has been
>on a disability pension and is training to become a lab assistant.
>"Suddenly, my thoughts were clear, more organized.  I could concentrate in
>school because I wasn't in pain."  But she didn't want to grow her own
>marijuana or use drug dealers.  "I have kids.  I don't want to put them in
>So Harichy joined a Toronto group called CALM, Cannabis as Legitimate
>Medicine, an organization that provided marijuana for those who needed it
>for medicinal purposes.  With a $15 registration fee and a letter of
>diagnosis, people with a range of health concerns suited to marijuana
>treatment  from AIDS wasting syndrome to cancer to glaucoma  could
>receive cheap clean marijuana in a safe office-like environment.  
>There's only one catch:  it's illegal.  Like the Vancouver-based Compassion
>Club, CALM was based on the California model of "cannabis buying clubs."
>The difference is that in California, Proposition 215, passed last
>November, made marijuana use legal for certain illnesses.  In Canada, it's
>illegal.  Period.
>"Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, marijuana can only be used
>in research situations," says Bruce Rowsell, director of the drug
>surveillance bureau at Health Canada.  "But if you're caught cultivating or
>possessing marijuana in Canada, it doesn't matter if it's for medicinal
>use; you could still be charged."
>For people like Harichy, inaccessibility creates a logistical nightmare.
>She couldn't drive the hundreds of kilometres to Toronto to buy her
>marijuana through CALM, and delivery was often difficult.  Canada Post
>sometimes intercepts suspected "drug shipments," and few marijuana
>proponents are willing to risk prosecution for trafficking.  Harichy isn't
>alone in her frustration; though no one knows how many Canadians are
>relying on marijuana for pain relief, it is the most-used illegal
>psychoactive drug in North America.  The question is: does marijuana really
>This is how marijuana works: we have receptors for
>delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)  the chief marijuana component
>responsible for the "high"  in the parts of the brain responsible for
>memory, mood, motor activity and concentration.  Smoking marijuana affects
>those functions, but because we don't have receptors in the parts of the
>brain that control basic life functions (consciousness and respiration), it
>can't kill us.  For those with MS and epilepsy, marijuana is reported to
>reduce muscle spasms and to relieve accompanying bladder and bowel
>incontinence.  Many people who suffer from glaucoma  a condition usually
>resulting from excess pressure in the eye that, if left untreated, can lead
>to blindness  also stand by marijuana for its effectiveness in reducing
>the pressure behind the eye.  And the mood-improving qualities of marijuana
>are said to be useful treatment for a range of chronically ill patients.
>But marijuana is regarded as most medically viable in light of its most
>famous side effect: the munchies.  Marijuana   is an appetite stimulant,
>which can be key in the control of AIDS wasting syndrome, the result of HIV
>infection, which causes patients to lose 10 percent or more of their body
>weight.  The nausea and inability to eat can contribute to early death, but
>marijuana has proven an effective antidote by making patients hungry and
>hence, better nourished.
>For cancer patients too, loss of appetite and an inability to keep food
>down can pose major problems.  Dr. Eduardo Bruera of the Cross Cancer
>Institute in Edmonton has seen these effects firsthand with his
>chemotherapy patients:  "I've had patients who are vomiting 30 times from
>the radiation.  It can rip an esophagus apart or cause dehydration."  In
>one U.S. survey, 78 percent of cancer patients felt that smoking marijuana
>reduced their nausea.  But Dr. Bruera, like many doctors, isn't convinced
>marijuana is the best solution.
>"The problem with it is that it gets you high," he says.  "A lot of our
>patients, especially the elderly, don't want that feeling."  Also, little
>is known about the long-term effects of marijuana use, though the
>carcinogens produced by smoking any substance can be fatal.  "Legalizing
>marijuana oversimplifies the care of the terminally ill," says Dr. Bruera.
>"Since the mid-'90s, plenty of effective medications for vomiting have been
>introduced, drugs that don't have the side effects of marijuana
>derivatives.  Why would I tell an ill patient to smoke something when he
>can get better results elsewhere?"
>In the past few years, pharmaceutical versions of THC have appeared on the
>market.  Dronabinol (brand name Marinol), a synthetic version of THC, is
>prescribed to AIDS patients and cancer patients with sever nausea.  
>Advocates for legalizing marijuana aren't impressed.  "Marinol is only one
>component of cannabis," says Umberto Iorfida, president of the National
>Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada (NORML).  "Pot
>doesn't consist of THC exclusively; it has more than 400 ingredients."
>Hence, THC pills can cause patients to feel even more stoned than regular
>marijuana.  "I've talked to people with AIDS who just don't want to take
>any more pills," says Iorfida.  "They can't keep them down."
>Of late, the movement to legalize marijuana in Canada seems to be gaining
>momentum.  In Vancouver, the Compassion Club has expanded its facilities.
>There, more than 100 clients regularly come by to purchase pot, discuss
>alternative treatments and talk to fellow smokers.  According to founder
>Hilary Black, the club receives more than 15 calls a day from people across
>Canada who want to use the service (they send people information and will
>ship marijuana by mail to people in extreme need); at least a third of
>their clients are women.  "A lot of women don't feel safe using the black
>market," says Black.  "And if they have families, they might not be able to
>afford it."
>Yet according to Health Canada, we don't know enough about marijuana's
>effects to make it legal.  "Most of the information out there is
>anecdotal," says Rowsell.  "Only when good scientific studies come forward
>that say 'Yes, this drug may be useful for this disease,' should we even
>consider legalizing it."
>In the meantime, however, Harichy is back to using the black market.  After
>a couple of months in operation, CALM closed its doors in July.  According
>to organizers, the HIV community they were targeting already had its own
>sources, and they couldn't attract enough clients.  So where does that
>leave women like Harichy, who aren't connected to a marijuana subculture?
>For now, Harichy is relying on friends to get it for her.  "They say we
>need more studies before it can be legalized, but what does that mean?"
>asks Harichy.  "It makes me feel better, and I know that right now."

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