Since Arkansas voters passed the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment in 2016, more than 72,500 Arkansans have obtained Medical Marijuana Prescription Cards in order to obtain products to treat the 18 qualifying conditions.
These Arkansans include a sleepless cancer survivor, a 10-year-old epileptic child with seizures and a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. Here are the stories of the conditions that led them to pursue medical marijuana as a treatment and their experiences using the drug.
Senior citizen, cancer survivor
Like many seniors, Pat Edwards likes to stay in shape by exercising at the local community center. Every Tuesday, she and others would gather at the Bishop Park Senior Activity Center in Benton for line dancing class. One day in 2017, she noticed something a little different about herself.
While wiping away some sweat during her workout, Edwards noticed a hard lump in her breast. She’d had a mammogram a few months before and the doctor had noticed a mass that they thought was probably just calcium.
It turned out to be much worse.
Edwards was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy treatments and the use of an often-painful drug called Neulasta that causes the patient’s bones to ache as the drug prevents infection.
“Your bones hurt really bad,” Edwards said recently.
As Edwards struggled through the cancer treatments and four surgeries, she battled a common side effect: sleeplessness. Traditional sleeping medications didn’t help.
“[Cancer treatment] affects your body in a lot of different ways,” Edwards said. “I could not sleep even using my sleeping pills.”
While Edwards is cancer-free today, she still struggles with the sleeplessness that began during cancer treatment.
So she thought she’d give a different type of medicine a try: medical marijuana.
“I thought, ‘You know, this has got to help,’ ” Edwards said. “I talked to the doctors, got my medical marijuana card, and I started with the cookies and, I’m telling you, I could sleep. I slept like a baby.”
Not only did Edwards finally sleep well, she said she didn’t have the same hungover feeling that often accompanies other sleeping meds.
Edwards used the product, in cookie form, every night for a couple of months until she was able to sleep on her own. Now she only needs to use the cookies about once a week.
“It’s not an everyday occurrence like it was at first,” Edwards said.
In October, Edwards bought about $150 worth of cannabis, which her friend made into cookies and candies as well as a salve for her. Edwards has frozen cookies ready to bake when she needs them and she has not run out of products since her initial purchase last year.
Now that she has seen some benefits of medical marijuana, Edwards wishes she could have taken advantage of it sooner to help with other aches and pains of cancer treatment.
“If I had known I could have gotten the medical marijuana card when I was going through the other stuff with Neulasta, I would have done that in a heartbeat,” Edwards said. “I didn’t know how to obtain it, but that would have helped with the pain so much.”
10-year-old girl suffering from epilepsy
One morning, when Jaynna Jenson was 5 years old, she woke up and got in bed with her mother, like many children do. But something was different with Jaynna on this particular morning. Her eyes were moving in a strange way that would later be described as “eye deviations.” Jaynna even stopped breathing at one point.
Jaynna’s mother, Sarah Weatherford, called for an ambulance to come to their home in Romance in western White County. The medics stabilized Jaynna in the ambulance on the way to Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with epilepsy.
Jaynna had suffered a tonic-clonic seizure, formerly known as a grand mal seizure. She was prescribed a daily anti-epileptic medication as well as an emergency drug to be used in case she suffered any seizures lasting longer than five minutes.
Unfortunately, the medications came with some side effects that were difficult for Jaynna to handle, especially at bedtime.
“She had really bad night terrors,” Weatherford said. “She would scream and holler and run around the house while trying to go to sleep.”
Jaynna would have no memory the next day of her behaviors during the night.
Weatherford eventually weaned Jaynna off of the drugs and decided to give cannabis a try. First, they used CBD oil, because medical marijuana wasn’t legal in the state at the time. Once it became legal, Jaynna obtained her medical marijuana card and, at age 9, became the youngest patient in the state. Because Jaynna is a minor, Weatherford was issued a caregiver card and the two began visiting the dispensary together.
Jaynna uses a tincture, which Weatherford dilutes with a hemp-based CBD oil because she said there aren’t many low-THC tinctures available. The bottles of tincture cost about $90 each, but they last for “quite a while,” according to Weatherford, since Jaynna uses small amounts.
While using the tincture, Jaynna has kept her seizures at bay.
“We’ve been pretty lucky here recently,” Weatherford said. “She’s right at a year and a half seizure-free.”
Jaynna, who suffers from some neurological learning disabilities, recently finished the fourth grade in the Mount Vernon-Enola School District, where she earned all A’s and B’s.
“We have definitely seen a big difference as far as just her normal day-to-day activities and not having neurological issues,” Weatherford said. “She’s a tough cookie.”
Combat vet fights PTSD
John Smith has an aversion to society. He’s often angry, has a short temper and is described by others as having an intimidating demeanor. Serving eight years in the military, including time in Iraq, can do that.
“[It has] something to do with a look in the eyes, I’m told,” said Smith, who requested that we use a pseudonym. “It’s the demeanor of a lot of veterans — being quiet.”
Smith, of Conway, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles with social anxiety. He’s had a difficult time finding an effective treatment that will allow him to function in society.
Smith used every treatment offered at the VA Hospital, but without much luck. The drugs he was prescribed were not effective and made him feel overmedicated, so his wife and members of the vet community encouraged him to try medical marijuana.
“Pretty much everybody in the vet community was, ‘You should just smoke, man,” Smith said.
Smith worried he could lose VA benefits as a result of using marijuana, which is still an illegal drug under federal law.
Smith’s wife encouraged him to give it a try as well.
“My wife is the one that introduced me to the idea and kind of gave me the push, because I, and other veterans, were pretty nervous about the way the VA was going to handle things,” Smith said.
Fortunately for Smith, the fears about the VA’s handling of marijuana use were unfounded. While the VA does not prescribe medical marijuana, the VA cannot withhold treatment or compensatory benefits for its use, according to DAV, a veterans advocacy group.
Smith finally made the decision when a VA psychiatrist suggested it after Smith had exhausted all his other options.
“[I made the decision to try it] when one of the psychiatrists at the VA told me, ‘Man, you’ve been through every formulary the VA has, you ought to just try smoking weed, man. Just get your med card and see if that will help,’ ” Smith said.
Smith tried medical marijuana and has been pleased with the results, spending about $300 per week on edibles and flower at Green Springs Medical Dispensary in Hot Springs. Smith said he prefers hybrids or indicas because the sativas make his heart race and don’t soothe his PTSD symptoms as well.
“It calms the storm,” Smith said. “[I become] more willing to listen, if you will.”
Smith said his wife has been pleased with the results, too.
“My wife says my tone is more aggressive when I don’t smoke, almost abrasive,” Smith said. “[When I smoke,] I’m much better with my words.”
Smith said using medical marijuana to treat his PTSD is better than the alternatives.
“This is just being honest,” Smith said. “I’d rather smoke than be [heavily drugged] with meds or drink.”