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Confessions of a Medical Marijuana User, Part 3: The Big Inhale

01/19/2012 04:02 EST | Updated 03/20/2012 05:12 EDT

This is the third part of a three-part series on medical marijuana. Read the first part here in which the writer is diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, and the second part here, where she pays a visit to her new drug dealer.

As we sat down, David explained that all the workers at the centre are volunteers and suffer from a chronic condition themselves -- it's run by sick people, for sick people. And yes, it's illegal, technically.

While medical marijuana is legal for licenced users, Canada's Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), passed in 2001, made it nearly impossible for many sick Canadians to obtain a legal "exemption" from the law. People who obtain exemptions are called licencees or exemptees, and must grow their own pot or buy only from the government's supply. But the government weed is not considered premium pot -- the Compassion Centre says it's of "disappointing quality," doesn't come in enough varieties and there are concerns about safety: It's subjected to gamma radiation before being distributed to patients.

There's a several-month wait for the licence after you apply, and Health Canada gets upwards of 300 applications a month. As of last year, 4,884 Canadians were authorized to possess dried marijuana and another 3,576 were authorized to grow it themselves. There is also an ongoing lawsuit against Health Canada and the Federal Department of Justice claiming that the MMAR is actually unconstitutional under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

David explained that until better legal avenues are opened, cannabis clubs perform the duty that the government should. And the cops are pretty good about leaving them alone, as long as all their members are well-behaved and don't flaunt it in public. There are rules in place restricting how much pot you can buy each visit, how often you can buy, and how many different strains.

Strains? As I said, this was definitely not my area of expertise, but I was about to get a lesson. David then taught me about the two basic strains of marijuana, Sativa and Indica. Sativa strains are stimulating, said to increase focus and creativity and support the immune system. Indica is best for sedation, pain relief, and relaxation. At any given time, the centre has in stock a variety of both strains, as well as blends of the two. If you pick something that doesn't work for you, you can return what's left for something else. Their goal is to help you find relief. You can smoke it, vapourize it, or ingest it in baked goods. (The centre even employs a professional pastry chef to ensure these goodies are as delicious as they are medicinal.) There were also candies, lollipops, tinctures, butter, and cannabis-infused cooking oil. I had no idea.

The menu was six or seven pages long, listing each variety and how much they cost. The prices ranged anywhere from $6 to $12 a gram for the dried marijuana and $15 for hash. I've been told this is quite well-priced considering the quality of the goods. The edibles were priced according to the amount of marijuana in them -- the more potent products were more expensive. Triple-chocolate brownies, raspberry oatmeal cookies, peanut-butter cups, and Rice Krispie squares -- I felt like a kid in a very grown-up candy store. In the future, I could even call in a takeout order and it'd be ready for me by the time I could come pick it up.

When it was my turn to order, I walked up to the counter and basically told the staffer, "dealer's choice." I had no idea how any of it worked or what I should try. I was given a brown paper bag, I handed over my $60, and left. The entire walk home, I was looking over my shoulder, expecting the narcotics department to come bearing down on me, lights flashing, sirens blaring, Nancy Reagan telling me I should have just said no. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life.

Later that night, I sat on my couch, not really sure of what to do, or even if I should. I experienced a lot of trepidation lighting that pipe, even more than I thought I would. As I said, I'm not comfortable engaging in unlawful behaviour and, though I've been around pot before, this somehow felt different. This was my pot and it was for me. And if it worked, I would therein become a regular lawbreaker--a shifting of paradigms that I wasn't sure I was ready for. But the possibility of pain relief overpowered any hesitation. I had to try.

I own a downtown loft that has very large windows, so I made sure my blinds were closed and fretted about whether to leave the windows open (to air out my place) or keep them closed (so as not to let the smell out). In the end, I went with windows open, packed my pipe with Sativa like I was shown, and lit up. Within moments, I was flying. Now, I may not be the best judge, but this stuff was pretty potent.

I felt light, giddy and not at all in pain for the first time in what felt like years. No knives stabbing me in my neck, no vise around my back. My joints didn't ache, not a muscle felt bruised. It was awesome--for about 10 minutes. Then I realized that I couldn't read a book, I couldn't watch TV, and I couldn't make a sandwich. I definitely couldn't be in public.

I didn't feel any pain, because I didn't really feel anything at all. This was not going to help me get back to being a high-functioning professional in any real way. The next night I tried the Indica, to see if it would lull me to sleep pain-free, but it made my stomach hurt and I ended up awake for most of the night. When my sister asked me about the experience the next day, I told her the truth. I was a little disappointed, a little frustrated, a little relieved.

So it seems that marijuana, for me, wasn't a magic pill after all, and I haven't partaken since. That brief window of being pain-free did remind me of what my body once felt like, and I have hope that one day soon it will again, without the high. That was six months ago. Since then, I have been managing my condition with the help of my alternative healers, through diet and exercise, and generous doses of Biofreeze pain reliever. I am getting better. I don't regret going to the centre. It was, overall, a very positive experience.

Medical marijuana didn't work for me, and even if it had I don't think my nerves could have handled another trip to the Compassion Centre. But I am glad it's there. For so many others, people with perhaps higher tolerances or a different chemical makeup -- and who are maybe not quite as wussie as me--marijuana definitely can be a viable treatment. It did take my pain away, completely, even if it was just for a short time. And that's saying a lot.