I am sitting in a waiting room in an old converted house in a downtown residential neighbourhood. The room is bright and sunny, with potted houseplants, a water cooler and a standing fan in the corner. A few men and women, from their early 20s to their late 50s, also wait quietly. There's a friendly receptionist and office staffers buzz around her. It could be anywhere and we could be waiting for anything...except for the double-locked metal doors at the entrance and the pungent aroma of marijuana in the air. I am in a compassion centre, which doles out medical marijuana. And I'm thinking to myself, "How did I get here?"
I'm a 39-year-old law-abiding citizen. I work in banking. I don't speed, I've never gotten a parking ticket and jaywalking makes me uncomfortable. While I make no judgment of people who use marijuana recreationally, I have never been one of them -- my drug of choice has always been a nice glass of wine. So how did I get here?
Well, I'm also a 39-year-old woman who was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic pain condition three years ago -- fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It started as a mild sluggishness, which I assumed was my anemia -- a condition I'd had for years --acting up again. But within six months, I was taking vacation days to sleep. Six months after that, I was off work completely. I had always been an incredibly active person, but suddenly getting to the bathroom was a struggle.
I couldn't sleep because of the pain, I couldn't work, I couldn't even sit for more than a few minutes without having to move. Living alone, basic household chores were too much for me -- laundry, cooking, cleaning. I had to give my dog away. I broke up with my boyfriend and let go of any semblance of a social life. My daily routine, as I knew it, was over. Money was also becoming an issue.
When I first got sick, I had complete faith in Western medicine and our healthcare system. I thought I would go to my doctor, who would immediately diagnose me, write me a prescription for some pill that would work quickly, and I'd be back to my normal life in no time at all.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. It took a year and a half to even have my mystery illness diagnosed. My doctors thought it could be everything from diabetes to MS to a brain tumor. I saw more specialists than I ever knew existed: neurologists, cardiologists, ENTs and, finally, a rheumatologist, who was the one to identify my condition. But even with a diagnosis, there was still no clear treatment plan and nothing close to a cure. I did get a lot of pills prescribed -- mostly hardcore, highly addictive narcotics -- which turned me into a drooling lump on the couch, with night terrors and hallucinations. And still the pain didn't go away.
After allopathic medicine failed me, I turned to alternative medicine. I'm pretty straight-laced, as I mentioned, but by that time if someone had told me that standing on my head and clucking like a chicken could help, I would have done it.
I had nothing left to lose. I started seeing a naturopath to deal with the immediate symptoms, and a homeopath who used a regression timeline to eliminate underlying causes of my CFS and fibromyalgia. My shiatsu therapist, who deals with pain management, has, in all earnestness, saved my life. To my great surprise, I started to feel better. I finally had some hope that there was a light at the end of this very dark tunnel. But these alternative methods work slowly and, in the meantime, I was still looking for some relief. Then a friend of mine mentioned marijuana.
I had heard about Canada's program for legal marijuana, if used for medicinal purposes. I had already been unconsciously self-prescribing a bottle of wine each night for over a year, to get some semblance of sleep. This wouldn't be that different, I thought. And weed had to be less insidious than oxycodone, which I was getting from the pharmacy.
I did some research and found that marijuana has definite medical benefits. From Alzheimer's to asthma, marijuana has been proven to not only relieve some symptoms, but to also prevent others. It can keep cancer from spreading, reduces muscle spasms for people with spinal-cord injuries, and can work as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory for people with arthritis. For those with my condition, it has been shown to reduce nausea and chronic pain and to improve sleep. It sounded like the magic pill I was looking for.
I found a local clinic, the Toronto Compassion Centre, a non-profit founded in 1997. Their website was straightforward and very helpful. "We provide information relating to the therapeutic use of cannabis and facilitate access to a consistent, safe, and dependable source of medical cannabis products for people suffering from ailments for which cannabis has been shown to be effective," it read.
You needed to meet their membership requirements and the first step was getting a referral from a doctor. I downloaded the application (an eight-page form) and took it to my GP for her signature.
For part two of this three-part series, click here. This article previously appeared in the Grid.
It's was extreme makeover time for the Liberal Party of Canada at its <a href="https://www.facebook.com/AlthiaRaj">biennial policy convention in Ottawa</a>. Here's a half-dozen hot topics the 2,600 delegates debatedor decided.<br><br> Photo: CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld<br><br> <i>With files from CBC.</i>
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/14/liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1206071.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">Leadership speculation swirled at the Liberal convention</a>. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled out a run and his brother David said he was considering a campaign. Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon also attracted attention by hosting a hospitality suite, encouraging some to argue he must be considering a bid for the party's top job. Former astronaut and MP Marc Garneau is also said to be considering a bid. Of course, current interim leader Bob Rae continued to be the primary focus of leadership rumours.<br><br> He's the interim leader for now, but after Wednesday's barnburner of a speech to his Parliamentary caucus, those inclined to think he also wants to be the permanent leader had fresh fuel for their burning suspicions. Will more signs emerge over the convention weekend? Will other potential candidates for the permanent leadership stand up and say something about their own ambitions?<br><br> Photo: CP
UPDATE: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/mike-crawley-liberal-convention-2012-ottawa_n_1207459.html?1326654076&ref=canada#s612012&title=_Whos_Running">Mike Crawley was elected President of the Liberal Party of Canada</a> at the biennial convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Will it be Mister President (Mike Crawley) or Madame President (Sheila Copps)? Or do the media pundits have it wrong and delegates are prepared to elect one of the other two contenders? Will the party elect someone with radical ideas for reform or someone more comfortable with the party's established path? The presidency vote could become a proxy for the bigger tug of war touching nearly every aspect of the convention -- how ready is the party to embrace change?<br><br> Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn
UPDATE: Maryanne Kampouris was elected National Policy Chair at the Liberal convention in Ottawa.<br><br> Five party activists are in the running to helm the party's quest to redefine its policy platform before the next election, including one (20-year old Zach Paikin, above) who can't personally remember not just Liberal glory days in the seventies, but any of the party's history prior to Jean Chrétien's leadership. What coherent vision will emerge from the race for the chair and from policy resolutions delegates will debate on the floor.
UPDATE: The Liberal party <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberal-vote-legalize-marijuana_n_1207388.html?ref=canada">voted for the resolution to legalize marijuana</a> and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/15/liberals-stand-behind-the_n_1207370.html?ref=canada&ref=canada">against the resolution to cut ties with the monarchy.</a><br><br> Speaking of youth and policy debates ... a range of ideas are up for discussion at this convention, including some more radical ideas originating with the youth wing of the party, such as dropping the Queen as Canada's head of state in favour of a Canadian-born figurehead and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. If the delegates go for some of the more exotic policy ideas, will that capture some excitement in the eyes of the voting public?<br><br> Photo: PA
Was the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html">defection of Quebec MP Lise St-Denis from the NDP</a> a one-off, or the start of a trend? If Quebec is up-for-grabs as pollsters suggest, what strategy do the Liberals have to capitalize on that opportunity and try for a return to the party's glory days of dominating the province's politics? Can their brand be saved in Quebec?<br><br> Photo: Alamy
If it starts with "re-" it was probably a theme at this convention ... which might explain the giant letters displayed at the entrance to the convention centre. If the party wants a rebirth, it has to reform in order to rebuild. To do that, it may need to recycle some past hits, but the party's regeneration will require fresh ideas, too. To avoid re-igniting past tensions, Liberals will need to avoid repeating their past mistakes. Job one is restoring the party in the minds of voters as the best alternative to the governing Conservatives. And that means renewal.<br><br> Photo: Getty