Lawmaker’s bad joke ignores potential of medical marijuana

Published 3:13 pm Monday, December 10, 2018


Louisville Courier Journal

Cassie Everett takes what seems like a whole apothecary full of pills each day to minimize the number and severity of her epileptic seizures.

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She sets alarms to remind her when to take the 10 medications throughout the day. It’s hard to remember what pill to take when, especially since the drugs keep her in a fog most of the time.

One doctor told her she needs to move to a state where she can get a prescription for medical marijuana that might allow her to ditch some of the pills and restore some of the function she loses each time she takes a dose.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers had a different idea for her the other day while speaking to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Have a bourbon.

That’s right, the Republican leader of the Kentucky Senate compared medical marijuana to Woodford Reserve bourbon and said that if people need to “relax” or “feel better,” they ought to just sit back with a glass of Woodford.

Just have an old fashioned or a highball and all your troubles will melt away.

It’s not that easy, Sen. Stivers.

Cassie Everett wishes it were.

Never has one of Everett’s doctors told her to pour a couple fingers of bourbon into a glass. None have given her a prescription for a boilermaker or suggested a mint julep would do the trick.

At best, what Stivers said was a bad joke.

At worst it was a callous disregard for the real problems that could be alleviated by medical marijuana if Kentucky legislators showed any real concern for the people they represent who struggle with illnesses and diseases and the costly drugs often used to treat them.

Everett was first diagnosed with epilepsy at age 11 when a teacher noticed that she was staring off into space in class. It turns out she was having what is called a “petite mal” seizure.

She had a type of juvenile epilepsy that normally responds well to medication and will often go away by the time the person reaches adulthood. Doctors told her there was a 70 percent chance she’d outgrow it.

But when she was 17 she had a “grand mal” seizure, the type with the clinched teeth, strained muscles and wild convulsions that many people think of when they think of epilepsy.

Everett said her mother, who was with her at the time, told her the seizure lasted a full five minutes. Five grueling minutes. About twice as long as the typical “grand mal” seizure.

The news from her doctor wasn’t good. The seizures would continue and, in fact, they would get worse over time, he said.

The meds worked at first. Just one prescription. They kept the horrible fits at bay for several years.

But after her daughter was born nine years ago, Everett’s seizures came more often. Her doctors upped her dosages, gave her more and different medications, and upped those doses too.

The seizures kept coming — both kinds, the petite mal and grand mal seizures. “It got to the point they told me they didn’t know what to do.”

She quit her job as a third-grade teacher and went to work as a kindergarten assistant, hoping that reducing stress would mean fewer seizures. She stopped driving because it was just too dangerous.

She’s 31 years old and has to rely on family and friends for basic things like getting her daughter to cheerleading practice or going to the store.

“They upped my medicine, tried surgery … a while back I got an implant that was supposed to help,” Everett said. “I don’t think it has.”

“And then the side effects. As they have a lot of pills, I’ve gotten more and more exhausted. My husband points out that I talk slower than I used to. When I hear an old recording of myself, I hear it too. I’m just slower to process things. Sometimes when I’m walking, I get dizzy and lose my balance.”

She struggles to keep her thoughts straight.

“It’s like I’m a walking zombie,” Everett said. “Some days I’ll do great, sometimes I feel like medicine head.”

Everette said her pediatric neurologist, who she still visits on occasion, thinks medical marijuana will help her get off some of her medications and help her regain some of what the medications have taken from her.

Her other neurologist isn’t quite as certain but still believes she would be a good candidate for medical marijuana. Thirty-two states already allow it.

Kentucky doesn’t. And Stivers is a skeptic of medical marijuana.

He said that until someone shows him evidence that it works, he’s going to oppose it. And when the president of the state Senate opposes something, there is virtually no chance of it passing.

And the problem is that there is plenty of evidence that marijuana can help with numerous diseases, including neurological disorders, pain and complications from AIDS and chemotherapy. It may even slow the growth of certain types of cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the marketing of three drugs that are made from components of marijuana or synthetic drugs that mimic substances found in pot. One treats some types of epileptic seizures and two suppress nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy and AIDS.

We know there are benefits from marijuana. The one thing we don’t have a good handle on is whether or not those benefits outweigh potential health risks.

The federal government has made it difficult for scientists to study marijuana since 1970 by classifying it as an addictive drug with no medical benefit, making it difficult to get long-term data on pot usage.

And even though we don’t have a lot of good, long-term research about a drug that has been used for 3,000 years to treat illnesses, Everett is willing to take her chances.

“All the side effects from all these medicines are horrible,” she said. “I can’t imagine (medical marijuana) would have side effects that bad.”

And as far as Stivers’ suggestion that people like Everett just chill out and knock back a few, Everett has a better idea for him.

“He should live a day in my shoes,” she said. “And see if a drink fixes anything.”