Nearly 37 years ago, my mother was in the final weeks of her 18-month-long losing battle with pancreatic cancer.
She had been through an unsuccessful operation, radiation and chemotherapy, and had moved from her mobile home in Hope to spend her final days with my family in Greenwood. Mom was in nearly constant pain and gratefully accepted the frequent injections of morphine her doctor taught me to give her.
But while the morphine eased her pain, it did nothing for her nausea — a problem that grew increasingly severe in spite of various medications prescribed to calm her churning stomach and dizziness. Desperate to help her, I asked her doctor whether there was anything else we could try.
The doctor glanced around the little examination room — the way I imagine a CIA operative does before discussing plans to sneak into the Kremlin — and whispered, “Marijuana has reportedly been helpful in relieving the nausea of cancer patients, but it is illegal and I can’t prescribe it.”
I just shook my head in silent disbelief and let the hypocrisy sink in.
My mother had spent the past year swallowing cocktails of toxic drugs sufficient to kill an elephant — in the hope that the harm the drugs might do to her cancer would prove to be greater than the harm they would do to the rest of her body. And for pain relief, she had taken an ever increasing dosage of much-needed — but highly addictive — narcotics, from occasional pills to frequent pills to injections.
Now I sat there in shock. While many substances, from sugar and salt to heroin, can become addictive — physically and/or psychologically — the potential harm of marijuana obviously was not close to the harm of opioids. And when compared to the potential dangers of both alcohol and tobacco to the health and safety of people — even so-called “recreational marijuana” was a minor leaguer. Yet, alcohol and tobacco were available to adults everywhere with little or no regulation. Narcotics were available at the decision of physicians. Marijuana was legally off limits for all.
All that said, I really could have cared less back in 1982 about either the law or the politics as my mother lay dying in my guest room, vomiting bile in a plastic bucket. My only thought was to help her, and if marijuana might help, I was determined to give it a try.
Finding someone with “a stash” in those days was a little harder than it would be today, but the search didn’t take long. Within a few hours after our visit to the doctor, a friend delivered a bag of marijuana to my house, free of charge.
Mom had never smoked even a cigarette her entire life and I knew she would not smoke the marijuana, so my wife baked it in a batch of brownies. I was honest about the ingredients and encouraged her to take a bite to see if it would help her nausea.
Her answer came quickly.
“I have never taken drugs and I do not intend to start now,” she told me sternly as she pushed the brownie away from her lips.
She would live another month, soothed somewhat by ever-increasing doses of morphine, but unable to enjoy a single day free from the nausea no prescribed medicine seemed to lessen.
I don’t know if my marijuana-laced brownies would have helped. I do know they couldn’t have hurt and they were worth a try.
Worth a try — unless you were a 67-year-old woman convinced the difference between appropriate medical treatment and illicit drug use was the rightful decision of the legislature, not the patient or even the doctor.
Today, the National Institute on Drug Abuse admits marijuana can reduce nausea and may well reduce pain, inflammation and muscle-control problems. Research also indicates the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana may help control seizures, and may be helpful in the treatment of glaucoma, anxiety, mental illnesses and opioid addictions.
But the super-hyped, politically inspired stigmas imprinted in the minds of many Americans have kept medical marijuana illegal in most states — including Indiana. Research has been thwarted and legitimate medical uses have been prohibited.
Now is the time to end the senseless fear and cruel paranoia embedded in our laws. Many state governments already have legalized medical use of marijuana. Now is the time for Indiana to follow suit.
Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007.