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    Posted December 26, 2013 by
    North Hollywood, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Does marijuana help you?

    In a word...yes!


    I'd always had a rather ambivalent attitude toward pot. I'd tell people that if it were being passed around at a party, I would take a hit or two -- but ultimately, it only made me sleepy and hungry.  I didn't realize it could be any different for anyone else.  All that changed, however, in 2005, when I became a friend and caregiver for "Dave".


    Dave was homeless, 27, and had schizoaffective disorder -- a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  His condition was considered severe, and included ongoing delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and agitation.  Originally from Philadelphia, after spending an unreasonable amount of his adult life incarcerated as a non-violent offender in the hands of a for-profit prison system, he eventually found his way to New Orleans in the fall of 2004. He used to sleep in the median landscaping directly in front of the Superdome Hyatt Regency on Loyola Avenue. Despite his challenges, I could see that beneath it all, Dave was a gentle and caring soul, and he has greatly changed the way I looked at this illness. We met in January 2005 and I soon invited him to live with me.  We've been inseparable ever since.


    This role was not a situation I would have looked for in life, but after having done it for almost 9 years now, I couldn't think of anything more rewarding.


    Dave's first choice of medication has always been marijuana. I've seen how it dramatically calms him and enables him to deal with the world around him. I've also seen how it lessens the distractions inside his mind. So I wanted to ensure that he could always get it regularly and safely. Unfortunately, since we lived in New Orleans at the time, just by helping him get it, I was putting myself at risk for possible arrest, as he himself had done many times before. In fact, after your first marijuana arrest in Louisiana, any subsequent arrest is considered to be a felony. One of the reasons the prison system is so disproportionately full of mentally ill offenders is because many of them use marijuana to self-medicate.


    Ultimately, we decided to relocate to California. Here, he is able to have safe and legal access to it, and I don't have to worry. And now, for the first time since his illness set in, he has been able to avoid any hospitalization for a period of more than 5 years! He's avoided any arrests for nearly 10.


    I looked at some of the recent studies, and discovered one of the reasons why: one of the ingredients that makes up marijuana, cannabidiol, or CBD for short, signals a neurotransmitter called anandamide, which acts as an organic antipsychotic, controlling his symptoms. I can't speak for everyone, but I've personally observed what a difference it makes for him -- without the side effects many "conventional" antipsychotics cause, which include muscle rigidity, involuntary movements, elevated triglycerides and diabetes. He still uses Abilify in addition to the medical marijuana, but if it weren't for that, he'd have to take several other prescription drugs, as well. Unlike marijuana, prescription drugs, even when properly administered, kill over 100,000 people each year.


    While many states have medical marijuana policies now, California is the only state that okays its medical use for psychiatric conditions. I am encouraged by the states which are gradually legalizing it recreationally -- because, while Dave uses it as a medication, science isn't always so quick to validate the need for it.


    I'm glad we decided to leave Louisiana when we did -- 2 weeks after our departure in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck. I'll always remember the images of the tattered Superdome Hyatt Regency -- realizing that it was in the median directly in front of it that Dave used to sleep.

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