Tracy Curley is a Toronto-based medical marijuana patients advocate and has suffered from type 1 diabetic since the age of six. Tracy is legally authorized to consume cannabis to stimulate her appetite, regulate her blood sugars, and treat the pain associated with diabetes related neuropathy. She currently gets her medical marijuana from a designated grower who will no longer be able to supply her under the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations amended by Health Canada.
This is her story:
Can you explain to readers what diabetic neuropathy involves?
Peripheral neuropathy is a long-term side effect of diabetes. Some people get vision problems, some get sensation problems – sensation problems are what I have. Parts of my feet will lose sensation, then that sensation will come back ten times. The best way to describe it is that all of a sudden someone is sticking hot knitting needles through my feet. Cannabis helps with that; also with restless leg syndrome and cramps.
Over the years I’d been given a bunch of different meds, and my quality of life was much different. I have a high sensitivity to medication. So when they say, “This will make you drowsy,” I’ll sleep for 16 hours. One was an ACE inhibitor – it’s something they give diabetics. It lowers blood pressure. And because I don’t have high blood pressure, every time I’d get up, I’d faint.
The last surgery I had, they gave me a prescription and I filled it. They told me I wouldn’t sleep, I’d be in incredible pain and wouldn’t be able to eat. I went home, I didn’t take the meds, I used my vaporizer and ate some [marijuana] cookies. A friend who was staying with me said, “Do you feel like eating?” I was done before she was.
A couple of days later, I read the warnings on the medication they’d given me and it said don’t lie down after taking this to avoid the risk of abdominal bleeding. There were seven pages of warnings. The only side effect of my medication was that I ate dinner and I had a nap.
What brought you to medical marijuana in the first place?
I come from an East Coast Irish family. My dad’s a retired Lt-Colonel. I’m not a child of hippies. I never purchased marijuana for myself. I was 28, I was nauseous, and I’m a diabetic; I needed to eat. I smoked a joint with my sister-in-law, and it worked.
If cannabis had been socially acceptable when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t need it medically now. I worked in bars and I drank, which I wasn’t supposed to as a diabetic. And it had some long-term effects. The neuropathy is definitely worse from years of working on my feet – which is not good for a long-term diabetic.
What do you think about the coming changes to how Health Canada deals with medical marijuana?
Right now it looks like it’s going to be easier. The original application to get medical marijuana was fifty-six pages; it was confusing. If you forgot to put your postal code on just one line, they’d send the whole thing back. Under the new program, it will only be a prescription – doesn’t have to be filed with the government, and will go straight to the distributor.
But here’s the thing: anyone who applied after October 1 has had to apply under the new program – and the [government’s] only listed licensed distributor will not be ready until the end of October, possibly even December. That’s a painfully long wait if you’re dying of cancer. And if you think bedside manner is bad in hospitals, wait ‘til you have to call Health Canada.
Why the history of barriers to access, do you think?
Imagine telling a group of 12-year-olds to go clean their room. They’ll do it, but they won’t do it well. And that’s exactly what the government’s done. They were told to grow marijuana, and they said, fine, and stomped off to their room and grew some marijuana, and that’s how it’s been until now. The Canadian Medical Association has publicly said they want nothing to do with this, and yet Health Canada is putting it right in their hands and saying, “Tough. Deal with it.”
It’s insane that they’re still talking about marijuana as dangerous. I think it’s in defiance of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors ignore its potential. And you know, [illness] is expensive. It’s a lot of work. A lot of people suddenly find themselves poor. And you can grow your own medication!
Do you think the government will be ready to fill the gap?
Around 30,000 people are going to need access as of April 1. They’ve finally licensed just one provider. And as of April 1, if you’ve got your own supply, you’re supposed to burn it. Destroy it.
But I’m one of the patients that this new program has helped. [Before the new program was implemented] my first grower took my supply, and my money. I never received my harvest. And I couldn’t call Health Canada. There was nothing I could do.
However, I also know the government has put $9 million into prisons, and that’s where the growers are going to go. There’s so much risk that patients [using medical marijuana] are in: the risk of being robbed, and the risk of being arrested.
Despite the risks, would you say your quality of life is better because of medical cannabis?
Oh, I wish I had a picture. I’m 40. If I could show you a picture of myself from 26, you’d think I was older in the picture than I am now. I was bloated. I was going through so many side effects from medications.
When I finally told my mother [about my medical marijuana use], her reaction was, “I don’t care what it is. Whenever I called you, you’d lost a job, or you’re in the hospital, or you’re sleeping. Whenever I call you now, you’re busy all the time. You’re out, you’re working. I don’t care what it is. It’s working.”
Photo courtesy Tracy Curley
Michael Smith is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has been printed in the Toronto Star, NOW magazine, spacing magazine, and other fine publications. Carefully selected facets of his personality are projected through the Twitter handle @SousLePave. As of publication date his favourite word is “orrery.” He loves you just the way you are but wishes you’d call more.