Running, yoga, therapy, meditation, and the Xanax my doctor prescribed was not enough to keep away my night terrors and panic attacks. PTSD can make my days difficult; dark hours of the night are worse. Panic attacks during the day were just as awful because I can feel it coming. When it hits me as I sleep, I wake up in the tight grip of terror. It is primal and intense, feeling such intense fear, that thrashing about and bruising my arms on my headboard and bedroom walls are comforting just because they connect me to physical reality, where I am safe in my home. The night terrors leave me exhausted and afraid to attempt to sleep. As sleep deprivation builds, I lose coping ability for my busy days as a working mom. I was suffering despite working so hard to be healthy. I’d read about marijuana being prescribed to treat PTSD and was aware it had recently been added to the State of Illinois’ pilot program for medical cannabis. When I asked my primary care provider about medical marijuana, my doctor was very supportive and offered referrals to physicians who have helped other patients through the State of Illinois certification process. She can’t prescribe marijuana, despite it being legal in our state, because of conflict between her employer and federal regulations.
I found a dispensary listed online in Naperville, in the same strip mall where I’d attended beer festivals. The familiar location felt safe to me so I called them, and quickly dissolved into tears as I left a voicemail about my PTSD and need for help. The staff returned my call and gave contact information for prescribers and background checkers with kind encouragement. When I called the doctor referred by the dispensary, I was so scared. I hate going to new doctors, especially to spill out the terrible truths that keep me up at night. I was afraid that, despite the record of my years of treatment through psychotherapy and prescription medications, I might not be qualified under the state’s strict medical cannabis certification program. More than I’d felt for any appointment which could require me to rehash my trauma history, I was anxious as I left a voicemail. I was praying for relief from this suffering. I was hoping for a medication that could ease my insomnia, panic attacks, and the deep muscular pain caused by being hyper-vigilant. He called back and answered my questions and we set a time to meet when I could also have my fingerprints taken. We made an appointment for Sunday morning at 9 a.m. He had practiced for over 20 years with a large health system and recently developed a separate small practice for medical cannabis patients. By developing a new medical cannabis-focused practice, he created a separate corporation without the potential conflict of his other employer. He informed me that his fees would be cash, the state accepts checks and cards, and that dispensaries accept cash. I hadn’t anticipated how banking regulations impact this sector of healthcare. Our phone chat was informative and reassuring.
My new doctor’s office was 25 miles away from Naperville. I walked in to see the doctor and his demeanor instantly soothed me. He was gentle, soft, and almost maternal. His office was full of children’s artwork gifted to him. It reminded me of my own children and students. He took my history and read over the paperwork from my physician. He filled out the paperwork for the state and explained the certification process. I asked him lots of questions and agreed to participate in twice-yearly surveys to contribute to medical cannabis research. He assured me that my application would be approved and within a few months, I would have access to safer, more effective medicine than I’d ever experienced. We spoke of my graduate studies and I felt seen as a person who has much to contribute and has a genuine need for assistance.
In the room next door, I sat to have my fingerprints taken. I’d done that many times as a teacher to verify that I have no criminal history. I was beginning to relax more deeply when I overheard the next patient giving his street address to the doctor. The unusual street name caught my attention. He was a neighbor from Naperville. Not just from the same town, commuting 40 minutes to see this doctor, but from the house next to the one I’d slept in the night before. My boyfriend’s next-door neighbor had the 9:30 appointment after my 9 am slot. I started laughing out loud. It was so very strange and comforting. Even if he and I had both sought medical marijuana, that would be an interesting coincidence. The synchronicity of our appointments felt like divine comedy. It felt normalizing to encounter the same man in this new context. Stigma and shame are part of the baggage we can leave behind as our communities and governments move past prohibition. Lots of your neighbors are hurting. Some of us have found our way to relief through medical cannabis. Please check out the list of qualifying medical conditions and talk with your healthcare provider if you or a loved one may benefit from medical cannabis.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Illinois Women in Cannabis.