The first woman in the United States to receive medicinal cannabis from the federal government was Elvy Musikka. “Make sure you get the spelling right Al, two K's” she chided me when I met her initially back in DC, in 1990.
Without wishing to take the informed reader too deep into a well discussed history I shorten the tale by relating that Elvy was, at the time of our meeting, about to be on a panel with Robert Randall and three other federally supplied cannabis patients. It was to be their first such gathering and, after long hours of phone calls and many months of planning, a few were meeting for the first time. The discussion was broadcast live on C-SPAN and then repeated for weeks.
This meeting of the five patients, televised over and over, changed the visual personification of the cannabis user from hippie to that of grandmother, businessman, parent, sibling, and spouse. It was the beginning of the US public's awareness about medical cannabis use and those who chose to use it.
At that moment in time, when roughly 20% of U.S. voters thought using marijuana a medically good idea, any forward motion was directed, slowly, at legalization. Federal government response was centered on that issue. The emergence of five well-educated, soft-spoken, eloquent adult citizens added a new dimension to the debate and the rebirth of an old word to the mainstream vernacular - cannabis.
Bob Randall had become “patient number one” with his successful and well documented law suit that demonstrated cannabis was the only known substance that could help control his glaucoma. Along with Alice O'Leary, he started the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT), which was the first educational organization in the US with a mission focused on education about the therapeutic value and applications of cannabis.
Elvy was to forge her own path to the cannabis grown at the government's contractor, the University of Mississippi, through the Florida court system. Bob's trouble, as is almost always the case with cannabis, was “the law.” He was busted for growing on a balcony in DC. Elvy was busted in Hollywood, FL where she grew her medicine in the backyard.
Elvy had the good fortune of being represented by Norman Elliot Kent of Fort Lauderdale, a noted defender of medical cannabis patients and a man I have worked with on the medical cannabis issue. Norm had the advantage of having his client be Elvy.
Keeping her opinion of cannabis to herself is not her way. Elvy has glaucoma. By 1988 she had tried dozens of medications, undergone 23 surgeries, had needles injected directly into her retina, causing her to lose sight in one eye. She heard of cannabis, smoked it and felt relief. After she was busted, she had two options - Jail for five years after being booked, stripped, searched and bonded, or never grow again, get drug tested for years and go on probation. In other words, stop using cannabis, go home and go blind.
Norm and Elvy both became a beacon for other cannabis patients to help shine the light on the many medical cannabis uses into the public's eyes, and with Elvy taking a position that she was using the plant to stave off blindness, rather than become euphoric, they became medical cannabis educators. After all, the defense that Norm used in Florida was that of “medical necessity.” As Randall's case had already set the precedent at the federal level, Elvy was victorious.
The presiding judge, Mark Polen, wrote in 1988, “We cannot become blind to the legitimate medical needs of those who are afflicted by incurable diseases and require appropriate medical care. To ignore the plight of such people renders the law callous to the most basic of human rights: the right of self-preservation.”
Elvy began her federal cannabis protocol October 17, 1988. Her illness, glaucoma, requires a dosage of eight cured ounces of cannabis each month.
“This dosage is administered through inhalation at various times throughout my professional and private life. I experience no negative or work orientated problems as a result of this dosage. In fact, without this medication I could not function to my present capacity” Elvy stated in August of 1999, after more than a decade of using inferior grade federal cannabis.
Her observation was validated by research in May of 2001 when she joined three other federal patients in the “Missoula Study,” formally known as the “Chronic Cannabis Use in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program: An Examination of Benefits and Adverse Effects of Legal Clinical Cannabis.” Despite the fact that the federal government continues to warn the public about the harmful effects of smoking cannabis, the federal medical marijuana patients' supplier, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), never cautioned them about smoking and issued them their medicine in pre-rolled cigarettes. Elvy and the others went through a 3-day long examination at St. Patrick's hospital in Missoula that demonstrated scientifically that cannabis greatly helped them all.
The authors wrote:
Mild changes in pulmonary functions were observed in two patients while no functionally significant attributable sequelae were noted in any other physiological system examined in the study which included: MRI scans of the brain, pulmonary function test, chest x-ray, neuropsychological tests, hormone and immunological assays, electroencephalography, P300 testing, history and neurological clinical examination.
The advantage was the known quantity and quality of all the medical cannabis these patients had used. Even accounting for the poor quality of the medicine, for their age and illness, all were, and remain, in good condition. Would a better quality of cannabis made a difference - same result with less smoking perhaps? If NIDA had an interest in compassion like Judge Polen, they should have, would have, could have issued their “Investigational” patients vaporizers. But, of course, they did not. NIDA did not and has not ever studied these patients and the results of such use. The study was conducted by Patients Out of Time.
Elvy spoke out in her own defense in 1988 and since then has continued to do so on both sides of the pond. She has been an Ambassador of therapeutic cannabis education to other patients with glaucoma or any need for its medical utility. As a Director of Patients Out of Time, Elvy will be a member of the Faculty of “The Seventh National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics” to be held April 26-28, 2012 in Tuscon, AZ. She is a legend in the opinion of medical cannabis patients and exerts her enthusiasm and verve representing that premier educational group. Flanked by another well-known patient advocate, Gary Storck of WI, also a glaucoma patient, she will be discussing her illness. Melanie Kelly, PhD, Dalhousie University, will provide the science behind the experience of these patients in her lecture on the “Ocular Endocannabinoid System.”
The seventh in a continuing series of accredited conferences will be co-sponsored by the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine and Patients Out of Time. Details of the conference venue, the spectacular Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, faculty and agenda are all available at www.medicalcannabis.com.
The conference will couple together state of the art clinical cannabis science presented by speakers from Italy, US, Canada, Jamaica and Spain with the real life experiences of patients such as Elvy with the gravitas now of over 20 years of very successful medical cannabis use. The combination of patient and care-giver discourse throughout the forum’s program has been a standout and applauded facet by professional health care providers attending past conferences.
When these folks meet next April they will do so in a state that twice passed by popular vote the right of citizens to use cannabis medically under appropriate medical or nursing supervision. Arizona citizens, as well as the rest of the US, now feel very differently about the medical use of cannabis. The math is upside down from the time of Elvy's arrest. Now in 2011, four in five voters believe cannabis to be a medicine. 80% want medical cannabis in the US in 2011.
It is apparent that what has changed is the amount and validity of empirical science and personal experience occurring since that day the five met in 1990 for the first time and now. Elvy has had a whole lot to do with that dissemination of medical cannabis knowledge.
Her work continues in Tucson next April. Get your doctor and nurse to go with you, perhaps you, like Elvy, will be inspired to carry your knowledge to others.
Al Byrne for Patients Out of Time