Let’s Talk About Marijuana


Mom and I had flown to Denver to meet a specialist and strategize treatment for my nontuberculosis mycobacterium. Part of the clinic visit concerned treating my barren appetite and nonstop nausea. We’d tried nearly every anti-nausea prescription by then, and nothing did the trick. My daily “meals” were composed of one or two nibbles. Being in the “Mile High City,” the conversation naturally turned to cannabis.

Doctor: “Marijuana’s legal here, ya’ know. Might as well try it while in town. Do edibles, of course.” Fun fact: Smoking isn’t recommended for those with lung disease.

I was adamantly against any use of the ol’ devil’s lettuce despite being a 21-year-old in college. My pastor from Hawaiʻi floated in my vision, saying his oft-repeated phrase, “Eh, brah. Stay off da weed!” while miming holding a joint.

Mom and I glanced at each other and awkwardly chuckled, “Pahaha … Nah …”

Flash forward two hours, and we’re in a legal marijuana dispensary that’s seemingly co-run by Tommy Chong and Willy Wonka. Cannabis was infused into every treat imaginable: chocolate, lollipops, cookies, brownies, Jolly Ranchers. Luckily, my CF-related diabetes hadn’t kicked in by that time.

I could feel good about gummy bears. Cute bears. Innocent, pure. “Pop maybe, like, two,” the blond girl at the cashier’s counter said. She’d just finished telling us about how she regularly smuggled marijuana flowers onto airplanes, which tainted my attempts to focus on this venture being a perfectly legal experience.

We left the store with a pill canister of attractively colored gummies — teal, emerald, violet (purple always sounds more attractive as violet, no?). I popped two, prayed for forgiveness, and waited 30 minutes. Nothing. I popped two more. Then two more. See, being a goody two-shoes, I regularly filtered out conversations about weed — including, perhaps, conversations about edible marijuana taking a couple of hours to work.

Oh, it hit me, all right. We walked past an Italian restaurant after a two-hour movie. The whiff of Jupiter’s ambrosia hit me like a sweet, beautiful sledgehammer: pasta. I ate two loaves of bread, a plate of fried mozzarella, salad, and a gigantic bowl of baked ziti, and washed it down with four glasses of strawberry lemonade (cotton mouth is real, y’all).

My airways and sinuses shot wide open for the first time in years, and my inflammation pain “magically” disappeared. I also coughed up a lot of mucus. And my brain didn’t turn into overcooked oatmeal like I’d always imagined would happen. It was my first time meeting Mary Jane, and she was … pleasant. I walked back to my hotel grinning, drew a piping hot bath, and faded into a food coma in the tub.

Later, I tried CBD products. CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis — fancy talk for “CBD doesn’t make you stoned.” While it didn’t work as well on my appetite, it did help with opening my airways, reducing pain, and easing my nausea. I even went on a hike while on supplemental oxygen. But despite not having psychoactive properties, CBD is difficult to obtain outside of states without legal dispensaries.

Cannabis was magic for my CF symptoms. But I wasn’t exactly dying to try more of it (because I wasn’t yet dying). But when I was dying two years later, my doctors recommended trying to get more of it. Turns out, Hawaiʻi (where I lived) isn’t a cannabis paradise, despite being the first state to legalize medical marijuana. At the time (it has now changed), there were no dispensaries and you could only legally obtain marijuana if you grew your own using seeds provided by the government. I lived with my family because of my frail state, and because my dad received federal retirement benefits, growing it at home was “complicated, as marijuana is federally illegal.

In intense pain, throwing up numerous times a day, and having multiple panic attacks every day, it was devastating news. It took me actively dying to realize what all the fuss was about when it came to the fight to legalize marijuana for those who were suffering. What was I able to receive for relief? Benzodiazepines, morphine, fentanyl. Things that are highly-addictive and can ruin lives. Meanwhile, cannabis was right out of reach.

I’m not going to get into the hazy past of marijuana’s relationship with the U.S. government. What I will get into is the future: We need research into the effects of cannabis on cystic fibrosis. Can its anti-inflammatory effects help us? Can its pain-relieving effects help us? Can its bronchodilating effects help us? Can its appetite-stimulating and nausea-suppressing effects help us? Can its mental health effects help us?

I don’t know for certain that cannabis could help CF patients in big ways, though I’ve encountered plenty of firsthand and secondhand anecdotal evidence to suggest that. And marijuana isn’t perfect. (Is any medication, though?) What I’m saying is, we need to ask and get answers. Let’s push for research into the potential that cannabis could dull the intensity of our destructive disease.

Brad Dell

Brad Dell is a Deaf 27-year-old with cystic fibrosis. He received a double-lung transplant from UC San Francisco in January 2017, then cochlear implants nine months later. He now lives in Hawaii, where he was raised. Usually he’s traveling the world, chugging coffee, mentoring college students, or studying theology. Otherwise, he’s working as the director of columns at BioNews, the publisher of CF News Today. (OK, he’s still drinking coffee while he works.) He writes to undo the taboos surrounding lung transplantation. You can learn more about his story by following @coffee.cats_ on Instagram or by visiting www.adamantiumjoy.com

Read More