Brian and I are standing in front of a nondescript building in your average, slightly shabby but not scary, strip mall in Johnson City. It's three days since I celebrated my eighth year of sobriety and clean living and with gifts from dozens of my friends and family, I am about to purchase marijuana. It's medical marijuana, but still something that I would never, ever thought I would be doing. I am terrified. Not of the drug, not at all really. I am terrified it's not going to work.
The day before I had a very honest conversation with my primary care physician. I love this man, I have to say I really didn't like him when we first met. He wouldn't let me tell him what to do, a trait I have long begrudged in people. However, over the years he has come to be someone I can tell anything to. The doctor I used to resent deeply is now someone I trust deeply. We are working to resolve some very serious back pain that descended on me via shingles over Christmas. The acute pain has never left. I tell him my worst fear:
"Is this it for me? Is this the thing I don't recover from?"
"Probably not." He says. He isn't being funny. Neither of of know if this is the door to disability.
The next day Brian and I open the door to the dispensary, we are greeted by a smiling receptionist wearing a tie-dyed t shirt and rainbow hair. The room is tiny and there is a locked door to our left and a smiling woman behind what looks like bulletproof glass to our right. She asks me for my drivers and marijuana licenses, along with the marijuana prescription order from my neurologist. She hits something that buzzes and the door to our left unlocks.
We step into a reception room you might see at an upscale doctor's office or even a professional office. It's an open space, very clean, with nice seating and a refreshments bar. The receptionist returns my paperwork and lets us know the pharmacist will see us shortly. I have seen photos of the interior on the internet, but I can tell Brian is surprised at how low key it all looks. His experience from studying in Boulder prepared him for a room with glass jars full of bud and paraphernalia for its use.
We don't have to wait long before we are called into a smaller room with a round table and a few chairs. The same woman who greeted us sets up an iPad playing a video that reviews the products available. There are vaporizers, tablets, and oil drops all used to medicate me with five strengths of a blend of THC and CBD. It ranges from a high THC and low CBD levels to high CBD and low THC compounds. Even with five choices, I still feel confused. THC treats pain, spasticity, and helps stimulate the appetite, to name a few symptoms. CBD treats inflammation, anxiety, seizures, spasticity, muscle spasms, and nervous system degeneration, also to name a few. I have all of these things. Maybe it's important to mention here that I absolutely hate the feeling of being high on marijuana.
The pharmacist is a young, blonde woman with a face that makes her look like she is in her late teens. (I am guessing this is not the case, but life is weird and you never know right?) She reviews the products again and recommends a tincture that has a 1:1 ratio of THC vs. CBD. She says that MS patients seem to be happy with this. I pick this out along with a vaporizer with higher THC for pain and one tincture with higher CBD if the 1:1 tincture turns out to be too strong. She flashes a comforting smile at the end and sends us back to the waiting room letting us know our products will be ready in just a few minutes.
True to her word, in three or four minutes I am called into a small cubicle. Another nice, smiling woman goes over my product choices, all in green pharmaceutical looking containers. I sign a sheet that says if I give my products to anyone I can face prison time. I am given a 10% discount based on my income. Still, the total reaches nearly $540. I feel so grateful for everyone who has helped me get here. I'm not in a price I could pay without help right now.
Then just like that, Brian and I are back out in the parking lot and after months of waiting. I have a natural medicine for my MS. I thought I would be flooded with relief, but the fear this isn't going to work creeps up on me again. My conversation with my primary care doctor floats through my brain again.
"Is this the thing I don't recover from?"