|History of My Marijuana Use
and Other Attempts to Deal with My Disability
Anonymous I have been using marijuana for 22 years to treat temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), and for 11 years to treat depression and anxiety. The epilepsy is the result of scar tissue left by a lesion extending into the medial portion of my temporal lobe. This injury was caused by a car accident in 1966, when I was a teenager. For 11 years I was treated exclusively and unsuccessfully with a series of anticonvulsants, including valproic acid (Depakene), primidone (Mysoline), carbamezapine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin), and phenobarbital. I discovered marijuana in 1977 and quit taking anticonvulsants in 1978. During the next eight years, I was treated with meprobamate (Meprospan), diazepam (Valium) and the MAO inhibitor isocarboxazid (Marplan). None of these drugs prevented seizures and they all had dulling side effects, so I quit all of them in 1986 and relied solely on marijuana, which I had continued to take throughout with no unpleasant side effects.
My condition became worse in 1989, and I again sought medical help. This time I tried lithium and fluoxetine (Prozac). The effects of lithium in combination with marijuana were unsatisfactory, so I quit using marijuana for six months while I took lithium. Prozac worked initially for the depression and to the extent that epilepsy was brought on by depression, for epilepsy as well. However, after several months it lost much of its efficacy and I returned to marijuana, although though the combination was very unpleasant, causing paranoia. During my six years taking Prozac, I discontinued the use of marijuana for periods of one year (1991), half a year (1993), and several stretches of one to three months. On each occasion I resumed smoking because my quality of life became so poor. In 1995 I discontinued Prozac and started taking a different antidepressant, nefazodone (Serzone), this time with considerable success.
The combination of Serzone and marijuana worked well against depression (and indirectly against epilepsy) for the first half of 1996, but then I began having dramatic seizure problems. I located a physician who specialized in psychopharmacology, and we began experimenting with some newer drugs, gabapentin (Neurontin) and lamotrigine (Lamotril) proved ineffective. At present, along with Serzone, I am taking the anti-convulsant divalproex (Depakote), the CNS stimulant dextroamphetamine, and the opiate blocker naltrexone (Revia), which reduces confusion and helps my cognitive functioning. I also, of course, continue to smoke marijuana. On this regime my seizures and depression have become less severe, although they have not disappeared.
My symptoms also improved markedly for several months on four occasions in 1997 and 1998 when I was given a homeopathic remedy. This remedy still appears to have positive effects.
The most dramatic manifestation of my TLE is a form of partial complex seizure called uncontrolled rage. It appears to be the expression of a greatly amplified thought of annoyance. Other emotions, notably fear and disappointment, are also scaled up, often past the seizure threshold, causing uncontrolled weeping. By 1990, after 24 years of TLE, my emotional outbursts had become so frequent and intense that I could no longer hold a job and went on Social Security Disability. My seizures are brought on by surprise, anxiety, overstimulating environments (e.g., parties or lectures), a feeling of having been insulted, or a break in routine (loss of sleep, being away from home for more than a few hours, even dining out). My surprises I mean such things as tripping, dropping a heavy object, or even hearing an unexpected loud noise. Another kind of surprise is expecting something to happen and finding out that things are going otherwise.
During a typical seizure I feel as though a trap door is opening beneath me and nothing exists but explosions, stabbing pains in my head, and dark nothingness. In my horror, I am unable to think, and it seems to me as if I have died. Occasionally I cannot speak at all; more frequently I shout or make animal noises (roar, shriek, hiss). Often I say bitter and very hurtful things. In a minute or two I come back to myself, but my ability to process sensory input is severely impaired, and I feel mentally dulled and physically clumsy. A very painful headache develops on either side of my head. In this confused state, I try to apologize and put aside the humiliation my outburst has caused.
The depression is an ongoing condition. When I take antidepressants and marijuana combined, it disappears for some months, then comes back. When I am depressed I take no interest in anything and feel that nothing is worth doing.
I also suffer from cognitive loss that makes me easily confused and slow to finish tasks. This condition has been described as acquired attention deficit disorder. Marijuana, by impairing short-term memory impairment, exacerbates my confusion, but since it also makes confusion less bothersome, the net effect is positive. Once a seizure has begun, it is impossible to stop, so I am trying to identify the triggers and avoid them. Many approaches have been helpful, including meditation, psychotherapy, shamanism, biofeedback, hypnosis, and craniopathy, as well as medications and homeopathy. But marijuana has been the most consistently welcome medication. It is the only drug that minimizes the lengthy recovery period after each seizure during which I am functioning poorly.
After 33 years of limited control over my behaviour and not performing intellectually to my previous standards I am easily insulted. I have undergone much psychotherapy to improve my attitude toward myself and my approach to others. Although I have developed impeccable habits of mental hygiene, even an idle negative thought can amplify itself into a seizure.
The anxiety, which came along with the depression 11 years ago, usually involves concern that my fine intentions have been or will be misconstrued. When I become anxious, I often have intense, even nightmarish imaginary conversations with imaginary critics, which culminate in a seizure. At other times, I have very strong sensory memories that recall past seizures. I relive each of these episodes intensely, but I may have a fresh seizure when I recollect my past chagrin.
Ambiguous situations are another source of anxiety because of the confusion they create.
Marijuana addresses all the triggers I have mentioned except sudden fear (tripping, hearing loud sounds, walking into low-hanging tree branches, animal bites). It provides a sense of well-being that replaces depression and diffuses mounting anxiety. This effect can last for a day or more. I feel relaxed and confident and am not easily bothered, even by cognitive confusion. I feel wonderful, no matter what I am doing, (even ironing!) I also gain a sense of inner beauty that I see reflected all about me. The intrinsic harmony of life becomes manifest, and depression and anger seem very distant. I would like to make it clear that this is not starry-eyed denial, but an awareness that all things can be dealt with in an enlightened manner.
I become more perceptive when I smoke marijuana. I approach phenomena analytically and with insight, avoiding thoughtless reactions. I can minimize runaway emotions by engaging my reasoning mind, while understanding better how things have come about and what the implications are. A problem becomes something to be resolved rather than a source of intolerable confusion. I am able to make my expectations flexible and find diplomatic solutions. I become more articulate and persuasive.
Even marijuanas well-known impairment of short-term memory also serves me
well. As the electrical energy in my brain rises, marijuana sometimes aborts the seizure by causing me to lose track of what I was thinking. It also stops the momentum of depression by provoking unrelated thoughts. When used in the wake of a seizure, it relieves headaches, keeps me from dwelling on the recent past, and inspires me to complete my tasks and get on with my life.
After a seizure, it is as though a fuse has blown. The explosive energy release of has made areas of my brain unable to receive or pass messages, and I am likely to stare at walls for hours. But if I smoke marijuana, I find that my mind is busy again and my interest in life returns. It is as though my thoughts can now use paths not otherwise available, often pleasingly creative and cheerful ones. Until recently I was having seizures almost every day, or even several times a day, and often I have been able to process thoughts only by smoking marijuana.
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