by Jim Barnell

I am a fifty-eight year old, white divorced male with three adult children, one deceased. I have lived in South Florida for the past twenty years and now reside with my eighty-two year old mother. I held employment at the Bucks County Department of Corrections in Pennsylvania in 1970, first as a counselor and lastly, in a senior management position in Corrections. Prior to my disability, I was unemployed. 

I do not smoke, drink, nor take any illegal drugs, except marihuana, marijuana. I have no criminal history, nor have I ever been arrested for any drug offenses, nor committed any crimes. I have used marihuana recreationally since 1960 with the exception in 1970-77, due to employment considerations. In fact, I managed the first in-house drug abuse counseling program within a local detention and work release setting in the state of Pennsylvania in 1970. 

In 1977, I left Bucks County and relocated to Florida where I resumed my recreational use of marihuana. Using, perhaps two or three rolled marihuana cigarettes per day.

In December 1986, I sustained an accident, which caused my present disability. I took my car to a garage to have the oil changed. During the process of lowering the car on the lift, my big toe was caught and crushed. This trauma caused me to arch my back in such a way that I herniated my c-5 disk, causing it to press against my spinal cord. 

My immediate disability, which became apparent only after recovering and after the toe healed, is as follows: spasticity in all four limbs; my toes and part of my feet turn under and inward; my balance is bad, especially on uneven ground; I cannot run, hop, skip nor jump and I am unsteady in my gait. I can not lift anything over five pounds. The spasticity is worse in my left leg. If I extend my head, there is pain in the rear of my neck and a bulge area near the damaged c-5 disk. I have marked weakness in the hips requiring me to sit rather than stand. 

I have learned how to compensate a great deal. For example, I will spread my legs a little further apart, especially on an incline. I have tremors of my fingers. Left finger movements are slow. The right fingers are not as bad, allowing me good accuracy and fair speed on my computer keyboard. Yet, I cannot carry a cup of coffee without spilling it. 

All these symptoms have remained the same since the accident. I was incapacitated during the time it took for my toe to heal and it was not until I went to New York City in January 1987 that I discovered the true extent of my disability. Returning home that same month, I was examined by a neurologist in Fort Lauderdale who diagnosed Spastic Paraplegia. He concluded that I would be in a wheelchair within six months. I then began smoking marihuana regularly and excessively for the next eighteen months. I smoked six to seven rolled cigarettes each day Although my walking was impaired, I noticed that spasms and tremors were reduced. I felt relief from my symptoms.

In June 1988, I sought a second opinion and consulted with Dr. Stefan Shanzer, Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center and consultant for Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. He also diagnosed Spastic Paraplegia. However, he concluded that my condition would not deteriorate: no better, no worse. This has, in fact, been the case.

After Dr. Shanzer’s second opinion, I returned home and continued to smoke marihuana heavily, perhaps six-seven rolled cigarettes per day. It was at this time that I fully realized that marihuana was helping my condition. I felt better with relief of symptoms. 

Suspecting a connection between marihuana and positive relief, I stopped using marihuana for a six-month period of time in order to make a comparison analysis. I knew that within a month marihuana is out of one’s blood and that six months was a reasonable time for comparison. During these six months:

  • I learned that my hip weakness required constant sitting. 
  • The spasms in all four limbs were always present. 
  • My toes were always curled under my feet.
  • My gait and balance were very poor. 
  • There was always neck pain at the c-5 bulge. 

Movement was very difficult because I stumbled constantly and I could not use my computer keyboard with any accuracy whatsoever because the constant tremor made it impossible. Most importantly my mental attitude with respect to my disability deteriorated into hopeless depression. In short, I became a dysfunctional human. 

After six months without marihuana, I decided to start smoking marihuana to improve my condition. I knew that marihuana was effective, but I needed to determine a possible optimum amount and frequency of ingestion. Over the next year, I learned that over and under use is less effective; that a regular dosage and schedule of ingestion are crucial for optimum results. 

Ultimately, I discovered that the best method for me is two rolled cigarettes each day smoked as follows: 

  • 11:00 AM - After outside chores I smoke three or four puffs;
  • 3:00 PM - About three puffs, finishing one rolled cigarette;
  • 6:00 PM - About three puffs (when returning from swimming); and
  • Before bedtime I finish a second rolled cigarette.

Symptoms relief comes within minutes as my toes do not curl under and I experience better (more natural) ankle swing, which inhibits stumbling. With an optimum schedule of marihuana, I walk much better except for gait and balance. Yet even here, my feet hit flat surfaces well which significantly helps my balance. There is no spasticity in either leg. There is no finger tremor, so I can work at my computer keyboard accurately, although my finger speed is slow. The pain in the neck bulge is relieved. Marihuana is the only effective treatment for my condition that I have experienced. 

During the six month comparison period, I used Lioresal for spasms and Valium for sleeping. Both were not as effective for me. The spasms continued with the medication and I never had a refreshing night's sleep with greater strength in the morning, which permitted me to enjoy a full day with energy. For me there is a difference between the medication prescribed and marihuana use. My overall performance and sense of well being by using marihuana as a medicine for Spastic Paraplegia, has given me greater capacity to accept and relieve symptoms of my disability.

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