Menière's Syndrome
Martin Martinez (Writing about Jane Jackson)

 Jane Jackson was born in upstate New York in the summer of 1934. Her father was a schoolteacher and her mother a student of art and history. Jane's early years were well suited to rapid development. She was a precocious learner. Entering elementary school in 1940, Jane was immediately advanced to the second grade.

The first semester began uneventfully. Jane was indeed far ahead of children her own age and she had no trouble keeping up with her older classmates. There is no telling how Jane may have excelled were it not for her fated health. An ear infection pushed Jane's body temperature to alarming levels. She was hospitalized and injected with sulfa drugs to which she was severely allergic. Jane missed the entire second semester of her first year in the second grade. She lay still, pale, and deathly gray in a hospital bed, a small frail child with hugely swollen arms strapped to paddles submerged in vats of medicinal fluids, 24 hours per day. While other children laughed and played, Jane spent 9 months tragically hospitalized, slowly recuperating from both the ear infection and the "cure."

Jane never fully recovered her previous good health and enthusiasm. Her second year in the second grade was decidedly unpleasant. She continued in poor health, as if a dark cloud followed her detoured development. Jane was not accepted by the classmates she had left behind the previous year. She was a social outcast, and she had lost her facility for rapid learning. Jane did poorly her second year in school, though she was passed along, perhaps out of sympathy. The following years were no better. Jane appeared normal to casual observation, yet she obviously lacked scholastic prowess. Jane was labeled learning disabled in the fifth grade.

Intestinal disorders and severe dizzy spells plagued Jane throughout her adolescence. Rapid movements such as during tennis lessons triggered the nausea and dizziness. Golf lessons at age 11 also triggered the sickening carousel-effect whenever she raised her arms above her head. Occasionally, severe spells of dizziness left her bedridden for days. She suffered from depression and a moody belligerence. She was not a happy child.

Though vexed and blocked in many endeavors, Jane did find an enduring outlet in horseback riding. She found that riding did not induce the dizzy spells common in other activities. She spent every available hour hanging out and helping at a nearby stable. Jane was befriended by the stable hands who introduced her to "locoweed" at the age of 14. The young girl was immediately relieved of her chronic nausea and dizziness after just a few puffs of the marijuana. She found that her physical capability improved dramatically while intoxicated by the acrid smoke. Jane's depression and unhappiness faded. She returned to the stable and to her source of "locoweed" on an almost daily basis. The mellow high of cannabis intoxication effectively controlled her dizziness. During her later teens, the introduction of higher grades of cannabis proved even more effective in treating her condition and her equestrian abilities improved accordingly.

Although Jane's mother had taught her to smoke tobacco and drink martinis, "locoweed" was strictly taboo. Jane kept her use of pot a complete secret from her mother for most of her life. She continued to use it however, on an almost daily basis throughout her youth and into her adult years. She led a relatively normal life, married, and became pregnant in her mid-20s with no remarkable difficulties. Then the birth of her first child triggered the worst of what Jane calls the "whirling attacks" that have plagued her entire adult life. While the birth was normal and the infant soon ready to go home, mother Jane lay stricken in bed, the hospital room spinning around her in a gut- wrenching frenzy.

Family ties connected Jane's doctors with physicians at NASA who were grappling with severe dizziness in space travel. Jane was at that time diagnosed with Menière's syndrome, a condition of unknown origin that causes severe swelling of the inner ear. She was packed in ice and prescribed diuretic medications and a salt-free diet in an attempt to reduce the swelling. Months of recuperation followed. On several other occasions over the years Jane had similar "whirling attacks" which have required immediate hospitalization. Large doses of Valium have been prescribed to relieve her severe symptoms by inducing deep sedation. To this day there are no effective pharmaceutical remedies for her condition. In addition to controlling chronic dizziness, Jane was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 55. Like many others, Jane has found that smoking cannabis opens her constricted bronchial passages and allows her to breathe more freely.

For decades, Jane's physicians have all been well aware of her use of medicinal cannabis. None have objected, nor have they disputed her claim to its effectiveness. In fact, in 1997 Jane was hospitalized for eight days with a life-threatening lung infection. At the order of her physicians, Jane was allowed to smoke medical marijuana in a Berkeley, California hospital while recovering from the lung infection.

In Jane's case, physicians have noted that stress is a definite trigger of the agonizing "whirling attacks" of Menière's syndrome. Cannabis is well known for reducing stress levels for many users. Clinical research shows that cannabis use reduces fluid pressure within the human eye, which is why it is valuable in cases of glaucoma. It is reasonable to postulate that cannabis use may also reduce fluid pressure within the ear. Because she is an asthmatic, smoking cannabis actually helps Jane to breathe more freely. On top of that, medical marijuana is also credited in reducing Jane's chronic high blood pressure. With the introduction of more potent cannabis, Jane's physician discontinued her use of pharmaceutical blood pressure medication soon after Jane's 64th birthday.

Jane's challenging life would be torturous without cannabis, the only medication that relieves her debilitating symptoms. She knows that it has enabled her to live a relatively normal life. She knows that thousands of other people are in similar circumstances. That is why she serves the medicalization movement by her seat on the Oakland City Counsel's Working Group on Medical Marijuana. Jane Jackson offers her story so that America may understand the medical benefits of cannabis and abandon the ignorance of marijuana prohibition.

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