Cannabis Patient Care - March/April 2021

Cannabis Patient Care - March/April 2021

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29 march/april 2021 | cannabis patient care advocate focus Navigating Turbulent Seas: A Navy Veteran's Personal Story About Medical Marijuana B Y D A V I D H O D E S Stanley Atkins II has always been a fighter. N OW HE IS in the battle of his life, taking on all com- ers as he seeks to make the medical community and Georgia state lawmakers understand the val- ue and promise of medical cannabis, while he works through his own serious medical issues. These skirmishes are nothing like the battles Atkins had seen during two deployments with the U.S. Navy to the Per- sian Gulf theater of war, or the battles he fought as a fire- fighter saving lives, or as a decorated first responder who ran more than 20,000 911 calls as a paramedic. His intensely personal battles are also about recovering from a mysterious physical ailment, fighting against the stig- ma of cannabis, and the outdated and misguided laws of a na- tion that he so proudly served. Atkins is on a journey to bring the hope of a new therapy to fel- low veterans like himself, working as a cannabis therapy educator and advocate, and a voice for the voiceless among lawmakers. It is a journey that he seemed destined to undertake. And like all battles he fought, he is all in. The Cannabis Medic Engages When Georgia-native Atkins got home from his second deploy- ment in September 2006, he chose a career as a firefighter and paramedic, following his passion for being the kind of person who takes personal risks in the duty of serving others. In 2014, he got sick with an unknown gastrointestinal dis- ease that would haunt him for years to come and change the course of his life. "When I got sick, it was literally, like, over- night," Atkins said. "It happened instantly." He was sent to about a "half-a-dozen specialists in Atlanta," and ended up being subsequently treated at the Winship Can- cer Institute at Emory University in Atlanta (1). "Doctors told me that they didn't know what was going on. I was in all this pain. I was unable to eat. And they told me that I needed to go to low dosage radiation therapy," he said. He was prescribed opioids for the pain. They worked their magic. But being on opioids was not the life he wanted to live. "I was telling the doctors about having these reactions to the opi- oids and they blamed it on everything but the opioids," he said. Doctors gave up on him, telling him he may have six weeks or six months to live. It would be a painful death. "I was sick. I was dying," he said. So he started researching alternative therapies just as le- galized cannabis was making headlines in Colorado. "I looked into it and wondered if it could potentially help with my stom- ach," he said. "And that's when I came across tinctures, oils, terpene profiles, and learned about the endocannabinoid sys- tem because I didn't even know I had one." The VA Struggle He transitioned his treatment to the Veterans Administration (VA) services in 2017, beginning a long battle about his treat- ment, and about his choice to make cannabis part of his treat- ment regimen. "I've been deemed noncompliant on multiple occasions because up until last fall, I had not taken a single opioid from the VA," he said. "In 2016, I was able to detox by myself. It was the longest, most difficult journey." He told his VA doctors that he had chosen alternative ther- apies instead of opioids, such as acupuncture, tai-chi, yoga, ancient Chinese herbs—and cannabis. "They immediately flagged me. I got a lot of flak. I broke my shoulder two years ago. I broke my foot twice last year and I've never taken any opioids. With my long gastrointestinal history and all the ex- cruciating pain, it was very shocking for them that I don't take opioids," he said. "But everything took a trip south last year when I suffered a terrible inguinal hernia." For the first time, Atkins requested something for pain. "What I was trying to tell them was that for me to actually ask for something for pain, that meant something seriously had to be wrong," he explained. He ended up hospitalized three times last fall.

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