Although medical marijuana is legal in Michigan, it's not attainable for patients through VA hospitals. We talk with a veteran who is trying to change that because she says medical marijuana turned her life around.
This story may not be appropriate for some of our youngest listeners.
Jennifer Spaulding is a mother and an army veteran living outside of Lansing, Michigan. She grew up near Jackson, and has lived in Michigan most of her life. She first joined the army when she was 17, serving as a Military Police officer, later working in communications and then in supply. In 2010, during her second tour in the army, something happened that changed her life.
“I was attacked in the army, I suffered a lot of broken bones, severe intestinal disorders, I have everything from IBSD to my intestines will just shut down for no reason and I’ll spend months in a hospital. It’s been really tough,” she says.
She was attacked and sexually assaulted by a group of her fellow male soldiers. They were dishonorably discharged. Spaulding was honorably discharged for medical reasons.
The attack also caused traumatic brain injury, spinal injury, and so much nerve damage that she lost the ability to walk and is now in a wheelchair. She says the pain can be unbearable.
“I was on morphine and vicodin and dilaudid and fentanyl and just loads of pain medications and it got to the point where I didn’t recognize my kids, I couldn’t remember what I had for breakfast, where I set my car keys, what day it was. I was in this zombified haze.”
Spaulding hated the side effects of the drugs, but didn’t know what else to do. She had never considered using medical marijuana.
“I had never been a cannabis user, never drank. I was raised in a house where it was God, country, pot is the devil. Coming from a background like that, it was tough to say ‘cannabis can be a medicine- this demon drug can be ok.’”
She began to change her mind about medical marijuana when she heard from fellow veterans how it was helping them.
“I started doing the research, and I started to see the positive effect it was having on people with nerve damage, phantom like pain, PTSD, eating disorders, Crohn’s disease, and I finally spoke to my doctor at the VA hospital. And he said, ‘I can’t tell you to do it, because federally it’s illegal.’”
Since the department of Veteran’s Affairs is a federal governmental organization, its clinicians may advise but not prescribe medical marijuana.
“And I said, ‘well what do you think?’ and he said, ‘well, between you and I, it can’t hurt to try.’ And so I tried it, and I found that I didn’t like it.
But then she started talking to some of the people that own dispensaries and some of the doctors that were researching it, and they told her about the different strands and varieties.
“So they really tailored around me and helped me understand you know, to sleep, use a sativa. To have more energy and to not have headaches and body aches use an indica. And then they brought in edibles, people call them ‘medibles.’ And I found that I actually had an appetite. I was able to hold down soups and jellos and puddings and stuff like that using the edibles.”
It was a whole new world for Spaulding. At one time she had been taking as many as 38 different medications. And now, she was able to stop using all of them.
“I didn’t have the side effects, I didn’t have the night sweats, the vomiting, the grogginess, the memory loss. I didn’t have to take one medicine to counteract a side effect of another medicine to counteract a side effect of another medicine.”
On top of everything, she was also diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010.
“I was going through cancer and I even stopped chemo. And they told me I was making the worst mistake of my life, that I would be dead in eight weeks, and that was almost a year and a half ago. And I’m still here. Now, I’ve had to have surgeries to correct, I’ve had to have narcotic tissue taken out, I’ve had to have my cervix taken out. My gall bladder exploded, my uterus the whole side of it exploded during my attack. So I’ve had to have a lot of surgeries to combat the damage. But I’m able to go home and take a medicine that’s safe.”
Spaulding is grateful for the freedom medical marijuana has given her. She believes all veterans who need it should have access to it, and many do not because they don’t have the money to go outside the VA to get a medical marijuana card. So she spends her time raising awareness however she can.
“I’ve taken this fight all the way to DC. I met with Debbie Stabenow, I’ve traveled to 20 states so far and talked to their legislation, I helped in West Virginia to get their legalization process started, I was just down in Mississippi helping them with their legalization process. And I do all this with my army disability. I’m 100 percent disabled.”
She wants others who are in pain to have the relief she has found from using cannabis.
“It just made my life so much easier. I get to enjoy my time with my daughter, I get to travel and help other veterans. It doesn’t make me popular inside the VA system because I’m bringing to light in Washington DC all of the issues. But I’m hoping to rebuild the system. Not tear it down.”
Spaulding started an organization called CannaVets Made In America to help veterans learn about medical marijuana and to change the stigma around it, so that someday veterans can more easily have access to the help they need. She may not be in the army anymore, but Jennifer Spaulding still looking out for her fellow soldiers.