Who is David Sutherland? (00:00)
What was David’s monthly drug routine like after his car accident and rehab? (04:00)
How did David make the journey from all those drugs to solely cannabis? (06:00)
What does David envision his life would be like without cannabis? (13:20)
What would David say to patients who are afraid of getting off painkillers? (15:37)
How does Chris compare his largely non-medical experience with cannabis to David’s medical one? (18:00)
As one of the first people ever to use it, what are David’s thoughts on Utah’s medical marijuana system? (22:10)
For Tim, how has the system been on the provider side? (31:48)
How can I get in touch with Tim and the Utah in the Weeds podcast? (36:05)
David Sutherland is the first-ever cardholder for medical marijuana in Utah. He comes on the show today to share his story with cannabis, and his experience with the new medical marijuana system in Utah.
David works for the state doing IT work. Eight years ago, he was involved in a car accident that left him with a concussion, burst vertebrae, a broken sternum, and nine shattered ribs. After two years of intense physical therapy and rehabilitation, he was left with permanent chronic back pain and ongoing muscle spasms.
David had to use a back brace for months. He went through approximately 200 vicodin per month, and was on a daily dose of gabapentin, Celebrex, and a slew of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and muscle relaxers.
David had obviously heard of the medical benefits of marijuana before. He noted feeling primarily excited about getting off of painkillers, but also nervous. For him, and indeed for many in his situation, a life without painkillers can seem daunting, or even impossible.
He was worried about how his family might react when it comes to his cannabis use. And of course, because he started his cannabis use before medical marijuana was legal in Utah, and therefore was in violation of federal and state law, he was apprehensive about conflicts with law enforcement.
David got his start in treating his pain with cannabis about four years ago, when he went on a camping trip to Colorado. Despite his tragic accident, it seemed as though luck had not yet abandoned him. He won a Powerball lottery to the tune of about $10,000, and decided to cash it in and spend some at one of Colorado’s recreational dispensaries.
That seemed to do the trick, and David spent the next 8 to 10 months weaning himself off of the prescription drugs in favor of a cannabis-based solution.
It’s a good thing he did, too, because as soon as his doctors discovered that he had been using marijuana, they cut him off of the prescriptions. Believe it or not, that’s the standard move for someone who wants to experiment with cannabis as a pain treatment.
Tim Pickett touches on just how harmful this philosophy can be when trying to find the best treatment for someone with chronic pain. For a patient, going cold turkey from opioids and antidepressants can be a death sentence.
The reason many doctors do this, he explains, boils down to two key factors. First, many doctors are still uneducated about the benefits and science behind marijuana. Second, since many doctors are simultaneously medical professionals and business owners, they want to limit their liability when it comes to illegal drug use.
The solution, then, is both education and a legal framework that allows patients to decide whether or not they want to try marijuana to manage their pain, and to provide a safe context for which they can switch from opioids to cannabis. The latter is now in the works in Utah.
Before his transition to cannabis, David was depressed and suicidal. Day-to-day life was not only physically grueling, but mentally exhausting as well.
Now, with cannabis, David feels more clear-headed, energized, and calm than he ever was on traditional medications.
The prevalence of stories like these speaks to the undeniable benefit that marijuana can have for those with chronic pain.
David would speak to his own experience. Many of those who are afraid of getting off of painkillers are really just afraid of the pain itself. David would reassure them that cannabis can not only be a perfect substitute for painkillers, but that it can actually be better at managing pain than opioids.
David argues, and Tim agrees, that while painkillers lessen the pain, they don’t eliminate it. It’s always there. Cannabis, similarly, lessens the pain, but it also takes your mind off it. David compares it to putting the pain in a box and placing it to the side. It’s not like cannabis completely erases pain; nothing does. Rather, it prevents the pain from bothering you.
While Chris, having not been in an accident as severe as David’s, can’t really comprehend what it’s like to go through the kind of physical pain, rehab, and drug use that characterizes a lot of medical marijuana journeys, he can certainly see the remarkable impact it has on those with chronic pain.
As someone who has used and enjoyed recreational marijuana, Chris wants to see less stringent requirements on who can get access to it. He points out that it’s the patient, not the doctor or the government, who experiences the pain. Therefore, it should be the common philosophy that the patient has the right to say whether or not they want to try cannabis.
He also explains that, contrary to the way some medical professionals act, using marijuana to treat pain is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, medical marijuana has been used in parts of the United States for decades. We should use this fact, as well as more education, to remove the stigma around marijuana, so more people can experience the benefits that David has.
David’s outlook on the medical marijuana system in Utah is very optimistic. As an example, he delves into his experience at the Dragonfly marijuana pharmacy:
Despite official dosing recommendations made by Tim, which should have enabled David to skip this step, the pharmacist still elected to have a meeting with David to discuss his dosing and delivery method. David explains that while this wasn’t necessary for him, dosing advice could be essential to someone with less experience in marijuana use, and whose doctor did not give dosing advice.
The meeting, he said, consisted of the pharmacist asking about his prior marijuana use, listening to David’s needs, and taking his words and thoughts into account.
David did mention that there was a rather startling lack of measurement on some of the tinctures, such that the buyer would have to calculate for themselves how many droppers to take in order to get the correct dose. This could be particularly difficult for those preoccupied with pain and illness, or the elderly.
He describes the prices as reasonable, and maybe even cheaper than Colorado recreational products. The podcasters attribute some of this to the fact that, in Utah, medical marijuana products are not taxed. Instead, there’s a $3 transaction fee on purchases of any size, whether you’re buying $5 worth of product or $5,000.
David expresses his gratitude that the Utah system appears to be patient focused, rather than profit focused. This ensures that patients truly get the product they need at a reasonable price.
Tim’s phones have been ringing nonstop. There was clearly a lot of pent up demand for medical marijuana in Utah, and we’re now seeing a massive influx of inquiries about it. There are over 100 phone calls a day at Tim’s comparatively small practice, so it’s no surprise that the system is a little backed up.
There are tons of applications waiting to be approved. Compared to the number of people who want them, medical marijuana card issuing has been extremely slow.
Tim points out that this represents a problem for Dragonfly pharmacy, which is ultimately a business. They could have waited a few weeks before opening, but chose to get in early. Now that the system is backed up, business is only trickling in. It’ll likely be a few weeks or months before business at Dragonfly is in full swing, which means they could go under before they even really get started.
Despite the issues with the system, the podcasters all agree that the government should stick with the current system and wait for the logjam to break up before making any confusing adjustments.
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