Texas Expands Access to Medical Cannabis – But Advocates Say It’s Not Enough
This article was produced through the NPR Next generation /Texas Watcher The Print Scholars Program, a new collaboration designed to provide mentorship and hands-on training to student journalists and recent graduates interested in a career in investigative journalism.
Every morning when Viridiana Edwards wakes up, she says her body looks like a roll of aluminum foil crumpled into a tight ball. His legs are numb; the muscles in his arms and back are tense. She feels so tense that when she raises her arm to brush her teeth, she is afraid of pulling a muscle. âThe best way I can describe it is just a puppet that’s been in the business for years,â Edwards says. “I feel like a puppet with all my strings in a knot.”
So she begins each morning with a series of stretches, and rubbing a homemade body oil on her neck – one made with olive oil, chamomile and arnica flowers, and cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. Almost immediately, she says she is starting to relax. âOnce I use my CBD, it’s like the ropes fall off. ”
Edwards, 33, is a U.S. Army veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain on a daily basis. After serving in the military for about a decade, she went into medical retirement due to injuries she sustained in Afghanistan. Edwards, like others who have advocated for moves to expand the legalization of medical marijuana in Texas in recent years, says cannabis is the only thing she has found that successfully treats her symptoms. without the harmful side effects of pharmaceuticals. Even a small amount allowed her to reduce her other medications from a few dozen pills a day to one as needed.
Over the past two legislative sessions, Edwards has shared his experience with Texas lawmakers and urged them to expand the conditions and dosage of legal cannabis. But it was slow. In 2015, Texas lawmakers passed the Compassionate Use Law, which enabled people with intractable epilepsy to use medical cannabis with extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that causes a high, on prescription from a doctor. Two years later, a bill to expand the agenda received bipartisan support in the House, but never got a full vote. In 2019, the program was expanded to include other conditions such as end-stage cancer and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but still left out those who suffer from PTSD. Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country and is one of 11 states with a low THC program. As of May 2021, 36 states allow the use of medical cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seventeen States allow small amounts of adult recreational use.
This spring, the Texas House adopted Bill 1535 raising the cap on THC levels in drugs from 0.5% to 5% and expanding the eligible conditions to include chronic pain and PTSD for the first time. But the measure was significantly reduced in the Senate, where chronic pain was removed and the new THC limit was lowered to 1%. The Republican State Sens. Bryan Hughes, chairman of the Senate committee that heard the bill, and Charles Schwertner, the Senate sponsor, did not respond to a request for comment on why the bill was restricted. Some opponents with the expansion of medical marijuana legalization said they believed it could lead to more recreational use of cannabis.
Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 1535 on Tuesday.
Veterans, advocates and doctors say the 1% cap on THC is way lower than what many people with pain, PTSD and other ailments actually need. Even the 5% allowed in the original House bill is only a fraction of what Edwards says she would need to fully treat her symptoms.
In 2005, Edwards, a first-generation U.S. citizen, met a military recruiter at her high school in El Paso during her freshman year. Her parents told her that they had no money to pay for her education, so she saw the military as a way out of her hometown.
Four years later, she was deployed. On her way to Kandahar, Afghanistan, she says her flight was delayed due to a rocket attack. âIt wasn’t even an hour, and then there was another rocket attack. There is an alarm going off, and in an English voice the lady says ârocket attack, rocket attackâ, and at that point you fell to the ground, âshe said. “So that was our welcome.” Edwards says she didn’t sleep at all that first night as the rockets continued, injuring people nearby and triggering requests for blood donations.
When Edwards returned to the United States almost a year later, her cycle of PTSD symptoms – anxiety and chronic pain – began. Soon her pain became too much to bear. She went to a Veterans Affairs clinic, but found that the medication she had been prescribed was not helping her condition. Each drug came with a new side effect, such as extreme weight gain, drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea. Soon she was taking more medication to treat these side effects. At most, Edwards was taking up to 23 tablets a day of six to seven drugs.
She also took Botox for migraines, which resulted in her having 42 injections between her neck, shoulders, skull and forehead on three different occasions. Botox provided some relief, but didn’t completely stop her migraines. âYou kind of lose hope of finding something that will help you,â she says.
As a teenager, Edwards first tried cannabis using a homemade watermelon bong. Then, in 2015, Edwards tried medical cannabis for the first time, while on vacation in California. âI just remember that kind of silence in my body,â Edwards says of the experience. “The pain, the anxiety, so much that I was going through on a daily basis, is gone.”
Since then, she has advocated for expanded access to legal medical marijuana at her home in Texas and studied its impact on veterans during her graduate studies at the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. . While she is happy that PTSD has been added as an eligible condition under the new legislation this year, she says she is frustrated by the still strict limits and the slow pace of the legalization process. âWhen I raised my hand in Fort Bliss, Texas, saying that I would serve my country, I don’t remember choosing and choosing who I would serve and protect,â she said.
The new law is expected to come into force in September.
This program is made possible by donations from Roxanne Elder in memory of her mother, journalist and journalism professor Virginia Stephenson Elder, Vincent LoVoi in honor of Jim Marston and Annette LoVoi, and other generous donors.
This article was originally published by the Texas Observer, a non-profit investigative media.
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