“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”
― Carl Sagan
This week Texas finally expanded the use of medical marijuana to encompass a wide range of medical diagnoses.
In celebration of that I’ve decided to, for the first time, tell a story about how cannabis saved my fiance’s life.
It’s not very often you get to tell a story about how a formerly banned “drug” saved someone’s life.
Sure we hear stories from time to time about how Cannabis helped stop epileptic seizures, but more and more we are learning this is due to CBD specifically, and not THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis.
Well, my friends, I have a story to tell you about how THC specifically saved the trajectory of my fiance’s life.
On October 18th, 2017, an artery in my fiance’s brain exploded. I say exploded because the severity of the bleed astonished doctors when they scanned her brain. It was bad. Really bad.
Fortunately for Megan, a series of fortunate events happened that day to get her from her office to an operating room in under three hours. She had surgery and survived the operation. Barely.
I won’t go into too many details about the specifics of what happened that day, because that is a story for another time.
The result of the surgery, though, was that Megan was in a coma. Not a medically induced coma, but a legit brain injury coma. The part of Megan’s brain that controls consciousness was damaged. How do you turn the lights on when the on/off switch is broken? That was the problem she faced.
The bleed happened right at the base of her brain, where the spine meets the skull right at the back of your head.
That’s where your brain stem is, the most vital part of your brain when it comes to regulating your normal bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, etc. This is the one spot in the brain where all the nerves have to traverse to send signals from the body to the mind.
Miracle after Miracle
Doctor’s said it was unlikely that she would survive a week. Two days after the surgery, a neurosurgeon told our family that Megan was “trending towards brain death.”
Then she started breathing on her own.
Even so, the odds were slim she’d ever wake up again since the on and off switch for consciousness resides in the brain stem.
In November, around a month after Megan’s surgery, she was not showing any signs of waking up.
She had a constant fever, and doctors couldn’t figure out where the infection was. They knew there was an infection somewhere due to the persistent fever. They had her on a general antibiotic to try and hold the infection at bay until they could find where it was, and what bacteria was causing it.
Then they sent her in for an MRI. During the last five minutes of the hour-long process, she started convulsing.
They thought she might be experiencing sub-clinical seizures, when in fact she was going into septic shock.
Eventually, they found she had cerebral meningitis. As if a brain aneurysm and stroke weren’t enough, now we had an infection in her brain — a bad one.
To be safe, the hospital did an electroencephalogram (EEG) test on her to see if her brain was susceptible to seizures.
They discovered two things when they gave her this test
- She was not susceptible to seizures
- She wasn’t in a coma anymore
Locked In and The Subtle Art of Blink Communication
Oh, yes, she was awake. Or at least conscious to some degree.
The Physicians Assistant to the neurosurgery team told us this likely meant she was locked in, meaning she couldn’t move any of her body except maybe her eyes.
As exciting as this news was, the medical team still needed to treat the life-threatening infection in Megan’s brain. They put her on a three-week protocol of an antibiotic most people are allergic to. In another stroke of luck, Megan was not allergic to it.
Through November and the beginning of December, Megan’s vitals slowly improved, but we still didn’t see much progress in the way of her responding to anyone.
Just before Christmas of 2017, she started blinking more often.
Then, one morning, when I asked her to blink twice if she could hear me, she did!
This first time she blinked twice at me after me asking her too I cried.
“Megan responded!” I yelled. Then ran out and grabbed a nurse.
But when the nurse came in, Megan had closed her eyes and didn’t want to open them.
It was the strangest thing. Megan would respond when I was alone with her, but wouldn’t respond to anyone else.
That was a significant problem because if I wasn’t around, we couldn’t prove that she was responsive to commands.
This was a big deal because without showing responsiveness to commands, no rehab facility would accept her.
She would be sent to a skilled nursing facility, which would provide the minimum level of care required to keep her alive. It was a place they send people to die.
How Cannabis Saved Megan’s Life
“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.”
― Bob Marley
So when I could finally communicate with my person again, when I could finally get clarifications on what she might need, I asked a straightforward question.
“Megan, if you want to get stoned, blink hard twice.”
A member of my friends/family group, who shall remain nameless, had on their person a vape pen with THC oil.
She blinked harder than she had all day, really squeezing her eyes shut more than she had since before her brain injury.
It was clear as day, she desperately wanted to ingest THC. Did I give her what she wanted? Nope, not yet.
“Okay, Megan, I don’t want to risk this if you don’t really want it. If you want to get stoned, I need you to try to raise your eyebrows.”
And this was the first time Megan was able to move other muscles in her face. Her eyebrows squeaked up, barely. But they did move.
So I went and got her old vape pen with a cartridge of THC oil and concocted a plan.
At this time she was still breathing through a trach attached to her throat. She was also still connected to a breathing monitor. I took a hit of the pen myself but kept the vapor in my mouth, and when I saw her begin to inhale, I let out a slow jet of vapor just above her trach site.
She inhaled it! It was working!
I did this a few more times until Megan blinked twice to confirm she was blissfully stoned.
I then sat with her for a half hour before her father showed up to relieve me. It was my turn to go home and get some sleep while he got to stay with her. I told him about the blinking, and he said he would try it later when Megan woke up.
The next day when I arrived, Megan’s room was a buzz. Nurses, doctors, and family members had all been able to get Megan to blink twice in response to commands.
Her chart filled with these kinds of updates, and the next day, a representative from a rehab facility showed up to evaluate her. For the first time, she responded to their commands.
I wasn’t there for this part, but because of Megan’s dramatic change in neural status, she was accepted as a candidate for that rehab facility!
So What Happened, Exactly?
Megan and I have examined that sequence of events quite a few times and have pieced together a few things.
- She was experiencing horrific hallucinations and didn’t trust anyone. So she ignored everyone that tried to talk to her.
- She only would respond to me, because of my persistence and stubbornness with asking questions, annoyed her and made her think maybe I wasn’t evil.
- The cannabis made her hallucinations less intense and made her less afraid to respond to other people.
Can cannabis even do that?
There is some clinical research showing that THC can suppress psychosis in certain situations.
This was the case for Megan. Getting her stoned helped alleviate some of her pain and suppressed her hallucinations enough to make her comfortable enough to start reacting and responding to commands.
Her responses were consistent enough to get her accepted into therapy and allow her not to have to go to a skilled nursing facility.
She has since recovered the full use of all four limbs and is currently relearning how to walk. As of this writing, she is relatively independent; she just achieved a 60-day streak in studying French on Duolingo and is preparing to move back to Round Rock.
I can’t speak to the broader political ramifications for the legalization of Marijuana/Cannabis, but Megan and I both know that it can help people, maybe even in a way you’ve never thought of.
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Bonus: Cannabis Might Have Prevented Some Stroke Damage
During my research on this subject, I came across a medical paper that discussed the possibility that Cannabis might help prevent damage from a stroke by a sizable margin.
Cannabinoid type 2 receptor activation downregulates stroke-induced classic and alternative brain…
Stroke. 2012 Jan;43(1):211–9. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.631044. Epub 2011 Oct 20. Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t
This benefit comes from CBD specifically, not from THC.
The more research that comes out on this plant, the more I am convinced that if you are over 25 years of age, do not have a history of schizophrenia or other brain disorders in your family, that Cannabis is a powerful tool for helping your brain.