10/28/2013 04:19 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 10 in a Series of Cancer-Related Commentary

"Fly me to the moon..." (Bart Howard)

Previously I had reported that I had tried to get a prescription -- approval -- for medical marijuana. My oncologist was willing, but since cannabis had only recently been approved for medical purposes in New Hampshire, there was no process in place; and I've now learned there will most likely not be a process in place in New Hampshire until early 2015.

Imagine my dilemma upon hearing and reading that cannabis helps with chemotherapy side-effects (therapeutic uses of cannabis). With wrecked taste buds, forever feeling nauseous, having pain from the Neulasta shot, chemo brain, and generally exhausted from the chemo drugs, I longed for something to help.

Some of the taste bud side-effects from chemotherapy include a) sensitivity, for example, to metal utensils; b) sedated, for instance, to spices; and c) shuffled, i.e., your favorite meal may taste awful. And this only serves to exacerbate the nausea. Of course, these reactions are individualized to each of us, and may not happen, as we pass through the chemo haze.

And yet, depending upon how ones taste buds react, some people choose to switch from metal to plastic utensils; others don't eat their favorite foods so they won't have the bad memory when chemotherapy is over; worse yet, some don't eat. As for nausea, you will be given medicine during chemo and pills to take while at home -- these drugs have their own side-effects that are intestinal in nature, and are also to be avoided when possible.

Not wanting to eat, intestinal issues, pain, exhaustion and chemo brain were becoming my norm. But then I got a call from a nurse at my Primary Care Physician's (PCP) office as a follow-up to my six days in the hospital when my white blood cells evaporated (see Part 5). Not one to be bashful, I asked if my PCP would prescribe/approve my receiving medical marijuana to help with my cancer treatments. And thus began the "best part" of having to be treated for cancer (reminds me of when I was told I had cancer that if I had to have leukemia I had the "best kind"). There is no "best part" or "best kind."

This wonderful nurse provided me with the Vermont website from which I could pre-print the required Application Form -- Registered Patient/Marijuana Registry. Of course, I would have felt a lot better had the site not been part of the Vermont Criminal Information Center website.

This same nurse also set up an appointment with my PCP even though I had asked if we could handle this over the phone since my oncologist warned me against going places where there would be sick people -- a doctor's office is typically one of those places. Since I had no choice, I met with my PCP and had a physical in order to comply with one of the many Vermont requirements.

I received from my PCP a signed and completed Health Care Professional Verification Form, which was to be submitted with my Application Form. In addition to filling out both forms, my patient Application Form had to be notarized; I was required to provide a digital picture of myself, and a check for $50 completed my package, which was sent to the Marijuana Registry, Department of Public Safety, Waterbury, Vermont.

Two weeks and two days later I received my plastic, photo ID and thought I was ready to play among the stars. Instead, I found included information on the three "planned" dispensaries in Vermont. I now needed to register for one of the dispensaries by filling out and returning the designated dispensary form along with my ID; it will be the only dispensary from which I'll be allowed to purchase cannabis (see Marijuana Dispensary Information for the state of Vermont; as of August 2013 there were 711 people registered). I chose the one in Brandon, VT (Rutland County Organics).

Per Vermont state law, instead of buying cannabis through a dispensary, I could have chosen to grow my own, but I had no idea how long that would take. Also, there are limits to the number of plants, number of mature plants, where it can be grown, etc. To my way of thinking there were too many requirements making it too easy to run afoul of the law.

Once I had my plastic, photo ID with named dispensary, I made an appointment (walk-ins are not accepted; check and cash only). I was driven to the site north of Brandon, Vermont, and had a 30 minute meeting where we discussed the different strains available (sativa for day, indica for night, and hybrid for anytime), and the various formats in which the cannabis could be purchased (weighted flower buds, edibles, clones/plants).

I purchased one gram of six different varieties so I could see which one(s) worked best for me. I paid a slight discount (the price of weed has skyrocketed since I was in college in the early '70s), plus tax, and left with the cannabis securely in a lock-box (another Vermont state requirement) I had purchased that morning. I don't smoke the marijuana, but use a propane-fired, hand-held vaporizer -- provided by one of my angels -- which heats the cannabis to a temperature whereby it is turned into a vapor that can easily be taken into the lungs.

My experience is as follows (again, please note that these are individualized effects where your response may be different):


Note: The naming convention is rather common, but there will be variations from dispensaries given there is no standardization or government control yet in place.

Although it is still illegal on the federal level, the state in which I live, Vermont, has decriminalized it and allows its growth and distribution. Also, Vermont politicians are reaching out to retired law enforcement officers (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition -- LEAP) to help with legalization. And according to a recent Gallup poll, more Americans than ever favor legalization: 58 percent to 39 percent. Also, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is beginning hearings to address the conflicts between federal and state laws. You can find the status in your state, any fees associated with registering, the possession limit, dispensary locations, and whether or not your state accepts other states' registry ID at Medical Marijuana.

You may also find the following of interest:

• "Cannabis Rx: Cutting Through the Misinformation," by Dr Andrew Weil [click here]

• "What If Cannabis Cured Cancer," by Len Richmond [click here]

• "Marijuana Compounds Can Kill Some [Leukemia] Cancer Cells: Study," by Matt Ferner [click here]

• "Science for potheads: Why they love to get high," by K.M. Cholewa [click here]

I don't know if cannabis will work wonders for everyone, but it has contributed to my improvement this cycle: I have started gaining weight, I'm no longer feeling even mildly depressed, and my reaction (pain, low-grade-fever, fatigue) to the Neulasta shot was of a shorter duration this cycle. I do still have chemo brain, which means it takes me longer to write these blogs because it's hard to remember or think of things, and my focus and attention to detail are limited. But what a difference...

Timing: 4-Nov through 7-Nov: Cycle Four (4) of chemotherapy.

Oh, and Chip Beehler, Andria Donohue, Doreen Bolger, Meredith Bullock and Alex Ford have been added to my list of angels here on earth.

Fly me to the moon...

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 8
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 9

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