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On February 8, 2018, I had the honor of being the first person in Texas to legally purchase low-THC medical cannabis from one of the three licensed and operating dispensaries in our state, Compassionate Cultivation. I purchased it for my son, Miles, who qualified because of his intractable epilepsy-the only medical condition the 2015 legislation allowed at that time to have access to this medicine.

It had been a long and emotional journey to get to that point; one that began three years prior when I, desperate to find a medicine to help control my son’s seizures that wouldn’t cause him debilitating and frightful side effects, was introduced to another mother in Dripping Springs who was the co-founder of the non-profit activist group, MAMMA. (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) Miles has autism too; the non-verbal kind that severely impairs every aspect of his life.

We were one of the lucky ones to be able to enter into this highly restrictive program that was filled with so many hurdles to join that there was an extraordinarily low number of doctors registered to prescribe it, and a low number of patients registered to receive it. Miles’ neurologist, Dr. Karen Keough, is a pioneer of this program in our state and while she was skeptical of the benefits of medical marijuana when I first met her, she listened thoughtfully to me and other patients who were comfortable speaking with her about it over the years. I will always be so grateful to have had such an open-minded and caring doctor on our team.

In 2019 the program was moderately expanded to include more conditions including all forms of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, autism, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), terminal cancer, and other incurable neurodegenerative diseases. It also removed several other highly restrictive aspects of the original program, including having to have two registered doctors sign off on a patient’s prescription. Despite this, there are still only approximately 3,800 patients across the state who have at some point over the last three years accessed medicine through the program. It is estimated that more than two million Texans could qualify.

When comparing The Compassionate Use Program to other states’ medical cannabis programs, Texas still comes up short. The amount of THC (the psychotropic part of the plant most often associated with feeling ‘high’) needs to be increased to a more therapeutic amount so that it can help children like mine with severe mood and behavioral disorders as well as self-injurious behaviors. Doctors, not politicians, need to be able to decide how much THC a patient needs. Our veterans who are suffering mightily from post-traumatic stress disorder could benefit greatly from getting off of highly addictive opioids and instead of using cannabis; and yet despite so many passionate pleas for help during the 2019 legislative session, they were left out on the expanded list of qualifying conditions.

For my family, cannabis is a wonderful addition to our medical toolbox. It is certainly not the panacea for all of my son’s medical conditions and administering it has not allowed us to fully wean him from his other prescribed medications, BUT…it has helped heal his gut, ravaged from the effects of autoimmune disorders. It has calmed his brain and body in times when he was hurting himself and the members of our immediate family. It has brought sleep when we were desperate for his sensory overloaded system to find peace. It has given us the ability to take him out in the community at times whereas we could not before. It comes without the black box warnings found on several of his prescribed anticonvulsant medications.

The tide is turning and the ‘reefer madness’ stigma of the past is loosening. It is my sincere hope that major changes can be made to our state’s program in the upcoming legislative session, or even better, that medical cannabis can be legalized federally. If you would like more information about medical cannabis or doctors registered in the program in your area, I recommend checking out Compassionate Cultivation’s website. Additionally, if you are looking to become a patient or find a doctor to prescribe medical cannabis, the knowledgeable team at Compassionate will walk you through the new, simple process.

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Debbie Tolany
Debbie is a Mother to two boys. Her oldest has complex and profound medical needs and his difficulties tolerating medications lead her to Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism in 2015. She has volunteered with them since and serves as their media liaison. ‘MAMMA’ has been instrumental in creating and growing the Compassionate Use Program. In 2018, Debbie was proud to be the first person in Texas to purchase legal medical cannabis from the Compassionate Cultivation dispensary. When not advocating for her son she can be found sharing her journey at www.hellomynameisdebbie.com.

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