Dr. Wagoner is a retired physician who risked arrest and imprisonment to procure marijuana as a last resort to help with his wife’s intractable nausea, a side effect of her chemotherapy treatments, when she was not responding to prescribed medications.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Dr. George Wagoner, and I am here today to speak on behalf of the medical marijuana bill.
It was January 2007 when we found out that Beverly, my wife of 51 years, had advanced ovarian carcinoma. The prognosis was grim, but not impossible. Cancer treatment is an emotional roller coaster, but we had hope right up until the last day.
As a practicing OB-GYN physician of 29 years, I had dedicated my life to caring for people, healing, and bringing life into the world. After Beverly’s diagnosis, I knew plenty of uncertainty lay ahead. Beverly underwent surgery and several courses of grueling chemotherapy. Then there was more surgery and more chemotherapy. The intractable nausea robbed Beverly of her quality of life. She couldn’t eat or keep anything down. She lost so much weight, literally wasting away before my eyes.
Our family physician prescribed Zofran, an anti-nausea drug that dissolves in your mouth, allowing you to take it even while you are actively nauseated. But Zofran has drawbacks: it takes a while to work and must be taken every three to four hours. At $46 a pill, the bill can add up quickly – even for a retired doctor. We could afford the cost, but I wondered about the many people who could not. Zofran helped Beverly a little, but did not eliminate the nausea.
Over the years I had heard that marijuana was the most helpful treatment for the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy. So we sat down with our family physician again. “Of course you know that isn’t available,” he said. “But Marinol is; it contains one of the active ingredients in marijuana.” Marinol is a synthetic version of THC. Prescription in hand, I headed for the pharmacy once again.
Marinol helped Beverly to some degree, but it had a very distressing side effect – hallucinations. “I know there’s not a head sitting on that rock over there,” she said to me after taking the pill. “But that’s what I see.” She refused to take any more Marinol. We were running out of options as Beverly’s condition worsened. I felt powerless. I put the word out in my community that we were willing to try marijuana if we could find some. A few days later, a friend left a baggie of marijuana for Beverly. I didn’t know who had left it, and I didn’t care. I wanted to do whatever I could to help my wife.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with the marijuana. I’d heard brownies baked with marijuana worked, but Beverly was too nauseated to eat. I went into town to buy a pipe, but I couldn’t find one. Finally, I fashioned a crude pipe by drilling out a two-inch ball in my workshop and inserted a plastic straw. I put a little marijuana in it, lit it, and gave it to Beverly. She took two puffs, looked at me, and said, “The nausea’s gone.” It was miraculous. Within seconds, the nausea just disappeared. It was as prompt and as dramatic of a response to medication as I have ever seen in 30 years of practicing medicine.
She didn’t use much of it. A few times in the middle of the night, Beverly woke up intensely nauseated and threw up. She would smoke some marijuana and feel instant relief from her suffering – without the hallucinations that Marinol had caused.
There are countless Beverlys out there, suffering from terrible diseases. The only real relief they can ever get from their pain is through marijuana. I support the medical use of marijuana by sick people, and I urge all of my colleagues to join me. I saw how it helped my Beverly’s suffering. I encourage more medical professionals to publicly support the one thing that can help so many people. Properly regulated, and limited to use by sick people, medical marijuana can bring tremendous relief to countless patients. For patients on fixed incomes, who can’t afford $46 pills, medical marijuana is a more affordable alternative. Physicians should be able to write a prescription for medical marijuana, and pharmacists ought to be able to fill it. But until federal law changes to allow such a system, the medical marijuana bill that appears before you – much like the popular laws now working well in 13 states – is the best alternative. Patients should be able to choose a medicine that works best for them with the recommendation of their doctor, without fear of arrest or jail, and that is precisely what this bill will allow.
Keeping medical marijuana away from sick people is inhumane. Minnesota can and should do better.