KK Forss suffers from a spinal injury and must take a large amount of dangerous medications, including morphine, Fentanyl, methadone, MS Contin, and Percocet, in order to make it through the day. When he is able to use medical marijuana, his quality of life increases dramatically, and he is able to significantly cut down on his consumption of these dangerous prescription narcotics.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and committee members. My name is KK Forss, and I’m a patient from Ely, Minnesota. I drove all the way down to St. Paul to speak today in support of medical marijuana.
I’d like to tell you a little about myself. I’m 42 years old, and I‘m a Christian. I attended Chapel Hill Academy, a Christian private school, for three years. After that, I went to Carson Lawn Military Institute in Pennsylvania. I left for basic training 12 days after I graduated high school. I was a cavalry scout who did foreign reconnaissance missions in the mid-1980s. I’m an honorably discharged veteran.
As you can tell, I’m not someone who grew up around marijuana. However, after a spinal cord injury five years ago, I have come to know a great deal about it, particularly its medical use.
In 2004, I was working as a professional photographer in northern Minnesota. I drove down to the Twin Cities to meet with a publisher for my first book. As I drove, I thought about how great things were going. My first book was going to be published. I was starting to make considerable money doing wedding photography. Life was perfect. The Wolves were even in the NBA conference finals.
I spent the night at my publisher’s house and woke up the next morning in the worst pain of my life. I was admitted to Fairview Southdale Hospital that morning. A disc had ruptured in my neck, requiring surgery. After the surgery, I learned that there had been permanent damage to the spinal cord: The result was a pain in my upper arm that never goes away and gets worse the more I move it. Eight months later, they did a second surgery, and my doctors say that I need at least two more – but right now they want to wait because there is only about a 30% chance that additional surgeries would even help. So my life is left in a painful limbo, where the doctors keep me very drugged and don’t let me do much of anything. This May will be five years since my injury, and I am still not allowed to do physical therapy.
For most of the first 3 1/2 years, my life was spent on a mat on the floor – 21 to 22 hours a day. I had no real quality of life; every day I wanted to die. It was a blur of meds: morphine; MS Contin; 12 Percoset a day; and Klonopin and carisoprodol, both heavy muscle relaxants. At times I was on 4,000 mg a day of Neurontin (for reference, 3,200 mg is the recommended daily dose for people dying of MS and Lou Gehrig’s disease). This does not include all the medications prescribed to combat the side effects.
After the second surgery, my neurologist sent me to the Mayo Clinic. I was supposed to be there for four days, but they kept me almost two weeks. It’s funny how when you are on your way to the Mayo Clinic, you think, “Finally, I will see people who can help me get my life back.” It’s impossible to understand the emotional devastation when you leave after two weeks and are told, “I’m sorry. Down the road there may be procedures that can help.” I was 38 years old, and this was my life.
Pain controls all of us. Say you break your arm tonight before you go to bed. They will still be able to set the bone in the morning, but you won’t wait until then. You need to get to the ER immediately because of the pain. During that time, pain controls your life. When that pain doesn’t go away and the doctors aren’t able to fix it, you’re literally left with no choice but to try anything that might help.
People have asked what else I have tried. Here are a few highlights: beyond the two surgeries and the two weeks at Mayo Clinic, I started physical therapy but the doctors stopped me; electric skin stimulation; ultrasounds; muscle treatments; chiropractic procedures; aromatherapy; cortisone shots in my nerve endings; acupuncture; and acupuncture with electric currents. I get spinal cord injections every 90 days, counseling, and biofeedback. I was willing to try anything that people suggested, eventually including medical marijuana.
Without medical marijuana, I can’t sleep, as the pain in my arm never lets me get comfortable. If I make it an hour without having to change positions, I am grateful. If I do sleep, I sleepwalk. Either way, my arm is never able to stop moving. Since my arm is never able to rest, the muscle spasms never ease up. When I wake up in the morning, I have to take muscle relaxants. Starting out the day in horrible pain is like a snowball rolling down the wrong hill. I start the day taking muscle relaxants – like methadone (a drug given to heroin addicts) and fentanyl patches – for the terrible spasms. The patches by themselves cause horrible side effects, making the constipation, nausea, and vomiting worse. Since I started wearing them three years ago to combat the violent nausea, I’ve become a weight gain yo-yo. My meds cause me to gain a great deal of weight in the winter, and the fentanyl causes me to lose a great deal of weight in the summer. The last three years my average winter weight has been 219 pounds, and my average summer weight has been 186 pounds. The vomiting also makes the muscle spasms worse and increases the pain.
Because of all the other medications, I have horrible heartburn, which requires another medication. I take yet another medication for my heart itself. To compound everything, all the meds have caused my teeth to deteriorate and crumble away. I had only had two cavities up to the age of 35; now I have no teeth left on the lower jaw on each side. The dentist just decided it was better to pull them because they were only going to get worse thanks to the meds.
When using medical marijuana, I’m able to sleep an average of six hours a night, allowing me to drastically cut down on certain meds. And since my arm isn’t moving all night, I start out the morning without terrible muscle spasms, allowing me to eliminate many muscle relaxants when I get up. When the spasms are easier, I’m able to break the methadone pills in half and reduce my use of the fentanyl patches. When I’m able to cut back on those meds, I don’t have the same problems with heartburn and constipation. When I can cut the fentanyl patches in half, I don’t throw up as much. My average pain can go from a seven out of 10 down to a five out of 10 … a gigantic change in my life.
I also don’t feel like a toxic waste dump when I have access to medical marijuana. My memory, unclouded by the enormous amount of prescribed narcotics, works better. I’m even able to do a couple of small photo jobs or individual tutoring out of my home. Life doesn’t seem so hopeless, and I feel able to give back to society. When you live your life in pain, there is nothing better than when you can give back.
It’s funny to hear people say that medical marijuana will lead to people wanting to use more drugs. I use more drugs than most people can possibly imagine. I don’t want them at all; I just want my life back. And, to a limited but very real degree, medical marijuana can help accomplish this.
When I talk to my family, friends, and people I love, I implore them to learn more about medical marijuana, as I’m imploring you today. There are people in this state who live in far more pain than I do, and they also deserve this option.
When I was growing up, I was taught that you take care of people who are in pain. We have people suffering in horrible pain, and you talk politics. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can make a difference. Please vote in favor of medical marijuana.