By RNW.nl – June 2001
Paul’s last visit to Amsterdam was to say his “farewell to marijuana”. He’s 43, a musician and a producer, and lives with his wife in Minnesota, in the USA. He’s been smoking marijuana for 27 years. “Like many of my peers in the 1970’s, I began smoking marijuana socially. I found that I enjoyed the effects of marijuana over those of alcohol”.
But Paul’s story is very different to most of the other tourists you’ll meet in Amsterdam’s coffeeshops. Paul is going blind. “I am losing my eyesight to a combination of retinitis pigmentosa and cataracts. I also suffer from nystagmus, a condition which causes the eyes to tremble rapidly. This causes a stroboscopic effect in my vision”. He’s been told that people who have this disorder typically lose their reading vision somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30, and that within another 10 years, somewhere between 35 and 40, the vision is reduced further and you are left only being able to see light. But Paul appears to have defied these predictions, and he’s convinced it has something to do with the fact that he smokes marijuana. “There appears to be a strong correlation between the fact that I have been a steady, but moderate cannabis user, and the fact that I retained my reading vision until about 6 months ago”. In his opinion, “Marijuana use may have added between 5 and 15 additional years of usable vision to me”.
In addition to apparently slowing down his loss of vision, Paul says the use of cannabis helps ease the discomfort caused by the condition. “Rather than treating the tremors of the eyes with diazepam or a muscle relaxant, I choose to self-medicate with marijuana”. Some people might say it was just a coincidence, and that the marijuana doesn’t have anything to do with it? But Paul says “five different doctors have agreed, at least in principle, that marijuana may have contributed to the preservation of my eyesight.
The effectiveness of marijuana in treating my eye disorders may be a matter of faith, or of pharmacology. Sadly, in the U.S. I may never really get to find out which”.
The U.S. government only rarely allows medical research into the uses of marijuana, and of course, in the USA anyone caught using or in possession of cannabis faces prosecution.
Forced to Choose:
So why is Paul turning his back on the very thing he thinks is helping him? “In the USA, I am forced to choose between breaking the law, endangering our livelihood and placing my wife’s career in jeopardy, or to abstain from marijuana, thus avoiding prosecution, but losing the benefits of cannabis for my eyes and health. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, [a ruling that “medical necessity” is no defence for marijuana use], and the current political situation here, and considering the cost and difficulty in obtaining cannabis, I have decided to cease using weed. It’s a difficult decision; I believe I should have the right to treat my health with whatever I choose”. Paul’s decision is made, but his eyesight continues to deteriorate, and his search for treatment goes on. “I would invite any eye doctors, neuropharmacologists or other experts to contact me. I will gladly come back to Holland for a consultation with scientists”.