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In the weeds

Unpacking the baggage of cannabis


Cannabis, to put it lightly, has a lot of baggage. Archaeological evidence shows that prehistoric humans used it for its psychoactive properties, and the earliest written evidence of its use comes from the 5th century BCE in Herodotus’ Histories. It has been used all around the world as an intoxicant, a medicinal plant, or raw industrial material.

I began covering cannabis for The Tulsa Voice last year, in the run-up to the vote on SQ 788. During my reportage I talked to cannabis advocates, CBD purveyors, medical refugees, drug dealers and state senators. Along the way I got to know the plant that’s becoming all but ubiquitous, and about all the baggage it’s picked up over the centuries. My hope for this new monthly column is to help explore and unpack some of that baggage.

One of the most exciting aspects of cannabis is its potential as medicine. Among its myriad uses is treatment for muscle spasms and chronic pain. With the passage of SQ 788 last June, Oklahomans embraced this potential.

Amy Bourlon-Hilterbran and her family have seen this potential up-close. Amy’s son Austin was born with Dravet syndrome, an extreme form of epilepsy that causes frequent debilitating seizures as well as mental and physical deterioration. Ten years on opioids and benzos left him on life support while barely affecting his seizures. Knowing that his life was at stake, Austin’s family turned to cannabis.

The effect was dramatic. In a video that went viral, Amy uses a cannabis nasal spray to end one of his seizures within seconds. They moved to Colorado in 2014 to legally obtain the lifesaving medicine and began advocating for its use in other states.

I talked to Amy last June for TTV, right before Oklahoma joined 29 other states in legalizing medical cannabis. “It’s heartbreaking to leave your home, your family, your friends, your job, everything you knew,” she told me. The Bourlon-Hilterbran family were over the moon when SQ 788 passed.

“Obviously our family is thrilled that the citizens of Oklahoma agree with us that medical marijuana should be legal and fully accessible to patients,” Amy says now.

After the question passed, Amy and her family feared that opponents would legislate the law away or drag their feet granting licenses. They are pleasantly surprised to see that access to medical marijuana has remained wide open. “[Oklahomans] didn’t let red tape stop what they feel should be a viable option for patients,” she said.

Amy’s family won’t be moving back to Oklahoma any time soon. Her kids are enrolled in school, and they’re in the process of converting their 35-acre property in Colorado into a hemp farm. However, they’ll be able to see their family and friends in Oklahoma a lot more now, as the program allows the family to obtain an out-of-state medical card for their son.

Amy is careful to note that cannabis is not a cure-all. For every success story there are those for whom cannabis did not work. Because cannabis has been illegal and highly regulated there is still a dearth of research into cannabis’ potentials
and limits.

But for the Bourlon-Hilterbran family, however, it will always be the thing that gave them their son back.

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