Canton resident Denise Pontuti has suffered from migraines for more than a decade.
The 48-year-old former teacher has tried opioid-based medications, a Cleveland Clinic treatment program, headache infusion therapy, dietary changes, meditation, yoga and exercise. Yet cannabis is the only treatment that’s significantly lessened the “day after day after day of chronic pain.”
“It’s definitely giving me back my life,” Pontuti said.
Between the start of legal cannabis sales in January 2019 and August 2020, more than 131,650 patients have registered with the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. The state permits marijuana use, which remains illegal under federal law, for 22 eligible medical conditions.
Local patients who’ve found relief from the cannabis plant or products said it involves trying different methods and doses to determine what works best.
“It is not a perfect science,” said Mianna Morrison, a 24-year-old New Philadelphia resident.
Morrison, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran with a seizure disorder, migraines, some other chronic pain and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, said she primarily vapes the indica variety of cannabis because it’s the most inexpensive and effective. She takes about two puffs when she’s in pain and incorporates it into her overall wellness plan.
“If you’re not taking care of your body and you’re not in a good mental state, it’s not going to do you much good,” Morrison said.
Pontuti said she eats half of a gummy edible in the morning — along with a tablet containing cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabis compound without psychoactive effects — and half a gummy after lunch. Vaping didn’t give her much relief, and she sticks to products from the sativa type of plant to remain alert.
“I’m big into wanting to be able to function all day and not sleep,” Pontuti said.
Steve Davis, who sees both patients at AdvoCare Clinic in North Canton, described cannabis as a “snowflake medicine.”
“It’s unique for every individual,” he said, because of factors such as genetic variations in the body’s endocannabinoid system or its ability to process cannabis.
Davis is state-certified to recommend cannabis and founded the clinic, which specializes in cannabis and holistic care, in May of last year. He had about 100 patients then and now has 1,100.
“So we’ve had substantial growth,” he said.
Davis, a retired emergency physician, said chronic pain conditions are the most common ailment among his patients and many want to get off pain medications that cause mental fog. Treatment begins with an intake appointment that lasts about an hour and includes recommendations for specific products.
“Our goal is when the patient leaves that they have a good enough understanding that they feel confident in taking those first steps to get started,” he said.
About 80% of the clinic’s patients have success with cannabis, he said. About 20% do not experience all the effects they sought, and about 15% of that group discontinue treatment or experience no benefits.
Richard Fisher, a 66-year-old U.S. Army veteran and North Canton resident, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to get his card from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program in February 2019.
“I’m not getting strange product anymore,” he said. “I’m getting something that’s actually safe for me.”
Unlike Fisher’s experience with the “black market,” state-regulated cannabis ensures the strength and compounds it includes. He said higher quality comes with a higher price tag, but it’s worth it.
Because his primary care doctor with the Veterans Health Administration follows federal law and cannot recommend cannabis, Fisher also is a patient of AdvoCare Clinic. He vapes the sativa variety to calm pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and a collapsed wrist.
“It’s excruciating, except when I get my shots of cortisol and join that with vaping the marijuana,” Fisher said.
As an added benefit, he said, his attitude has improved and “Pink Floyd sounds so much better.”
Both Fisher and Morrison were able to get a discount for veterans to help with the state program’s expenses. Pontuti said she received a discount based on her income and spends a couple of hundred dollars a month.
The current price of cannabis is $10.69 per gram, a 38% decrease since dispensaries opened last year, according to the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association.
Davis said price can be one barrier for patients, especially those on a fixed income, but many continue despite the cost because of benefits they receive. Cannabis use also can prevent someone from having a concealed carry license, because of conflict with federal law, and working at certain jobs.
“With employers, having a medical marijuana card does not trump workplace policy,” Davis said. “We make that very clear.”
Pontuti, who missed about 50 days of work a year because of migraines her last two years teaching, is on disability. Even though she was on opioid medication while teaching, Pontuti said, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to teach again because of drug policies and is contemplating other part-time work.
“As a teacher, you teach kids all the time, ‘drugs are bad,'” she said.
However, Pontuti’s recent experience has shown her cannabis can help prevent and relieve pain better than prescription drugs that made it difficult to focus and be mentally present.
“I think it’s something that people need to know about and try,” she said.
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @kbyerREP