Article by Al Graham, Cannabis Digest
It was 2003 when I first heard of Alison Myrden. I know the year because it was just shortly after my first ever Crohn’s flare up, and the year I became involved in the cannabis community. As time went on, I wanted to get better educated about cannabis so started attending events to educate myself about the medical value of cannabis. At that point, I started seeing Alison on stage at rallies and part of the forums I attended in South-Central Ontario, and got to know her story and what she was about. Now, years later, Alison and I have come know each other a little better, and this past Christmas she took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about life and cannabis.
As we get older, we all have our aches and pains, but for Alison this started early in her life. At the age of 28 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, but her doctors figure she has been dealing with it since the age of 10. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often disabling, disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
The MS has slowed her down some, but she remains active and walks around with the assistance of a cane or walker. At times she uses a wheelchair if she has to go a distance or standing for a long period of time during a presentation. Laughingly, she tells me that she doesn’t have MS but has “a mess.” For Alison, it doesn’t stop there and it only gets worse. Twenty four years ago she discovered that she also has Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN), a condition that affects the nerves in your face. Because of this condition, she has been dealing with facial nerve pain for 24 hours a day for the last 20 years.
While I can tell you it’s a nerve problem in the face, there is a lot more to this. So what exactly is TN? From an article in issue 15 of Treating Yourself, the writer known as “Ally” states that “Trigeminal Neuralgia is one of the most painful disorders known and may be second only to cluster headaches in degree of pain it produces. Like cluster headaches, trigeminal neuralgia is also known by many as the suicide disease. When describing someone suffering a TN attack some describe it as ‘They are begging to be killed.’ The trigeminal nerve is responsible for the transmission of all sensory information from the face and head. This includes temperature, pain, and tactile/pressure sensation. If this nerve bundle becomes irritated or damaged it can begin to malfunction in the most extreme way. The invigorating wind and sensuous touch can become the trigger for severe sensations of searing, slicing, stabbing, lacerating pain in the mouth, teeth, eye, cheek and ear lasting from a few minutes to several hours.”
The article goes on to say that “There are several ways in which the trigeminal nerve can become irritated and/or damaged through direct assault or more passive demyelination. The most common cause is believed to be vascular compression of the nerve bundle close to where it enervates with the brain stem. This pressure irritates the nerve interfering with its ability to function properly. Eventually the irritation results in demyelination and severe neural dysfunction. The dysfunctional nerve now fires erratically, becomes hypersensitive, and may no long be able to terminate a sensation once the corresponding stimulus has been removed. As a result, someone suffering from this condition will experience paroxysmal allodynia, the sudden onset of extreme pain initiated by non-painful stimuli such as a feather brushing the cheek. Other suspected causes include pressure from tumour, cystic spider bite in the right location, damage from multiple sclerosis, car accident, facial surgery or even body piercing.”
How do you battle a condition such as this? Over the years Alison has taken many drugs to battle the pain but nothing has worked. At one point she was getting a foot long needle stuck into her face as they searched to eliminate or freeze the pain but that didn’t work either. It got to the point where she was even prescribed cocaine. For a month Alison would go to the hospital, three times a week, in order to snort cocaine up her nose from the tiniest spoon she has ever seen. This treatment only worked temporarily for about an hour and then eventually didn’t help at all. She commented that it actually kept her awake for days at a time. From there they moved her onto heroin injections that are still happening. When she has surgery they give it to her intravenously so she can to deal with the facial pain while she is there. I asked her about Interferon, the drug I mostly hear about for MS sufferers. For Alison, though, she has never had to use Interferon because it doesn’t help her. While it’s good for people with relapsing or remitting MS, it doesn’t help with the type she has, which is Chronic Progressive MS.
Cannabis to the rescue
Back in 1994, well before Canada’s medical marijuana program even began, Alison was using cannabis to deal with her conditions. At that time she would carry a note pad prescription from her doctor as the only way to prove her use was medicinal. When I asked her how the police dealt with her she said that “the police let me go every time with no hassles.” She spoke of one incident while at Ontario Place, in Toronto, where she was off to the side medicating with cannabis when the police came along. They looked at her and then over to some younger people. The police left her alone and she feels that this was because of her walker being nearby and her age, though the police may have thought the cannabis smell was coming from the younger people nearby.
During the early 90s, with no medical marijuana program in effect and seeing the benefits she wrote, then Liberal Health Minister, Alan Rock seeking to be involved in drug trials with cannabis. She didn’t stop there, in offering to be a trial volunteer, and has now worked with some of the top doctors in the cannabis field—including Dr. Mark Ware of Montreal’s McGill University, Dr. Ethan Russo in the U.S., and Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in Israel. While we didn’t touch on the specific strains of cannabis that she medicates with, I know she speaks highly of Williams Wonder and Alison in Wonderland (a strain that has been named after her).