Guillain–Barre syndrome sufferer: 'Illegal cannabis saved my life'
Imagine being diagnosed with a rare disorder which sees your own immune system damages your nerve cells, causing severe pain, muscle weakness and even paralysis.
Now imagine if you found out cannabis could greatly improve your quality of life by reducing the debilitating symptoms.
Would you be considered a dangerous criminal in the eyes of police and self-medicate with cannabis or would you continue to suffer long-term problems to stay within the confines of the law?
For Craig McGarry, the decision was the former.
The 59-year-old told nine.com.au he has been suffering Guillain–Barre syndrome for the past 41 years, with medical cannabis the only treatment that offers him relief from the crippling disorder.
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He knows cannabis use is still illegal in Australia – only available legally in select cases - but feels educating people on the benefits of medical marijuana far outweighs any risk of police persecution.
“I discovered I had Guillain–Barre syndrome on October 18, 1977,” he told nine.com.au.
“I thought I had flu. I couldn’t even hold my spoon when I woke up and by the afternoon I could hardly move at all. Less than 24 hours later I was rushed to the intensive care unit and placed on life support.”
Mr McGarry said from that moment onward, Guillain–Barre syndrome totally transformed his life.
“I had to learn how to do everything again like I was a baby,” he said.
The Mid North Coast resident said he went through years of gruelling therapy to help him talk and walk properly, however he never fully recovered.
“I still have a degree of disability. I have a double foot drop (difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot), my L4-L5 vertebrae are shot, I have terrible nerve pain and bad fatigue.”
Mr McGarry said severe backpain caused by the disorder is the biggest issue, with doctors only willing to prescribe him strong opiates to deal with what he describes as constant agony.
“I have pain levels where I was forced to use fentanyl patches, but they were smashing my brain and overall health,” he said.
He initially had reservations of using cannabis as a treatment for fear of being labelled a “pothead”, but said he hasn’t looked back since beginning self-medicated treatment four years ago.
“I use a full plant extract with THC because CBD alone wasn’t enough for my level of pain,” he said.
“Gradually my pain decreased, I stopped all forms of pharmaceutical pain killers and I had a clear mind. I am also more functional as I have greater range and don’t spasm as much.”
Since seeing the benefits first hand and wanting to act within the confines of the law, Mr McGarry said he has tried to be legally prescribed medicinal marijuana without avail.
“I can’t find a doctor to write a prescription and even if I could, I can't afford the $40,000 per annum it would cost me. This system is a joke,” he said.
So for now, he said he has no option but to continue being considered a criminal in the eyes of the law because it’s better than the alternative.
The Australian Medical Association said it's awaiting the results of clinical trials of medicinal marijuana before endorsing it for it specific conditions.
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