Texans Head To Colorado For Medical Marijuana Therapy

Texans like SA’s Edwin Patterson (left) and Sherise Nipper are looking to Colorado for access to medical marijuana. - Alex Ramirez
Alex Ramirez
Texans like SA’s Edwin Patterson (left) and Sherise Nipper are looking to Colorado for access to medical marijuana.

Former San Antonio resident Sherise Nipper suffers from intractable epilepsy.

It wouldn't be unusual for her to have to have more than a dozen seizures a day.

Confined to a wheelchair, there was no light at the end of the tunnel for her and her family.

"I was on every kind of prescription you can imagine. I started getting chemical blisters on my body," Nipper, 35, told the San Antonio Current last week. "My body started to literally burn from the inside out."

Her seizures were so intense and frequent that the ligaments in her Achilles heel and knees ripped from the rapid, uncontrollable movement. Her gall bladder and appendix ruptured. And the medications, which burned her tongue, prevented her from tasting food. One time, she needed chest compressions and a medic fractured her sternum.

It was no way to live.

"So my husband and I went to my neurologist and he says 'She's not doing well,'" Nipper recalled. She asked the doctor point-blank about using CBD oil and THC — both compounds found in marijuana — to treat her seizures.

She was promptly told all that could be done for her comes in the form of a pill.

Undeterred, looked more into medical marijuana, concluding it was her best bet. But obtaining it illegally was stressful, scary and not worth the risk.

Despite the fact that Texas legislators acknowledged medical marijuana for the first time this year by passing a CBD oil bill for the treatment of incurable epilepsy, they barred the use of THC, the component that has been proven to help the most.

Nipper knew she had to leave her beloved Lone Star State. The law doesn't help her due to the THC restriction, so she felt she had no other choice but to pack up.

Rocky Mountain Refuge

She used the family's tax refund and headed in April to Glendale, Colorado, for a month to try CBD oil and THC treatment.

The change was immediate and drastic — she's only had a single seizure since moving.

It comes as no surprise, then, that she decided to stay put.

"I'm no longer in a wheelchair. I'm getting around and doing my daily stuff. My ligaments are still torn, but I'm working with a massage therapist to strengthen those muscles," Nipper said.

Another bonus: Being able to taste certain things for the first time, such as a favorite, Alfredo sauce.

And her condition is not keeping her from hitting the road. "In Colorado, I can take my cannabis medicine anywhere."

Nipper is not the only Texan finding cannabis-led refuge in the Rocky Mountain state.

Shania Williams is a four-year-old from Houston. She has a rare genetic disorder in her DNA that causes a variety of neurological conditions, including severe epilepsy.

She's spent much of her short life in the hospital taking multiple medications, having blood drawn and undergoing an array of tests, procedures and surgeries.

"Despite all efforts, including four daily ... medications to help reduce and prevent seizure activity, Shania's seizures began to increase in strength and frequency," her mother, Stephanie, told the Current.

"In January 2013, Shania was taken by ambulance to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, for what was the longest continuous seizure she would have to date."

That episode lasted nearly three hours and Shania was placed in intensive care.

"It was then that I ... began my research on cannabis oil. When all else seemed to have failed, it gave us a glimmer of hope," Stephanie said.

The remedy in Texas was an unthinkable option for any parent.

"In August of 2013, a seven-day continuous EEG was done, and it was then discussed that a last option for her was a lobotomy, which would leave her blind and would not guarantee complete seizure control," Stephanie said.

They said no way to that.

"My husband and I then decided that our last hope for our daughter to have a chance at living a life as a child was indeed in Colorado."

In April 2014, that decision became a reality, with the help of family and friends.

Now, Shania only has a seizure once every two weeks. In Texas, where the little girl didn't have access to the combo of CBD oil and THC, she experienced daily seizures that lasted from three to 45 minutes.

"Shania's developmental growth has blossomed. She is becoming more and more age-appropriate and can go outside and enjoy her childhood," her mother said.

"She is reaching therapy goals and is able to communicate her needs and wants more proficiency. She is even counting to 20 on her own and trying to learn how to ride a bike," she added.

In February 2015, 9-year-old Alexis Bortell, also an epileptic, had the worst seizure of her life.

"It lasted over eight minutes, during which she stopped breathing for a short time," said her father, Dean. "After consulting with doctors in Dallas, we decided that for her own safety we had to evacuate Alexis to Colorado, where she could begin whole-plant oil therapy immediately."

And just like with the other cases, the move proved fruitful.

"We haven't seen a single issue," Dean said.

He only wishes that they and other families wouldn't have to make a mad dash to another state, uplifting their entire lives in the process.

Useless Texas Law

When Texas made history this year by passing a law legalizing the use of CBD oil sans THC for medical purposes, it didn't create a rational way for the legislation to work.

Simply put, the Lone Star State's CBD oil bill helps no one but politicians who can now officially boast, "I supported a medical marijuana bill."

There are two reasons behind the new law's uselessness for patients suffering from intractable epilepsy.

The first boils down to semantics. There's a difference in the eyes of the federal government on whether a physician can prescribe cannabis (a federal offense) or recommend it (protected by free speech).

"Cannabis in all forms is a Schedule I substance and the DEA has previously threatened physicians with the loss of their license to prescribe any controlled substance and has indicated it would consider such an order aiding and abetting a federal offense," said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

By contrast, federal courts recognize First Amendment protection for doctors who recommend medical marijuana to a patient, Fazio clarified.

There are two ways to cure this problem: first, by amending Texas' historic CBD bill to say "recommend" rather than "prescribe," or for federal law to change.

The second option is to amend the bill's language to include THC as a medicine.

Scientifically Proven

The push for medical marijuana in Texas, including SA, is picking up steam. - Alex Ramirez
Alex Ramirez
The push for medical marijuana in Texas, including SA, is picking up steam.

Mike Thompson met Nipper by chance at one of his recreational marijuana shops in Colorado.

"She told me how she tried CBD therapy. It helped, but didn't work," said Thompson, director of production and manufacturing at Emerald Fields.

Thompson holds degrees in biology and chemistry and is working toward a master's in pharmaceutical chemistry. He's also a Texan who relocated to Colorado nearly three years ago, sensing a marijuana-business boom.

He wasn't surprised that Nipper's CBD-only regimen wasn't working.

"I assumed she had an endocannibinoid deficiency," Thompson said. "CBD and THC are fundamentally different chemicals from a pharmacological standpoint. It's complicated, but they are not one and the same."

Thompson said the theory is that the deficiency contributes to seizures, and that a mixed ratio of CBD and THC seem to help reduce and control the sudden attacks.

In short, CBD inhibits the breakdown of endocannibinoids while THC supplements the brain's endocannibinoids, which are naturally generated in a healthy person, Thompson explained.

Today, Nipper is nearly off all of her medications, except for Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug that her doctors had prescribed in large doses for more than a decade.

She takes a fraction of what she used to take, but completely stopping is dangerous.

"So we gave her the THC therapy and all of a sudden you noticed a huge difference," Thompson said.

Beyond Epilepsy

San Antonian Edwin Patterson, a 50-year-old disabled veteran, met Nipper a couple of years ago. His wife found a pit bull at their apartment complex, but they couldn't keep it.

So he called Heaven Sent Pit Bull, a rescue operation Nipper founded which takes unwanted pit bulls and trains them to become service dogs.

Patterson, whose left leg was amputated last week, had a bad turn three years ago after a mosquito bit the otherwise happy and healthy 47-year-old.

"I developed West Nile (virus)," Patterson said. "I spent three months in the ICU on a ventilator."

The virus causes paralysis in some people and Patterson lost the use of his arms and legs.

"Now, just a little bit less than three years later, I've gotten full use of my arms, partial use of my right leg and no use of my left leg," he said. "I still have cognitive issues and speech issues. Sometimes I can't think of words and they don't come out of my mouth. I have short-term memory."

All of that caused by a tiny insect. "That mosquito kicked my ass," Patterson said.

And then, after doctors used strong opiates to control his pain, he became addicted. He also suffers from severe insomnia, a lack of appetite and tremors.

"When I left the rehab hospital, I was addicted to morphine. My mom got me off that," he said. "I couldn't move from the neck down so I couldn't do much from stopping her from making me go cold turkey."

Patterson started using marijuana to control his pain, to stimulate his appetite and to help him sleep. Then he told his care practitioner at the VA clinic how it was helping.

"They put me on a contract that now I'm subjected to random drug tests and if I test positive, it will affect the medications that they give me," Patterson said.

Even if Texas' CBD oil law was effective, it still wouldn't help people like Patterson.

So count him as one more future Lone Star defector bound for greener pastures in Colorado — he hopes to join Nipper next year once his current lease is up.

Truth is, there are thousands of veterans and people like Patterson in Texas. They don't have intractable epilepsy, but they do have a range of conditions and diseases that marijuana has been proven to help.

But until Texas takes its head out of the sand, those patients are just going to seek treatment elsewhere, like Colorado.

Thompson, the Colorado weed shop owner and expert, said he's seeing more and more people from states like Texas that don't have effective medical marijuana laws moving to Colorado as a last-ditch effort to control symptoms that traditional meds failed to treat.

"We see people with autism to people with seizures to people who need an alternative to pain management," he said. "I mean, it's amazing."

Texas, on the other hand, is offering a whole lot of nothing to people who simply want a non-toxic alternative to expensive drugs that are not making them better.

They don't want to leave.

They want to live.

"I never knew when we walked out of our house in Texas, that it would be the last time I saw our street and our friends," Nipper said, tearing up. "I had faith in Texas."


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