Freedom Leaf editor-in-chief Steve Bloom with medical marijuana pioneer Elvy Musikka.
One of four federal medical marijuana patients, Elvy Musikka is probably the best known of the quartet. She lives in Eugene, Ore. and regularly speaks at cannabis conferences and protests around the U.S. Born in Colombia in 1939, she emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1953, the same year she had surgery for congenital cataracts that left her partially blind and led to her glaucoma condition. In 1988, after being arrested for marijuana cultivation, Musikka petitioned the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), asking to be added to a little-known conditional investigative new drug (IND) program that provided federally grown cannabis to two other patients. She was approved and has been receiving 300 joints per month in large tin containers ever since. We caught up with Musikka at the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference in Eugene on Apr. 24.
Who are the other people on the IND program?
Irvin Rosenfeld, George McMahon and Barbara Douglass. There are four in the program, but only two of us left receiving marijuana—me and Irvin. The others don’t have doctors that will help them with prescriptions. Not every doctor can write a Schedule I prescription. They don’t have a doctor because their doctors retired. My doctor retired too, but he still keeps up his license so I can stay in this program. He’s my angel. Irvin gets his supply every three months. I fly to Florida once a year and pick up my supply. But I really need better marijuana than what the government has. What they call their mid-grade is OK for daytime use, but for nighttime, for insomnia, it’s not. Half of the time it’s fine.
The federal marijuana is grown at the University of Mississippi under the jurisdiction of NIDA. Is the Compassionate IND program a worthy program? Should they expand it, or should they end it?
Since they insist on being the only ones who can supply marijuana in the country, I think they should get a little more up to date on what should be available for patients. Do I think the government should expand the program? Not with what they’re giving us.
The problem is with potency?
Yes, the stuff they sent me three years ago blinded me. In 2012, they sent us a bunch of garbage with no THC. It was hemp, which I love to wear, but it didn’t do anything for my glaucoma, which I’ve had for 41 years. I thought I was having the potency I should have—and I wasn’t—so I didn’t worry about it. But within a month I knew I was in trouble. My doctor in Florida panicked and had me fly there for an emergency surgery. That surgery did me in. It detached my retina and took away my optic nerve, which I’d never lost in 37 years in treating glaucoma, and destroyed my sight. I hallucinated for two months. They sent me hemp, because they want everybody on low THC, and here’s what happened to me. It cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to take away some of my independence and blind me a little more than I already was. I blame this on the government for sending me that garbage and pretending it was medicine.
Were you born blind?
They say I was completely blind with congenital cataracts. But I wasn’t completely blind because I remember too many scenes with lots of color. I had no trouble learning colors. So I know I had sight. It was probably about as limited as they left me this time after this bad surgery.
When was your first surgery?
In 1945, in Colombia, when I was six years old, I had four surgeries that were very successful for the standards of that time. The problem was they didn’t take the whole cataract out; they took it out little by little. I don’t know why; that’s how they did it then. They didn’t insert a new lens like they do now. I had to wear very thick glasses. But I did get sight; it was up to 20/200 in both eyes. I was quite thrilled until the bad surgery in New York, which set my bad eye at 20/400.
When was that?
At Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York in 1953. I went in for three days and ended up there for a month. That was my first encounter with hospitals in the U.S., and it was a flop. I had scar tissue very similar to what I have in the right eye now. Every surgery I’ve ever had left me with more problems and more scar tissue. When the right eye went completely after the 2012 laser surgery, I said I had enough. I couldn’t tell you if it was day or night in that eye. It was like there was no light. You close your eyes, somebody turns on the light, you open your eyes and you still know there’s light in the room. This was not like that. It was nothing. That sight was never really regained until I was on this program and was smoking marijuana all the time.
Why is the IND program such a big secret?
Because the program was established in the 1970s with one goal, and that was to find the negative side effects of marijuana. And guess what? They haven’t found them yet! Every doctor that takes care of us has to file a complete report about our health every year. So it’s not like they don’t know what’s happening to us. All I know is now I’m in my 70s and I don’t have an aspirin in my house. I no longer have to take any drops for my glaucoma. There’s no way I’m not going to smoke marijuana, because it’s the only thing that truly works for me. I’ve maintained my sight for 37 years thanks to cannabis.
I’m federally supplied by the government. I’ve been in this program for 28 years. I’ve been using marijuana for 41 years. This is my medicine. This is a prescription like any other prescription.
In recent years, glaucoma has not been in included in marijuana programs in states like New York and now Louisiana. How does that make you feel?
That’s very upsetting to me. When I started this, I didn’t know anything except about medical use until my cultivation-arrest acquittal in 1988. [The first IND patient] Robert Randall, who also suffered from glaucoma, showed me more about the medical aspects of marijuana. Then came Jack Herer’s book, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, in the early 1990s, and that was the end of my staying at home and thinking that glaucoma or medical use was the only problem. Once I understood the history of prohibition and how it was meant to keep every decent citizen from competing in so many areas of the industrial revolution, I realized this was a horrible joke that’s been played on humanity. We have to stop that. We cannot continue this ignorance. It blinds us more than eyesight. We’ve closed our eyes to the Constitution. We break into peoples’ houses, rob them of all their belongings and take away their right to defend themselves. This has happened to people I know. There is nothing accepted more worldwide than marijuana. The day of ignorance is over. We can’t have that. Patients need to know, because today ignorance is optional.
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