By Amy Hamilton
Samantha McClellan has epilepsy but has been seizure-free for two-and-a-half years with no thanks to prescription medications.
By medicating with cannabis-infused foods, the single mother of four children also is pain-free and feels empowered about the future for the first time she can remember.
“Without having to look like I’m on drugs, I can go to my daughter’s plays. I can drive a car,” she said. “I can’t express enough how amazing it is not to have seizures.”
For 14 years, from her late teens through her 20s, McClellan, now 33, took medication her doctor prescribed, Dilantin and phenobarbital.
An allergic reaction to Dilantin caused her temperature to spike to 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit, boiling her skin and put her in a coma for three months. The straight-A student, who was captain of her cheerleading team, missed her high school graduation by a month. Family, friends and her pastor were gathered around her hospital bed saying their good-byes when she woke up. The former model’s skin was scarred with black blotches at that time.
“That drug took my life away,” she said.
A subsequent prescription of 500 milligrams a day of phenobarbital reduced McClellan’s seizures from about 15 to three a day, but the drug left her feeling like a zombie, she said. That was daily life while she raised two children and took on two more children.
Tired of feeling absent in front of her children, she moved to Colorado as the state legalized medical marijuana. In about a year, McClellan weaned herself off phenobarbital. With her aunt as her caretaker supplying her with medical marijuana, McClellan now turns the marijuana into a hash oil to cook pasta, bread and other food, which she keeps labeled in a separate freezer. Her medication is kept at home in a locked box.
“Not that I think my children would break into it,” she said. “I don’t let the opportunity occur.”
At first, McClellan said, her now 13-year-old daughter was skeptical of her mother using marijuana.
The two had a system down, McClellan telling her daughter when she was about to have another seizure. Her daughter rounded up the other children, sending them to their rooms, and consoled her mother as best she could, even putting a towel under her as she often wet herself.
But McClellan explained to her children that the drug could be used for getting high, which is wrong, or it could be used as medication.
McClellan works full time at Mesa Alternative Health & Wellness, a dispensary at 605 Grand Ave. She also is starting a cleaning business that uses only organic and environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
As the city of Grand Junction considers what it should do about allowing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, McClellan said shutting down dispensaries would not be good. That would force her to get medication at a stranger’s home, if her aunt moved away, she said.
Some dispensary opponents argue dispensaries allow easier access to marijuana to people who are not in legitimate pain, but just want to get high. McClellan counters by asking about people who regularly get high on prescription medications “available at Walgreens on every corner.”
And, like other medical marijuana proponents, McClellan said allowing voters to decide whether Grand Junction should allow the dispensaries would have equated to a death sentence for the shops. The commonly held belief among proponents was that a majority of local voters would have agreed to shutter medical pot shops.
City Council members unanimously decided Wednesday they would not put the issue on the November ballot.
“It’s not that I’m campaigning for dispensaries,” McClellan said. “The dispensary thing is a stepping stone to taking my (medical marijuana) license away. If they take away marijuana, I won’t drive a car. I won’t work. I won’t go on their medication.”