By John Keast
Mark Crotty is battling on two fronts.
He is fighting for his health and for access to medically prescribed cannabis.
The tall young man now weighs 64kg, four kilos more than his all time low.
A few years ago, he was nearly 78kg.
The Ashburton man has Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel condition that, in short, is wrecking his life.
His day often starts with vomiting and is interrupted by endless trips to the toilet.
Because food is often not long in his system, it is hard for him to retain nutrients.
One of the few things to help, he says, is cannabis.
It erases the pain and gives him an appetite.
Mr Crotty is pushing for the introduction of prescribed cannabis products, a route he is exploring.
To that end he has a letter from his GP and is seeking one from a specialist. For that he must wait.
In the meantime, not because he wants to get high, but to get some relief, to boost his appetite, he smokes cannabis.
Half an hour after smoking it, his appetite returns and he can keep food down.
He says using illegal cannabis can be hit and miss.
Mr Crotty hopes that if he can get the support of his specialist, his application will go to the Ministry of Health and approval given for him to have access to medical cannabis.
He is also working with Shane Le Brun, the co-ordinator for Medical Cannabis Awareness.
Mr Le Brun said Mark was a good example of someone medical cannabis could help as it was anti-spasmodic.
He believes, if Mr Crotty can get the support of his specialist, his application would be approved by the ministry.
Eight applications have gone forward this year, three through Medical Cannabis Awareness, and two had been withdrawn “presumably because the applicants have died”.
He says Mr Crotty’s mid-term prognosis is bleak, with surgical intervention a possibility within two to three years.
Mr Crotty said cannabis gave him relief from rapid onset nausea, and a significant reduction in bowel spasm.
Mark’s wife Jess said when she met him – before he was diagnosed with Crohn’s – he was a vibrant, energetic man.
“Over the three years I have had to watch my husband deteriorate into a shell of what he once was.”
She said he lived with chronic stomach cramping, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, lack of appetite and fatigue.
“Mark not only takes his prescribed medicines, but has also been self-medicating with cannabis. This allows him to get a semblance of appetite, as the cannabis helps reduce the inflammation/pain and nausea.”
“Obviously, supply of such a drug is not always consistent and we can run into trouble where we run out.”
When he did recently, he ended up in hospital for three days.
Mr Crotty said that aside from his failing health, having his condition meant he and Jess could not organise a social life as he was never sure if he could go to anything.
“We have obligations to friends but we can’t commit to anything as I don’t know how I will be – it’s hard for me, and hard for those organising things.”
Mr Crotty has also had to give up work.
“I couldn’t meet my obligations to my employer, so I quit. It was tough to leave but I’d rather that than become a burden to an employer.
“I’ve been on a variety of medications to little effect. Some made me worse.
“That’s where the cannabis comes in.”
Mr Crotty said he was under no illusion cannabis would fix his problem, but it would allow him to reduce use of some of the drugs that had horrible side effects.
To help him try to keep weight on, Mr Crotty takes a food supplement.
Mr Crotty said sometimes he was so tired he slept for 18 to 19 hours, often on the family couch.
“It’s true fatigue. This plays a lot on my marriage. Jess helps me so much when I’m sick.”
But, to make matters worse, because his immune system is poor, if Jess, say, has a cold he must avoid her.
“I can’t hug her if she has a cold. If I got it I could end up in hospital.”
Mr Crotty hopes the new government will make medical cannabis easier to get for those in need, providing patients go through the right channels.
“I’d like to see it happen as soon as possible. There are hundreds of people out there who need this to happen. I want some kind of normality.”
Mr Crotty said that with medical cannabis, the product was consistent.
“Now (with illegal cannabis) there is no consistency. ”
Mr Crotty accepted he would have to pay for any medically prescribed cannabis and hopes, if he can get consistent relief, to get back to work and to enjoying a normal life.