Nova Scotia Man Fighting to Shake Stigma of Medical Marijuana Use

Terry Bremner, President of the Chronic Pain Association of Canada at his home in Halifax December 8, 2011 (photo: Paul Darrow, Edmonton Journal)Terry Bremner, President of the Chronic Pain Association of Canada at his home in Halifax December 8, 2011 (photo: Paul Darrow, Edmonton Journal)Terry Bremner smokes his marijuana pipe in Halifax parking lots and quiet woods, even though he is legally allowed cannabis to dull the pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Until now, his two adult sons didn’t know. His neighbours didn’t know. The parents of the seven- and eight-year-old football players he coaches didn’t know. He masks the pungent smell of pot with gum, cigars and cologne.

But he thinks it’s time to speak up against the stigma so prevalent on the East Coast and in Canada against marijuana that lumps medical patients with recreational users.

“I want to set an example,” said Bremner, 50. As president of the Chronic Pain Association of Canada, headquartered in Edmonton, Bremner visits support groups for chronic pain sufferers across the country to share the importance of having marijuana as a medical option, especially for those who experience bad side effects from taking strong opioids.

“I was begging for pain meds,” said Bremner, who worked in the insurance industry in St. Albert, Alta., in 1995 when he was in a head-on collision at age 34. Because there was no blood or broken bones, doctors didn’t diagnose Bremner with mild traumatic brain injury and fibromyalgia until two years later, following vision problems, depression, extreme nerve pain in his neck and difficulty putting his thoughts into comprehensible words.

During those years, Bremner tried at various times Tylenol 3s with codeine, morphine, Demerol and Prozac. But the pain often forced Bremner into the corners of his home, unable to interact.

One psychiatrist wanted to try shock treatment.

Instead, Bremner started sneaking off with a friend to puff a joint, the only thing that enabled him to interrupt his fixated thoughts of pain and his worries about fighting for benefits when he was the sole income earner for his family and now no longer able to work.

When Bremner moved back home to Nova Scotia in late 1997 with his wife and two children, he couldn’t find a doctor willing to take on his complex needs.

He initially turned to the streets to get his small supply of cannabis, a choice that became scary when his supplier got busted.

Then, Bremner’s wife found out.

“That was tough,” Bremner said. “She wasn’t impressed.”

At least not until he discovered the compassion club in Halifax, which sold an illegal supply of marijuana but only to people with documented health problems — and only then in clandestine handovers in parking lots, since the federal government hadn’t yet passed its landmark 2001 legislation to make marijuana legal for some medical conditions. Bremner could only afford 10 grams a month, and would quickly run out.

He then enrolled in a two-year study to try the government’s marijuana supply.

“It was total garbage,” he said. But even though its effects were minimal, Bremner said he was willing to accept the low-grade compound — available in only one strain — because it was free through the trial.

Only afterwards, and after struggling to find a willing doctor, did Bremner get his federal licence to legally use the drug.

He has been waiting two months for a renewal to be approved. Then he will once again order his supply from the Victoria-based MedMe company, which supplies multiple strains of marijuana.

The different strains allow Bremner to find the right medication, mixing Sativa strains, which boost energy, with Indica strains, which bring sleep and relaxation. Some types help people with chronic pain, while others work better for cancer patients, people with HIV or other severe diseases. Health Canada’s one-size-fits-all supply simply isn’t adequate, Bremner said.

His wife supports his use, since she now understands the medical need behind it, and Bremner plans on explaining the issue to his two sons soon, including his 22-year-old who has some disabilities and is a rabid anti-smoker.

“My life revolves around chronic pain and helping people,” Bremner said. “I have been asked to be a voice (for chronic pain sufferers). Maybe it will attract more attention to help more individuals, people like myself who need this medication.”

– Article originally from The Montreal Gazette.