boy with head on book sleeping in class

TAKING OPIOIDS IN MY SCHOOL YEARS

What Made Me Such a Fan of Cannabis


by Michael Ferguson


I’ve been poked fun at many times for having bad short term memory whenever I would be unable to recall something right away. Especially by my friends who do not use cannabis and know that I do. They immediately say that I have a bad memory because I smoke too much but that is being very unfair to cannabis. My memory was affected by other much more harmful substances long before I ever smoked cannabis.

I would attribute my bad short term memory instead to the massive amounts of pain medications, including morphine and hydrocodone, that I was exposed to throughout my childhood every time one of my knees would dislocate or I would have knee surgery. 

I was born with clubbed feet and knee joints that lacked the shape needed to keep my kneecaps in place. The frequent dislocations I experienced eventually damaged the ligaments in my legs and left me walking bone-on-bone by the time I was in my late 20s. 

My feet were surgically corrected at the age of 1 and when I was 8 years old I had my first knee surgery to try and correct my dislocating knees. Unfortunately, the surgery only made my knees dislocate more causing me to have to wear knee braces from that point forward until my next surgery which stabilized them a little. It usually happened when I would step off a curb that was too high while crossing the street or if I stepped on an uneven surface such as a crack in the sidewalk. It was very painful each time it would happen. Sometimes my knee would blow up to the size of grapefruit and need draining by my doctor with the use of a long scary looking needle I would always dread seeing.

At the age of 16 I would have another knee surgery and get another large dose of morphine and hydrocodone. I even had my own morphine pump at the hospital where I could administer it to myself at the press of a button. I was a vegetable for weeks after my surgery. I could barely remember who would come and visit me at home or at the hospital most days.

During my school years, I would always have both of my knees operated on at the same time to minimize the amount of time I would be away from school. When they removed the bandages from my legs after my second surgery one of my legs would not bend due to scar tissue that had developed in my knee, just like I’m experiencing now. 

For months while I was a junior in high school, I would be strapped into a tall chair with my leg sticking up in the air while my physical therapist would put all of his body weight onto it to try to get it to bend. I would have to take large amounts of opioid-based pills before going to therapy to be able to handle the pain. After every week or so the medication would lose its effectiveness and I would have to increase the amount of pills I would take to get the same amount of pain relief to be able to allow him to torture me like that. 

I would have to go through that 3 days a week for months. I could barely remember my homeschool teacher (who my high school arranged for me) coming to visit me in the afternoons due to the pain medication. The only reason I was able to graduate from high school was because he felt bad for me for always being in such pain and heavily sedated on opioids when he’d arrive to collect and give me homework assignments. He gave me straight A’s in all my classes even though I was rarely ever able to complete any of my assignments and really deserved F’s in all of them. 

After a few months of trying to force my leg to bend every day until he was red in the face, my physical therapist finally gave up and sent me back to my doctor who performed a manipulation under anesthesia procedure which is a procedure where they put me to sleep while my doctor forced my leg to bend. My physical therapist, who was present during the procedure, said that there was a loud audible pop that he’ll never forget when my leg finally gave way and began to bend again. Luckily, I was under general anesthesia when that happened.

The Pain Medications' Negative Effects

By the time I had recovered from my surgery in high school I had consumed massive amounts of opioid-based drugs. When I wasn't administering morphine to myself with the morphine pump in the hospital, I was taking Tylenol® with codeine to handle the pain of one of my knee dislocating. It was always a bad experience. The medication would help me with my pain but I could always feel it also poisoning me from the inside. It would put me in a bad mood, leave me with a nasty taste in my throat, make me very constipated, absent minded, and sleepy. I've experienced short term memory problems since and am certain that this was the cause, not the cannabis I would start smoking a decade later. 

I was really hard on myself for many years after that. I felt really dumb in comparison to other students in my junior college courses. But as I grew up and learned how damaging opioid medications were, I realized that anyone would have had a difficult time in college had they been missed the amount of high school education I had and had taken the amount of opioid medications I had to take for as long as I had to (from the time I was a little boy until my junior year in high school). 

Looking back on my experience now makes me feel very fortunate that I was even able to graduate college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from California State University at Long Beach (even though it took me 5 years more than most students) or write this article today about this experience given the amount of pharmaceutical pain medications I had to consume throughout my school years.

It also makes me realize how fortunate I am to no longer need to depend on opioid medications to help me manage my pain and that I have cannabis to help me treat it as well now.