2012 will become known as a landmark year for pot smokers—voters legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado, inserting conversation about the drug firmly into the national spotlight. This makes the work of Robyn Twomey, who’s created a series on medical marijuana smokers especially poignant. They perhaps have the most to gain from greater acceptance of the public and increased awareness of pot’s valuable benefits as a medical treatment.
While working on an assignment on medical dispensaries for Fortune magazine in late 2009, Twomey became acquainted with Jordan, who was 19 at the time of their meeting. Jordan had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age 18, just before his high school graduation. When Twomey met him, he had been fighting the disease for approximately a year and a half. His treatment included eight types of chemotherapy, mostly via IV into his chest. For him, the use of medical marijuana helps him with some of the typical symptoms caused by treatment: nausea, lack of appetite, insomnia, stress, and despondence.
After meeting Jordan, Twomey spent a year seeking out more patients as a personal project. At first, Twomey experienced difficulty finding willing subjects. Via email, she says: “Though cannabis was legal for medicinal purposes, it still carried a huge stigma and many people feared being judged and/or losing their jobs for going public. So, I approached a dispensary I had worked with for the Fortune article, Harborside Healthcare. They do such a good job and their clients really trust them. They helped me to find clients who wanted to share their story.”
The people she met during the course of her work run the gamut in terms of the symptoms for which they are being treated. Frank uses medical marijuana to treat pain from arthritis. He experiences no side effects from it as he does with more traditional pharmaceutical treatments for it.
Ann (pictured at top with her cat) received a prescription for medical marijuana as soon as it was available. She uses it to treat chronic back and neck pain resulting from a childhood accident that fractured her spine. When it healed, her spine became misaligned and has given her increasing trouble as she ages. She believes more elderly people could benefit from the use of cannabis should it be legalized and destigmatized.
Carol uses medical marijuana to treat a degenerative disk disease. As pictured, she uses a Volcano vaporizer to inhale medical marijuana, which doesn’t burn the marijuana and is believed to be safer than smoking.
Twomey has kept in contact with many of her subjects and remains passionate about the decriminalization of drugs. She considers this, as with all of her projects, a work in progress.