Katie Mayers suffers from pain and nausea and has been prescribed opiods, muscle relaxers, steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs after she was in a car accident in 2006.
The Lafayette resident was then hit again three years ago and suffered multiple brain bleeds. She needed brain surgery and had to reteach herself to walk and talk.
She was part of the effort to get medical marijuana passed through the Legislature since 2013 and was among those who showed up at The Apothecary Shoppe, 620 Guilbeau Road, Suite A, when it opened Wednesday morning and began dispensing medical marijuana to patients.
Patients like Mayers have waited years for the drug to reach the market.
"I was nauseated for years," she said. "The side effects were awful. I was hospitalized 17 times for dehydration and I literally lost my quality of life, which is how I became active in wanting to get some of the laws changed.
"Being as how I was responding terribly to traditional treatment methods, (medical marijuana) has aided me in giving me a health muscle and weight mass while helping me with my pain and inflammation and nausea."
Pharmacies in Baton Rouge began offering Tuesday after the first shipment was rolled out of GB Sciences' facility in south Baton Rouge following several delays.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2015 signed a law that paved the way for the legal growth and dispensing of medical marijuana, making Louisiana the first state in the Deep South to allow for access to the drug. A year later, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed another bill that set forth the current program, tweaking language to allow doctors to “recommend” the drug to patients, among other things.
Mayers said she fought for the measures because studies have shown that brain injuries like hers typically lead to conditions like Parkinson's Disease and epilepsy. Medical marijuana, she noted, has seen some uses for treating these conditions.
Patients who have one of 13 conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, cancer, chronic intractable pain, Crohn's Disease, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's Disease, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe muscle spasms and Wasting Syndrome must see one of around 80 physicians licensed in Louisiana to recommend medical marijuana and have the recommendation faxed to The Apothecary Shoppe.
Insurance does not cover medical marijuana.
The drug is approved in the state to be given in a tincture mixed with coconut oil which is put under the tongue to let dissolve. GB Sciences said it is looking into selling the product in other forms besides tinctures. The Legislature recently softened its laws slightly, allowing for use of metered-dose inhalers to ingest the drug.
According to Blair Vidrine, health care liaison for The Apothecary Shoppe, the reception has been "very, very good" as they already have 150 patients they're processing and he said he expects more as word gets out.
"Today is a historic day in Louisiana healthcare as we are officially opening our doors for patients to fulfill medical marijuana recommendations," Vidrine said. "It's been a long process. We've gotten a few different dates as to when we'd get product, but that didn't happen, so people have been waiting and now that we've got product I think the reception will get even better."