There is perhaps no better city in the world to observe at night than Las Vegas. The ethereal glow in the middle of the Nevada desert is as unique as it is spell-binding.
However for Rodney Johnson, a 40-year-old from Parkton, North Carolina, his visit to Sin City will not include any trips to casinos or sight-seeing tours. Instead, the Navy veteran is making one of his annual trips to a recreational state in order to access cannabis;
“The only way I can access the medicine I need is to come to recreational state where it is legal. The state that I live in does not allow it, so I am $50,000 in debt from having to make these trips.”
Rodney was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 20. A decade later, the severity of his illness caused him to go completely blind. He has also been diagnosed with Erythromelaglia and Peripheral Neuropathy as a result. To put this devastating collection of symptoms into perspective, Rodney experiences chronic burning pain in his hands and feet, intense nausea and regular numbness in his limbs. This is on top of his complete blindness and common diabetic symptoms.
It wasn’t always like this for Rodney. In the mid-90’s, he was just like any other graduating American high-school student, looking forward to his future. Having been bought up in a military household, he decided to join the Navy and was immediately stationed down in Pensacola, Florida.
However, after over four years of service, Rodney’s world turned upside down. Waking up one day feeling unwell, the then 20-year-old paid a visit to the doctor only to find out that he had Type-1 Diabetes.
Upon diagnosis, Rodney was forced to leave the Navy and soon noticed the side effects of his diabetes worsening. The pain and swelling from his Erytromelaglia and Peripheral Neurpathy was so intense that his visits to a V.A. doctor resulted in him being prescribed with up to 200 various pills a month. Fentanyl, Morphine, Valium, Percocet, Coladipin, Toridal, Vicodin and Acetominaphin were just some of the medicines that Rodney was prescribed during the years following his diagnosis.
At the age of 29, things went from bad to worse for Johnson;
“I basically woke up suddenly like when I got diabetes, and started going blind. I drove to Atlanta for New Year in 2005 and had problems with my right eye. By the following July they had removed my eye and given me a prosthetic that I still have today. And by the end of that year, I went blind in my left eye too. All of this was due to my diabetes.”
This was the final straw for Rodney and he was determined to get his life back.
He made a visit to his V.A. doctor and asked to be taken off the plethora of pills that were doing nothing to improve his symptoms. However, Rodney states that the doctor was uninterested and offered Johnson a “take it or leave it” scenario.
Rodney decided to “leave it” and explore other viable medicinal options. Having heard about medical cannabis and CBD, the veteran decided to pursue this line of medicine but found it incredibly hard to access, especially as his home state has very limited medical cannabis regulations.
However, for the last few years, Rodney has been making trips to recreationally legal states to gain access to medicine that he believes is working for him better than any prescription pill he has ever taken;
“Cannabis helps me in many ways more than one. I have used a variety of products and ingestion methods including edibles, concentrates, flowers and tinctures and they all work really well for me. I use a high-THC concentrate to help alleviate the stinging and stabbing pains I get from my neuropathy,
“I also suffer significantly with PTSD and anxiety which has been bought on by my diabetes and subsequent blindness,
“I like to think that cannabis has kept me mostly sane throughout all of this and has helped me tremendously and controlling my diabetes all around. My mind and body are one and it most definitely helps with controlling my body as a whole.”
However, it is not always smooth sailing for Johnson. Because of the expense of travelling to recreationally legal states, he can only make a couple of trips a year. This means that his pain relief comes in spells and he still has to deal with months of agony when he doesn’t have access to his medicine.
The 40-year-old is desperately keen for people to know the lengths that people in his condition have to go through just to get some pain relief and how little help he receives, even as a veteran;
“Since going blind about 10 years ago or so, I have not had any sort of support system or help from any governmental organizations. I struggle through life, simply by crawling around,
“I am over $50,000 in debt because of having to travel to recreational states to experience temporary relief for my permanent conditions. Every time I have to go, I am forced to leave my family and my support system and it weighs tremendously heavily on me, my marriage, my family and my complete support system. Simply keeping cannabis for me is causing an insurmountable amount of stress.”
Despite the challenges that Rodney faces to access his medicine, he maintains that it is the best thing that he has ever done and would never go back to the amount of prescription pills that he was taking. He believes that medical cannabis holds incredible therapeutic value for the symptoms of diabetes and wants everyone who needs access to get access;
“Full access should be granted to anyone over the age of 21. Cannabis is the most effective, all natural, alternative, organic, homeopathic herbal medication I have tried. And I have tried almost everything! The government prescribed me opiates for over 15 years before I woke up one day and took myself off many of them. I told my doctor that I wanted to try an alternative method that I heard of CBD and THC that would work instead of opiates. For me, it has been a great decision”.
*All images property of Rodney Johnson.