PEKIN — The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. However, a pamphlet from the Medical Cannabis Outreach Medical Marijuana Pain Management and Wellness Clinic in Pekin lists 40 conditions that are treatable by medical marijuana. Those ailments range from Alzheimer’s Disease to fibromyalgia to spinal cord injury. Clinic owner Eric Sweatt believes that patients suffering from one of the qualifying conditions can eventually replace up to 75 percent of their prescription medications with cannabis.

“Right now, cannabis is viewed as a last option. I would like it to be a first option, because it is a real medicine and can help a lot of people,” Sweatt, owner of Medical Cannabis Outreach, said during a medical marijuana education seminar Saturday. “You can take cannabis for qualifying conditions, and you won’t need to take the multiple pills you would otherwise have to take. That makes your everyday life much easier.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 63,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses. Sweatt maintains, however, that none of those drug overdose deaths were from cannabis.

“You are more likely to die from bee stings, peanut butter allergies, or aspirin,” he said. “Nobody has died from marijuana, unless it was mixed with other drugs or something else.” 

In addition to discussing the benefits of medical cannabis, Sweatt spoke about the procedure for obtaining a medical marijuana card in Illinois, associated costs, different methods of using the medicine, and recommended dosages.

During the seminar, the state’s first medical marijuana patient, Tim Stallings, spoke about his own experiences. 

“I have multiple sclerosis and connective tissue disorder,” said Stallings. “In 2015, when I started the program, I was way underweight. I had become ill in 2003, and the diseases were taking a toll. When the program opened, I had done enough research that I knew my plan was to use the (cannabis) indica, which made it easier to eat and to sleep. It makes a difference if you’re getting proper rest and proper nutrients. I used to be on a handful of pills, but cannabis has replaced 90 percent of them. I was a very sick person, and my wife used to push me around in a wheelchair. Cannabis doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it makes it so much easier to deal with. The first time I tried cannabis oil, my entire body shouted for joy. I could feel things I hadn’t felt in years.” 

Medical Cannabis Outreach, sponsored by Salveo Health and Wellness in Canton, has eight clinics in Illinois. A Medical Cannabis Outreach clinic helps patients gain safe, legal access to the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program by pre-screening prospective patients, providing them with state-required fingerprints, and putting them in contact with cannabis-friendly physicians. The entire one-stop process for obtaining a medical marijuana card through the clinic costs $450.

“It currently takes about 90 days to get a medical marijuana card in Illinois,” said Sweatt. “But if you’re a terminal patient, we can get your card in two to three weeks after you get your application done.”

People disqualified from the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program include police officers and firefighters, people who have been convicted of drug-related felonies, and commercial driver’s license holders.

“If your drug conviction was medicinal, there is a 50 percent chance we can get you your card,” Sweatt said. “The state of Illinois will ask you to write in 500 words or less why you think you should have your card.” 

Medical marijuana patients are also allowed to have caregivers on the program. The caregiver must sign a form saying they will not use the medication. They will have medical marijuana cards as caregivers, which will allow them to purchase medication and transport it to the patient’s home. 

 “All patients have to have a doctor’s recommendation, and that doctor must have a license to practice in the state of Illinois,” said Sweatt. “We can get minors onto the program, but it takes two doctors for that. Many doctors won’t recommend medical marijuana for several reasons. One main reason is they are just not educated about it.”

Finding the correct medical marijuana dosage may require some experimentation. Patients who felt no effect may need to increase their medication until they find the right dosage, while patients who still feel tired despite having had a full night’s sleep may have over-medicated. 

Medicinal cannabis can be smoked in dry flower form, eaten in cookies or sweets, consumed in liquid tinctures, or applied in oils, shampoos, lotions, transdermal patches, or even in suppository form. There are two main categories of medical marijuana: sativa and indica. Indica strains generally provide a sense of deep body relaxation, while sativa strains tend to provide a more energizing experience. There is also a sativa-indica crossbreed, which is called a hybrid. 

 “If you wake up from a good night’s sleep, you have no pain, and you’re ready to get up and start the day, then that’s where you want to be,” said Sweatt. “The proper dosing is really important. Some people may need something during the day, and that’s where they might take a little sativa at lunchtime. Relative to the dose of the indica you take to help you sleep, you would take about half the amount of sativa. For some patients, once a day is fine. I would not recommend sativa to people who have high anxiety, like people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In those cases, I would recommend a sativa-indica hybrid.”

As of February 2017, over 4,000 patients statewide have registered for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are more than 50 medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries in the state. Medical Cannabis Outreach Medical Marijuana Pain Management and Wellness Clinic and the NuMed - East Peoria dispensary are the facilities that serve Tazewell County.