This article is presented in partnership with Missouri Health & Wellness.

Stephen E. has suffered with anxiety since he was in grade school. He was fifteen when he had his first major panic attack. His mother took him to the doctor and was told he had a panic attack from anxiety and there was no need to medicate unless it worsened. The anxiety attacks continued, but he didn’t want medication, so he kept it to himself.

Stephen started smoking marijuana and noticed he felt better, though he didn’t know why. He just knew his thoughts didn’t spiral, and he felt better. Eventually his parents caught him smoking and had the “gateway drug” conversation. They told him things their generation was taught about marijuana being the devil’s drug, so he quit smoking, and the anxiety returned.

Then he lost his father to cancer in his early twenties. He was Stephen’s hero and best friend, and Stephen sunk into a deep depression. The anxiety attacks were a daily occurrence and worsening the depression. He pretended he was ok to stay strong for his mom. Eventually denial and bravery took a toll. He was having bleak thoughts and knew he couldn’t deal with it on his own, so he checked into a mental hospital.

Stephen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, prescribed three antipsychotic medications, and told to follow up with his doctor. He didn’t have a doctor because he didn’t have insurance. He found a doctor who accepted cash patients and told him the meds made him feel like a zombie. He wasn’t depressed anymore, but now he didn’t feel anything at all. The doctor prescribed alprazolam to manage the anxiety. Stephen knew the side effects, but the doctor prescribed them and it helped. So, Stephen listened to his doctor.

He started feeling better and thought he was “cured.” He was raised in church and always wanted to study the Bible from scholars and felt the call to be a pastor, so he went away to college. The anxiety continued and his meds were increased four times over the next several years. Funds were tight, and sometimes Stephen had to choose between medication and food.

When he couldn’t afford the medicine that his body was chemically addicted to, he had withdrawal seizures. Stephen suffered minor brain damage, and a doctor re-diagnosed him with generalized anxiety and depression and recommended Stephen stop taking the prescribed medicine or the seizures would end up killing him. So Stephen stopped taking them. The seizures stopped, but he was having multiple panic attacks a day and suffering from night terrors. It became too much to handle, so Stephen moved back home.

Then one day, someone offered Stephen cannabis. He was hesitant at first. He hadn’t smoked in years, but he immediately felt better. The anxiety subsided, he had an appetite, and for the first time in months, he slept a restful twelve hours.

Stephen had heard about cannabis’s medicinal uses but believed the stigma and thought, “those stoners just want to get high.” He did some research and discovered many medical benefits of cannabis. He received a medical marijuana patient card in October 2020, and his anxiety attacks have since subsided. He is grateful he can legally obtain the medicine he needs to live life without being considered a criminal or worry about harmful side effects. Cannabis is his medicine.