It’s been a few weeks since the election, but people are still talking about Proposal 1 — and when I talk about the fact we’ve decriminalized marijuana for medical use in the state of Michigan, I do so with a huge, spacey smile on my face. No, I’m not stoned; I’m just that glad we’ve made alternate forms of painkillers available to suffering people. I’d like to say this is because I’m such a compassionate lady, but unfortunately I’m a twisted, selfish monster. It’s unlikely I’d have ever thought about people dealing with extreme pain if not for an incident that made me intimately familiar with the process.

About a year ago, I had to undergo extensive dental surgery, in which they ground my teeth down to “Jaws”-like spikes and “capped” fake teeth on top. It’s a common procedure among movie stars, who like to be as synthetic in body as they are in personality, but I had to do it for less-glamorous medical reasons. As you can imagine, it was about as affordable as it was pleasant.

After spending six hours with enough sharp metal in my mouth to shut down Los Angeles International Airport, I assumed I was through the worst of it. But over the course of the next few weeks I experienced “some radiating jaw pain.” This meant I got to take numerous 3 a.m. field trips to the emergency room so I could sob and demand more powerful painkillers.

This is the first reason I’m glad medical marijuana passed, by the way. Even though painkillers exist that are strong enough to make chewing open your own chest cavity feel like a relaxing massage, some people respond better to different drugs. My only response to the doctor giving me three ineffective prescriptions was to threaten his personal well-being. So, it’s good to have a variety on the market.

Over the next month, I made no less than a half dozen visits to the dentist to “fix” the source of the problem, which of course equated to more medieval torture. After a particularly intense Friday session of hacking, I came home and noted that my nasal area was a bit puffy and sore.

This is where the real agony began. By Saturday, the right side of my face resembled a bloated manatee carcass in the Florida heat. Better yet, only a very special kind of dentist would be able to treat it — the kind who, coincidentally, refuses to work weekends. I got to remain in that state until Monday.

Oh, did I mention it hurt? I do not exaggerate one iota when I say that I’ve never been through anything more excruciating — physically or emotionally — in my entire life. Just think of one of those really, really tender pimples, the kind that pulsates like Satan’s own heart and will burst into a sea of the nastiest goop imaginable if you even think about popping it. Now imagine it can’t pop, because it’s your entire face. Every moment, I could feel enough pus to fill two Dixie cups straining against the inside of my skin; the brush of my kitten’s tail on my cheek felt like a jackhammer. I didn’t feel like a human.

That was the time for serious painkillers, the kind that Keith Richards crushes in his afternoon tea. The pharmacist prescribed me a double dose of codeine, which happens to moonlight as a popular recreational narcotic. I didn’t see any pretty colors while taking it, unless you count the half-digested food swirling in my toilet.

Which brings me to the second major benefit of marijuana: As a painkiller, marijuana has few harmful side effects. Codeine was the drug that finally worked for me (as well as anything can when your face is so filled with pus your own father doesn’t recognize you), but it induced violent nausea. I had suffered enough already without spraying my guts everywhere.

Yet compared to those who live with similar agony year after year, my “suffering” was a joke. After the surgery, I’d gained both my normal life and the X-Men-like ability to spray blood from a tube in my mouth. But those people who will benefit from Proposal 1 don’t get a magic dentist to solve all of their problems come Monday morning. Very often, they’re aware this pain will only get worse until they die.

Will marijuana be effective for all of them? Unlikely. But I’m proud that, at least in my state, there’s a chance for some.

Eileen Stahl can be reached at efstahl@umich.edu.

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