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Woman chooses illegal medical cannabis offshoot over opioids for pain relief

Woman chooses illegal medical cannabis offshoot over opioids for pain relief

Natalie Hartung hurts a lot, she says, and all the time.

"There's just a certain amount of pain where I just allow myself to live with every day," she said.

Her pain comes from a type of arthritis, and Crohn's disease.

She treats her pain with a substance extracted from a marijuana plant called CBD. It was once legal in Nebraska, but now it's not.

"I could get arrested and charged with a misdemeanor now. the medicinal relief, pain relief I should say outweighs a misdemeanor charge for me,” said Hartung.

Her only other option is to take an opioid like codeine, morphine or oxycodone.

She tried them, but she didn't like the way they made her feel.

"I believe the opiates and the prescription medications are the gateway,” said Hartung.

A gateway, she says, to addictive drug use.

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.

The numbers show Nebraska is not as bad as other states.

There were 129 drug overdose deaths in Nebraska in 2015, according to state records, and at least 54 deaths were tied to opioids.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, no death from an overdose of marijuana has ever been reported.

Governor Pete Ricketts said in part of a statement:

"Legalization of marijuana for any purpose has proven to be a risky proposition because the controls placed on its use in other states have fallen short."

According to scientists, cannabis is made up of two components: THC and CBD.

THC is a stimulant and the ingredient that actually makes you feel high.

CBD is a depressant, which slows you down.

Hartung says it's the CBD that helps with her symptoms.

"They have it now down to a science where you can get very minimal amount of THC in your system, and still get all the benefits of the cbd in your system,” she said.

The state says it still falls legally under the category of cannabis.

Just four months ago, Hartung was able to purchase a CBD oil from an Omaha tobacco shop, but now she can't.

Rather than taking an opioid, she now drives 500 miles to get her CBD.

"I go to Colorado like many people because, like you can get it through the mail, but when you're down in Colorado, you can speak with professionals that are involved in making the product, they can tell you exactly what your ratio to CBD to THC is.

Whatever the levels, there are plenty of skeptics.

"It's essentially a snake oil remedy at this point in time,” said Jennifer Green, the director of the Livewise Coalition at Heartland Family Service.

She believes marijuana can be a gateway drug, and says science does not back the pot’s pain relieving effects.

"It could be somebody who has felt that they've run out of all the options and they're putting their faith into this last option and it's really a placebo,” said Green. “It's not actually doing anything. It's just because they think this is going to be their last hope their last resort, that they feel it's alleviating the pain.”

Hartung says, for her, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

"I've spoken to my physicians and i've told them flat out, I'm using cannabis right now for my joint pain, and they're like great how's it working for you, and i'm like it's working great,” she said.

So for now she'll take the risk of using CBD in Nebraska, and she hopes someday the law will change.

Nebraska state senator Anna Wishart of Lincoln is working to put a medical marijuana bill back on the legislative ballot.

We did reach out to her for comment, but Wishart's office said she won't speak on the matter until it reaches the unicameral floor.

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