I’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead.” Those are the words of 16-year-old Coltyn Turner, whose family turned to medicinal cannabis two years ago to treat their son’s Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Cannabis has allowed her son to live a normal life again and has probably saved his life, says Coltyn’s mother, Wendy Turner. “It works. There’s not much more we can say about him or his cannabis use.”
While Coltyn’s Crohn’s disease is in remission, it was a long journey for the Turners to get to this point, a journey that included, at one point, packing up their lives and moving to a different state to seek alternative treatments. Coltyn was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2012, after a bacterial infection developed from a near-drowning experience the summer before.
Doctors began treating him with the usual medications, some of which didn’t do anything at all, while others had alarming side effects, ranging from profuse nose bleeds, fatigue, joint pain and swelling, to drug-induced lupus, says Wendy.
Coltyn and his parents had had enough of the standard treatments for Crohn’s.
“We were tired of the side effects the medications were giving him and my grandma, who’s native, kept telling us to go see a medicine man,” remembers Wendy. “So we started researching. We came across a study from Israel about cannabis and Crohn’s that was promising. So he got high!”
The family lived in Illinois at the time, where medicinal cannabis is illegal, so in October 2013, Wendy and her husband, Tommy, made weed brownies in their kitchen. They saw instant improvements in Coltyn’s mood, but were afraid of the consequences and the trouble they could get into for the illegal treatments, so they stopped.
“We waited for our next Mayo Clinic visit to see what they said,” says Wendy. “They never came out and said try cannabis, but they were not against alternative treatments. That was our green light.”
In March 2014, Tommy and Coltyn headed to Colorado, a state that was in the news quite a bit at the time for legalizing cannabis use, to find a dispensary and make some more brownies. They met Jason Cranford, a leading medicinal cannabis caregiver who makes cannabis oil, and Coltyn started on cannabis oil pills made from a high-CBD strain, as well as THC edibles.
Getting the dosage right was a major challenge at first, as the Turners couldn’t find a single person who had ever dosed a child with cannabis for Crohn’s disease.
“We finally found a ratio that worked for him that is equal amounts CBD and THC and also high in cannabinoids like CBN and CBG,” says Wendy. “That took a few months and he’s been on it ever since. It’s been more than two years. He’s in remission. No pain, no sitting in the bathroom for days, he’s growing, eating and he has energy. He has his life back.”
Once they saw that the cannabis was working, Wendy and Tommy moved their family to Colorado, doubling their mortgage and many other bills. But it was all worth it to get their son back, pain-free and full of life.
That summer, Coltyn hiked five miles up Blue Mountain while attending his first Boy Scout camp since the near-drowning incident in 2011. Tommy and his brother, Kyler, hiked with him, with tears of joy running down their cheeks. The wheelchair was a distant memory.
Wendy says not only is the cannabis working, but there aren’t any unwanted side effects, and that includes the euphoric effect cannabis can have.
“Sometimes the high is wanted and needed,” she explains. “The kid was dying and was reminded of that every day. A little happiness and some time to forget the emotional pain is definitely wanted. Sleep, hunger, weight gain and relaxation are all wanted effects.”
With his unique position as the first registered medical marijuana pediatric patient for Crohn’s disease in Colorado, Coltyn and his family began speaking out publicly about their experiences.
“Our goal is to save lives,” explains Wendy. “How many kids out there are needlessly suffering because cannabis is illegal? How many grandmas are sitting in a nursing home drugged up, with no quality of life? What if cannabis could help your mom? Shouldn’t she have the option to try it? It’s not going to cause cancer like most medicines do, and in the end it could save a life, like it did for Coltyn.”
Coltyn has been busy sharing his story in the hopes that someone who is sick will see it and research cannabis. He also testified at the Capitol for the right to access cannabis and urged legislators to open their eyes to the possibilities. For his efforts, he was awarded Advocate of the Year at the Cannabis Business Awards, held in Denver last December.
“Coltyn spoke up for something that could have gotten all of us in a lot of trouble, as a 14-year-old,” says Wendy. “There aren’t many kids out there who can or do speak up. He sees the miracles in other kids and adults every day, and to be rewarded for standing up and fighting for someone else’s life, opportunity and option is what life is really about.”