On the island of Oahu, where she lives, Teri Heede is well-known as an activist and outspoken local who’s constantly pushing for social change — most notably, the legalization of marijuana.
But she’s much more than that. She’s also a disabled vet, mother, grandmother, computer programmer, systems analyst, engineer, and, last but certainly not least, MS warrior.
Over 20 years ago, at age 34, Heede was a Vietnam vet struggling with PTSD and a widow raising two young children alone. After a fall, she experienced chronic pain and thought she had a broken tailbone. When the pain didn’t subside, she went in for some tests.
Heede was devastated, but immediately sought out any and all treatments. She vowed to try whatever was available to maintain her job and the ability to raise her two young children.
Since that fateful day, she’s spent the last two decades trying a multitude of pharmaceutical interventions — mostly to no avail. In fact, she’ll tell you that the drug pharmacopeia “trashed” her stomach, leaving her with few options going forward.
"If you went around and ripped off the cover of all the electrical cords in your house, what would happen? Short circuits, misfires, and everything goes wrong. That’s MS." – Teri Heede
As a child of the ’60s, Heede had used cannabis recreationally in the past. So, when a doctor suggested she try it medicinally to treat her MS, she eagerly did so. She experienced immediate results.
“I had nothing to lose and everything to lose. I needed to keep going, and cannabis allowed me to do that,” she explains.
“I’m not going to say that 100 percent of people will get 100 percent relief, but it provided me with relief from pain, and I could support my kids and myself.”
She started off by smoking marijuana, as she had done recreationally. “That was the only way to ingest it at the time. Now you can get it in pill form, edibles, tinctures, lotions, and oils. I will say, though, that if you need immediate pain relief, smoking it will provide that immediate effect.”
For Heede, it was a game changer, and she became outspoken about the positive impact marijuana had on her. She was also featured in “Cannabis Saved My Life: Stories of Hope and Healing,” a book that documents the personal stories of marijuana’s effective medicinal usage.
"I’m not getting high, I’m getting well. It’s not a Cheech and Chong movie." – Teri Heede
Heede has stated in the book, and many times elsewhere, that she has a theory about MS: “It’s kind of like an electrical cord in your body,” she says. “If you went around and ripped off the cover of all the electrical cords in your house, what would happen? Short circuits, misfires, and everything goes wrong. That’s MS. I can have muscle spasms so bad it will pull a muscle. So my theory is that the THC receptors in the body can mediate this,” she explains.
“When the nerve fires off and hits that lesion — and MS is local lesions — the THC circumvents the process.”
Scientists explain it this way: They’ve identified an endocannabinoid system that interacts with the body’s immune, nervous, and other systems through cannabinoid receptors. These receptors exist in the brain, connective tissue, and elsewhere.
“We have to start educating not just the public but the doctors that there is a system here. It’s science. I’m not getting high, I’m getting well,” Heede says, throwing in another of her favorite quips: “It’s not a Cheech and Chong movie.”
Once she found relief for her own health issues, Heede became determined to share the potential healing benefits of cannabis and work toward public education and legalization.
Heede can be found most days either working phones for outreach, testifying at the General Assembly on behalf of legalization, or at a local clinic helping “cook up medicine” in a rice cooker for patients with epilepsy.
More specifically, her battle to get cannabis legalized is really an effort to bring regulation to the cannabis world. “Not being legal means not being regulated, and that can lead to unknown substances on the plant’s leaves” — or what she calls “sides” — namely pesticides and herbicides.
Also with legalization and regulation comes the possibility of private insurance coverage, along with coverage through Medicare and Medicaid. “They’ll pay $2,000 a month for… medicine for MS, but they won’t pay for an herbal remedy with thousands of years of evidence behind it. We need it legalized.”
Once riddled with pain from MS, Teri Heede is now a walking, talking testament to the potential power of medical marijuana. And she won’t stop until cannabis is legalized.
Kathy Reagan Young is the founder of the off-center, slightly off-color website and podcast at FUMSnow.com. She and her husband, T.J., daughters, Maggie Mae and Reagan, and dogs, Snickers and Rascal, live in southern Virginia and all say “FUMS” every day!