Pinellas County

Bay area man becomes first patient in FL to receive cannabis spray as treatment

PALM HARBOR, FL (WFLA) - For Richard Murphy, the idea of utilizing a medical marijuana spray to treat his traumatic brain injury seemed out of the question.

His wife, Pam, told WFLA, "We've always taught our children to say no to drugs."

Then, they saw what life was like - and it was terrifying.  Richard was suffered horrific headaches and daily seizures after a car accident nearly killed him back in 2014. "All these side effects are awful," Pam explained. "With a brain injury, you lose so much of yourself."

Life has, indeed, been a struggle for Richard and his family the last two years. There has been heartache and suffering, a far cry from what the Murphy's are used to  in their lives. The Hudson couple has always enjoyed an active lifestyle, including trips to Alaska and time with grandchildren.

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"I just want him to feel more like himself," Pam said. "I think this will do that for him."  When she refers to "this," she is talking about medical marijuana.  And, her husband just made history in Florida as he became the first registered patient with the state to receive the drug on Monday morning.

Richard and Pam were beaming as he received a small spray bottle of low-THC medical marijuana manufactured by Surterra Therapeutics. Flanked by his longtime neurologist, Dr. Lisa Avery, and his wife, Richard hugged the CEO of Surterra, Susan Driscoll, as she handed him a small box.

"Floridians like Richard, and other patients throughout the state, deserve the chance to live a better quality of life and access to options to manage their symptoms," Driscoll said.

Those symptoms, the Murphy's maintain, are robbing Richard of an enjoyable lifestyle.  With six medications in his medical protocol, the grandfather admits his life is difficult, at best.

His wife told us, "We're hoping that when he comes off of some of the medications that he's on, he will get to feeling more like himself, start having more memories." She added with a smile, "If it's okay for grandma and grandpa, it should be okay for everybody else!"

The small spray bottle holds a 45-day supply and is not covered by insurance. It runs anywhere from $55-$270, according to a company spokesperson.

The medical marijuana battle has been a controversial sore spot for Florida.  It narrowly missed passage in 2014, as the majority of voters approved Amendment Two. However, state law requires a supermajority of 60-percent or higher, which the amendment failed to garner.

Amendment Two would have legalized marijuana for "debilitating medical conditions," including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS or Parkinson's Disease.

Right now, low-grade THC for terminally ill patients is allowed in Florida, and crops sanctioned by the state are currently being grown. But, the rules are strict as to who can grow it, prescribe it and dispense it. Patients, like Richard, seeking medical marijuana treatment must have, at the very minimum, a three-month relationship with their doctor to even be considered for a pot prescription. Longtime neurologist, Dr. Avery, has been treating Richard for two years now.

Her face lights up as she looks at her patient.  She admits that she's excited to see what relief this brings. "We've tried many things, and it finally became available, so we jumped at the chance," Dr. Avery said. "I took the class a year ago. I've been waiting!"

Currently, the doctors who are involved in his endeavor have their names, addresses, and locations are provided on the website from the Florida Department of Health-Office of Compassionate Use. Those doctors must also complete a course in order to prescribe the medical marijuana. It is only after these requirements are met that the terminally ill patient may then conduct business at the dispensary in the USF-area on Fowler Avenue at the Surterra Wellness Center, which has already obtained its business license, which will be up and running at the end of August.

When it comes to the cultivation of this low-grade THC strain, the state is currently divided into five geographical region. The Tampa Bay Area is considered the Southwest region, which includes rural Hillsborough where a small, high-tech grow house is operational.

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