One family’s medical-marijuana story

Posted: June 25, 2015



Erika and Michael Zorn pause on a walk in their Bucks County neighborhood June 4, 2015 with children, Lily (right), 2-1/2 and Emma (left), 6-1/2. Erika has struggled with severe Lupus and found relief for her debilitating symptoms: She smokes pot, which they illegally grew in their basement for years until cops were alerted and arrested them on drug charges. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

WHEN Erika Zorn was regularly using the marijuana that she and her husband, Michael, secretly grew in the basement of their Bucks County townhouse, she had a beautiful life.


She worked crazy hours as a manager at LensCrafters, a job she loved, and still had energy to lavish on the couple’s adorable little girls – Emma, 6, and Lily, 2. And she capably managed the household by herself – the school and day-care drop-off and pickup, the grocery shopping and meal-fixing – when Michael was out of town for work (he’s a photojournalist who specializes in rock ‘n’ roll).


“I was functioning,” says Erika, 33. “Life was really good.”

“She was doing great,” says Michael, 36.


The bliss ended March 19, when the couple were charged with possessing and manufacturing marijuana. Erika has not used marijuana since then, and her life – and the lives of Michael and the girls – is drastically different.


That’s because Erika has a severe form of lupus, an autoimmune disorder that creates antibodies that attack and destroy healthy body tissue.


She also has advanced fibromyalgia, a miserable nervous-system syndrome that causes unbearable muscle pain and tenderness, fatigue and sleep problems.


Her medical use of the marijuana that she and Michael grew had so controlled the symptoms of her illnesses that she was hospitalized only four times in the prior year for pain management.


But since the arrest in March, she has been to the ER six times. Because nothing relieves her symptoms the way the marijuana did. And the opiates she must now take so debilitate her that she sleeps her days away.


She barely works. And Michael has had to turn down work of his own to care for her and the kids.


“I feel so bad for Michael and the girls,” says Erika, sitting with Michael in the dining room of their cute Bucks County townhouse while the girls race around.


She is bony and pale. As she talks, she unconsciously winces at the pain that makes it hard to sit still; when Michael gently touches her back, she flinches.


“This is not the life that my family deserves,” she says.


“It’s not the one you deserve, either,” says Michael emphatically.


For years, Erika had used prescribed opiates to control her symptoms. But the drugs made a zombie of her. She couldn’t work or be left alone to care for the kids, because she’d nod off like a junkie.


The lupus, the fibromyalgia and the drugs she has used to control their symptoms have created a host of secondary medical conditions for Erika: chronic kidney disease, an enlarged liver, rheumatoid arthritis, gastric problems, brittle bones, heart and blood-pressure disorders and other medically scary stuff too long to list here.


When Erika almost died from complications of opiate use, her doctor suggested she try marijuana. Studies have shown that it greatly lessens the symptoms of lupus and fibromyalgia (and epilepsy and some cancers, too), with none of the dangerous side effects of opiates.


For the rest of the story, click here.


AUTHOR - Darrin Fiddler

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