PITTSFIELD, ME - MARCH 28: Michael Wyllie exhales a pale stream of medical marijuana vapor in a bedroom at his Pittsfield home. Wyllie used to manage his pain with opioids, but switched to marijuana, which has improved his state of mind, he said. (Photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer)

Michael Wyllie

Michael Wyllie got into a severe car accident in December 2011. He was ejected from a vehicle, breaking both of his legs below the knees and fracturing his skull.

“I was discharged with morphine and oxycodone,” Wyllie said.

That led to about a year of being on various opioids, which he said relieved his pain but made his life miserable. He was constantly nauseous and sweaty, unable to eat and sleeping most of the day.

“Entire parts of my day would disappear,” Wyllie said. “I would be sitting on the couch staring at a wall at 10 a.m., and suddenly it would be 6 p.m. and I would still be sitting there, looking at the wall.”

After about a year of being on opioids, Wyllie decided to inquire about medical marijuana.

He was certified as a patient, and in November 2012 began a 10-week weaning process to eliminate the opioids.

Wyllie grows his own marijuana to save money, using several strains depending on his mood and pain levels. He said he vaporizes instead of smoking to protect his lungs.

Wyllie also has a cannabis-coconut lotion that he spreads on his knees for pain relief.

A former construction worker who is now on Social Security disability, Wyllie said he feels much better, is more clear-headed, has motivation and can accomplish tasks. His social life has improved.

He no longer uses the leg braces he once needed to walk.

Wyllie said he medicates three to four times per day, and while it doesn’t eliminate the pain, it makes the pain tolerable.

He said he now has plans to develop the six acres of property he owns in Pittsfield, and get his life back together.

“I have never felt better about myself,” Wyllie said.

After years of using opiates whose side effects were taking a toll, Garrett Guindon, a 34-year-old medical marijuana patient from Saco, has switched to a tincture to treat his pain. "Cannabis is the healthiest medication for me," he says.

Garrett Guindon

Garrett Guindon, 34, of Saco was prescribed 100 10-milligram doses of Vicodin when he had shingles in 2006.

“I remember thinking I can’t believe they’re giving me all these pills,” said Guindon, a soft-spoken cook at a nursing home. “I used them immediately. I realized why people liked them. This really filled a void.”

After recovering from shingles, Guindon was given prescriptions for Percocet, another opiate, to deal with pain in his knees from a decade working as a stonemason. As his body adjusted to the pills and they became less effective, he’d buy extras from family members and take as many as 10 15-milligram Percocet a day.

He found himself constantly searching for more pills than he could get legally. It was hard to get work, he was moody and didn’t feel healthy. As his life spun out of control, his wife left with their three daughters and filed for divorce.

That was a wakeup call for Guindon, who quit opiates cold turkey and turned to medical marijuana.

“I was desperate to change my life and be part of my family again,” he said.

Guindon was regularly medicating with a tincture – he gets it for about $10 a month at a dispensary – when he broke his foot. After surgery, he resisted using prescription painkillers. Instead, he upped his doses of medical marijuana and supplemented the tinctures with smoking and edibles when the pain was intense. These days, he’s going to college, practices yoga and is able to be active with his wife and daughters, he said.

“For me, (cannabis) was like a miracle,” said Guindon, who hasn’t used opiates in more than three years. “My life went from horrible, confused hopelessness to positive. That’s what cannabis does for me – it gives me a positive outlook on life.”

Michelle Ham of Shapleigh says her life has improved dramatically since she started using medical marijuana to treat her chronic pain in 2012.

Michelle Ham

Michelle Ham, 37, injured herself while moving equipment at work in 2010, and was immediately prescribed opioids for the herniated discs in her neck. Surgery was not possible, she said.

“I was taking Vicodin, Percocet, Roxicodone,” Ham said. “I don’t even remember them all.”

At the peak, she was taking 29 pills per day, as prescribed, but the drug cocktail put her into a zombie-like state.

“I was numb for a few years. I would pass out, drooling, sitting in front of the TV,” Ham said. “I don’t even remember very much of those two years. It’s all so blurry.”

Ham said she quit “cold turkey” and went through horrible withdrawal symptoms. Within a week, she became a qualified medical marijuana patient, and the marijuana started helping immediately, she said. A state-licensed caregiver donates the marijuana to her.

Since 2012, when she started medical marijuana, she said her life has improved dramatically. She takes the medication three times per day through a tincture, and will rarely smoke marijuana if the pain is particularly intense.

The medical marijuana also helps control muscle spasms, she said, that she gets in her neck and hands.

“I have my life back now,” Ham said.

Medical marijauna patient Corey Cayford, an Army veteran who injured his knee in Afghanistan, vapes a pot concentrate with a nectar collector. He says the medication has helped him focus on his goals.

Corey Cayford

When Corey Cayford took Dilaudid after knee surgery, he felt stuck.

He couldn’t get off the couch, couldn’t do physical therapy and couldn’t focus. Anxious to rehabilitate his knee and get back to college, the 23-year-old Army veteran grew weary of the idea of using opiates to deal with pain.

Cayford, who lives in Waldo County and studies culinary arts at Kennebec Valley Community College, first injured his knee while serving in the military at Fort Irwin in California. Later, on a mission during a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan, Cayford twisted his knee, causing an injury that prevented him from re-enlisting.

After surgery, Cayford and his mother talked about the medications his doctors wanted him to take.

“They had so many side effects that were very worrying,” he said. “(My mom) looked at me and she told me, ‘A lot of this could be fixed if you get your medical marijuana license.’ ”

Cayford became a certified medical marijuana patient about a year ago. He now uses only medical marijuana, which he grows and makes into a concentrated form. Cayford said he medicates twice a day using a strain that does not give him a “head high.” He sometimes uses a THC lotion on his right knee. Cayford said he is now able to get through his day without much pain and has found that marijuana also helps him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When I have a PTSD attack, it floods my brain and that’s the only thing my brain can grab hold of,” he said. “I can step back and calm down.”

Cayford said medicating with marijuana has allowed him to focus on school as he prepares to open a food truck that will feature grilled cheese and tomato soup. He said his family continues to be supportive of his choice to forgo opiates for marijuana.

“Even my grandmother is interested in getting a (medical marijuana certification) card now,” he said.

Jon Scott, 58, photographed in Lewiston's Kennedy Park, says he used prescription painkillers for years, but now treats his pain with nothing but medical marijuana.

Jon Scott

When Jon Scott first talked to a friend who was a medical marijuana patient, the idea of smoking pot to relieve pain “felt dirty to me.”

Scott, 58, broke both of his knees and injured his back when he fell off the roof of his house in 1997 and later had knee replacement surgery. His doctor prescribed 15-milligram Oxycontin pills to help with pain.

“I was taking eight of them a day,” said Scott, who lives in the Lewiston area and is on Social Security disability.

Scott stayed on the strong painkillers for three or four years. He worried about being a target for burglaries and bristled at the idea of submitting to blood tests and pill counts despite not abusing his prescription. He also hated the way the painkillers affected his attitude.

“It got to the point where I felt like I didn’t want to be in that environment. I didn’t want to have the Oxys,” he said. “People didn’t want to be around me. They were afraid of me.”

Scott became a certified medical marijuana patient close to five years ago and grows his own plants because he can’t afford to use a dispensary or caregiver. He now uses no other medication, including over-the-counter painkillers.

When Scott has pain in his knees – especially when the weather is bad – he says he can take a few puffs of marijuana from his vaporizer and deal with the discomfort. Over the years he has figured out which strains work best for him.

Scott sets aside about $16 each month to cover the cost of his yearly recertification appointment, which is not covered by insurance. He’s active on social media forums for medical marijuana patients and tries to offer sound advice to new patients who are trying to figure it all out.

“You’ve got to do it smart. It’s not recreational marijuana. It’s not just something you do because you want to feel different and have a good time,” he said. “It’s medicine.”