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Hudson man is one of first in the state to receive medical marijuana

Richard Murphy, left, of Hudson get his first prescription of therapeutic cannabidiol spray from Surterra Therapeutics president Susan Driscoll on Monday in Palm Harbor. “We’ve got to make sure we’re empowering patients, so this is very exciting,” Driscoll said.
Richard Murphy, left, of Hudson get his first prescription of therapeutic cannabidiol spray from Surterra Therapeutics president Susan Driscoll on Monday in Palm Harbor. “We’ve got to make sure we’re empowering patients, so this is very exciting,” Driscoll said.
Published Aug. 9, 2016

PALM HARBOR — Richard Murphy has been trying for two years to re-create the life he had before the semi truck rammed into the side of his Ford F-150.

Although doctors said he'd likely never recognize his wife or function normally, Murphy, 61, of Hudson can now walk, talk and take care of himself for the most part. The biggest lingering problems are the unpredictable seizures that come daily, and the headaches and irritability from the drugs meant to control them.

Ever since her husband was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, Pamela Murphy knew a potential miracle treatment was out there, just out of reach because of legal red tape and stigma.

But on a visit to his neurologist's office in Palm Harbor on Monday, Richard Murphy became one of the first in the state to buy cannabidiol spray under a 2014 law allowing patients with cancer or seizures access to a strain of medical marijuana that does not cause a euphoric high.

"It's been a long time coming," Pamela Murphy, said. "I'm excited that at our age, we're showing that we're not out here looking to get high. We're hoping to remove that stigma. … This is natural. If it replaces all the chemicals he's taking now, we'll be good."

It was also the first delivery for Surterra Therapeutics, which launched in 2014 and has grow facilities in Tampa and Tallahassee that raise the cannabis plant from seedling to final product.

Although the state has approved six dispensing organizations, only Surterra and one other, Trulieve, have begun delivering products to patients. Along with the orange-flavored oral spray Murphy will use three times a day under his tongue, Surterra also produces an oral oil and topical lotion.

"We've got to make sure we're empowering patients, so this is very exciting," said Susan Driscoll, president of Surterra, which plans to open its first wellness center on Fowler Avenue in Tampa this month and will make home deliveries of the strain until the dispensaries open.

Dr. Lisa M. Avery, who has treated Murphy's seizures for two years with a variety of drugs, said she has been waiting for this opportunity since she was a medical student in 1999 observing experimental cannabis treatment for seizures in monkeys.

To join the state registry of physicians eligible to prescribe medical cannabis, Avery, a neurologist, completed an eight-hour continuing-education course. She is one of 99 physicians in the state able to prescribe the drug.

Driscoll said once patients are written a prescription, they must purchase the product through a state-approved dispensary, which is required to confirm their name on the state's patient registry before the sale.

The law allows only patients suffering from cancer or seizures to be prescribed the high-cannabidiol, low-THC strain while terminal patients have access to the higher THC dosage.

There are 57 patients on what's called the Compassionate Use Registry, 30 of whom have open orders placed by their physicians, according to the Florida Department of Health.

But if passed by voters Nov. 8, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, known as Amendment 2, would broaden the list of diseases that qualify for medical marijuana, like glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis.

Avery said the most hopeful benefit of cannabidiol treatment is that it has the potential to cure seizures. And while other seizure medications can cause kidney stones, birth defects, lower bone density and other side effects, medical marijuana is thought to have none of those.

"I've seen the effects," said Avery, who hopes to dedicate her practice at Cann Health on U.S. 19 to treating patients with medical marijuana. "Patients can gain control, reduce other medications and really see benefits."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.