ABC Australia's program Triple J: Hack
WEDNESDAY 25 JULY 2018
By James Purtill
My dad almost went to prison so I could access medicinal cannabis
Morgan Taylor was 12 when she was diagnosed, 18 when the disease returned and tore up her insides, 19 when she started juicing cannabis leaves to heal herself, and 20 when her dad was arrested on drug charges.
She was 21 when, just last week, she sat in court with her mum and sister, waiting to hear if her dad would be going to prison for possession of 107 plants.
"I was crying - like my dad is too nice to be in jail they're going to take advantage of him."
"He said, 'You know what? I would do it all over again because you girls mean the world to me'
"It's kind of ridiculous - my dad is facing jail for growing a plant."
"I don't want to downplay it ... but when you think about it, it's pretty stupid my dad is facing jail because he's trying to help his sick daughters."
Crohn's is a chronic inflammatory disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract. The cause is unknown, and there is no known medical or surgical cure. The pain is intense. In Morgan's case, ulcers formed within her intestines, making it too painful to eat. She describes the experience as like a hot iron stabbed into her intestines, and then twisted.
"When I got really sick again I just said to my parents, you know I'm not afraid of dying anymore because I don't want to have to be in pain."
"At that moment I saw their heart break."
The medications just made it worse
When Morgan was 18, her older sister, Ariel, was also diagnosed with Crohn's.
"She said to me, 'I always saw what you were going though but I never understood'.
Around that time, Morgan's Crohn's came back. An upset stomach led to emergency surgery. She had a colostomy, which is surgery to bring one end of the large intestine out through the tummy. The waste from the colon is then collected using an ostomy bag. From having an upset stomach to staring down a new life of poo in a pouch was a period of a few weeks. She was in Year 12.
"I was very ashamed of it at the time and I didn't want to tell people," Morgan said.
She tried medications. One thinned her hair and made her throw up, and the next was even worse. It made all her hair fall out and also inflamed her ankles. On leavers, her friends had to carry her about the beach as she couldn't walk.
"I had dreams of going travelling, I had career goals and all these things had gone on hold. I got really depressed and thought this is going to be my life from now on."
"Then I had something that kind of turned that all around."
The Taylors learn about cannabis leaf juicing
Morgan's family, the Taylors, grew up at the foot of the Blue Mountains, on the western edge of Western Sydney. Her dad, Stephen Taylor, was the sole breadwinner. His work took him around the city fixing coffee machines. His Saturday golfing friends included a former policemen who would later give a glowing character reference at his trial.
Like many adventures, Morgan's dad's journey to growing more than 100 cannabis plants in the family backyard began with some internet research.
In 2015, the year their youngest daughter had a colostomy and their eldest daughter was diagnosed with the same incurable disease, Stephen and Karen Taylor heard the story of Coltyn Turner - a boy in the US who had seen dramatic improvements in his Crohn's after taking cannabis oil capsules.
But at the time, there was no such thing as medicinal cannabis in Australia. Usage of medicinal cannabis would be legalised at the federal level on 1 November 2016, although even after this it could take years to for patients to access the drug.
They also heard about the new trend of juicing raw cannabis, led by a Dominican Republic-based American medical doctor, Dr William Courtney. "You are actually walking away from 99 per cent of the benefits cannabis provides when you cook or smoke cannabis," Dr Courtney had claimed. By not heating the cannabis, the THCA does not turn into THC - the cannabinoid in the bud that gets you high. Dr Courtney spoke about the medical benefits of THCA and another cannabinoid, CBDA.
They also read about another American, Justine Meader, who said her Crohn's went into full remission through juicing raw cannabis leaves.
If the cannabis leaves were a solution, then getting hold of enough plant matter to heal their two daughters would be difficult. Dr Courtney recommended patients juice 15 leaves - that worked out to 30 leaves of cannabis every day.
They were going to need a lot of cannabis plants.
Making the decision to grow their own
Making the decision to grow their own
"We didn't want to have to go on the black market," Morgan said.
"Pretty much everyone throws leaves away anyway."
In the new house, which had more sun and privacy, they began cultivating.
It took many months for the plants to grow large enough they could supply leaves every day without dying. The anticipation was enormous. Morgan had seen Justine Meader's colonoscopy photos, which she says was taken before and after cannabis juice treatment. In one photo the inner wall of an intestine was ulcerated, in another it was normal-looking.
"Seeing all this I got really emotional," she said.
"If there's something out there that can work for me and has no side effects, I cannot wait to be able to try something like this."
But as the plants grew, and with them Morgan's hope of recovery, there was also a constant anxiety.
"I held so much guilt feeling that my parents were breaking the law because me and my sister are sick and there was nothing they could do."
The harvest, the drought, the raid
The day of the first harvest was in November 2016. Morgan stripped two leaves from each plant and juiced them on their own.
"It has a peppery taste, almost like rocket."
After a month of drinking cannabis juice every day, Morgan says she began to put on weight and all of the stomach pains (the hot iron being twisted in her insides) went away. Her friends noticed she had more energy and she was able to go out with them partying.
In 2016-17, Sydney experienced its hottest summer on record. An extreme heatwave followed by torrential rain killed most of the plants.
Her dad re-planted the marijuana and the plants grew through the winter of 2017. By December, they were big enough the Taylors could dust off the juicer.
"That was the day the raid happened."
"I came to the front door and I was instantly so terrified that I went out the front and started throwing up - this had never happened before."
Police searched inside the house, even going up into the roof to look for money, scales, baggies, and other drug-dealing paraphernalia. There was none.
Then Morgan watched them go out the back and tear the plants out of the ground. Her mum was shouting "you're taking my daughter's medicine".
That was the end of the Taylor family's growing operation.
Last week, after pleading guilty to cultivation, Mr Taylor was given a six-month good behaviour bond but no conviction was recorded.
Morgan now has access to medicinal cannabis oil under the Federal Government's scheme. If the oil does not work for Morgan she is considering going to the US.
"It may have to be something I start thinking about," she said.
Morgan may now have access, but according to the Royal College of GPs, medical marijuana was still "pretty much inaccessible" for those who need it. It says too few GPs have been approved as authorised prescribers, and the alternative method of the Special Access Scheme is too slow.
There are contradicting studies regarding the effect of medicinal cannabis on Crohn's Disease including the associated inflammatory bowel disease.
Morgan says that, with the media coverage of her family, she has heard from other families that have broken the law for similar reasons.
"Any parent would go to the moon and back for their child, if they felt it was going to help them - which it did."