The days when marijuana was used just to get people high are long gone.
As has gone on throughout human history for thousands of years, people around the world are finding that the green, spike-leafed cannabis plant can have beneficial effects for people afflicted with various diseases.
Violetta Muzychenko, of the Chicago suburb Grayslake, Ill., believes that cannabis oil has killed her cancer cells and prolonged her life. Born and raised in western Ukraine, the retired photographer and grandmother first came to the United States in 2000, which is when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
I spoke with Muzychenko recently in her comfortable one-bedroom apartment in Grayslake.
Remembering what it was like to be told she had such a serious illness at such a time, Muzychenko said, "It (felt) like my life (was) finished. Like there (was) no future for me."
Muzychenko was told that she had about five years to live. The treatment for her cancer back at the turn of the century was chemotherapy, radiation and medication.
Recalling the travails of the treatment, Muzychenko said, " It was very difficult to go through chemo, because the side effects these chemicals do to your body (are) terrible — the nausea, the dizziness. You cannot breathe. Like the treatment is killing you."
Despite the difficult treatment, Muzychenko persevered, survived and thrived, sometimes working several jobs at once. In addition to photography, she also worked as a health care aide, as a clown, and in puppetry. (Back in Ukraine, she worked as an engineer.)
But then her cancer returned.
Recalling how she first heard about cannabis oil as a treatment for cancer, she said, "It was when I was diagnosed with cancer again in 2015. They found a bone tumor. 'Metastas' in the bones. That's usually how it goes — to the bones."
Once again, according to Muzychenko, "In 2015, the doctors ordered chemo. And when the cancer returned, after three sessions, the chemo was killing me. And I had to stop it, because I couldn't take it anymore.
"(A) friend of mine saw me dying during the chemo, and he said, 'Why don't you try a new treatment? It kills the cancer. (Italics added.)
"And so I went to the Internet. And I contacted some people who were using it.
"It was difficult. It was illegal at that time. Then in a couple of months it became legal. And then I could buy through a dispensary, a special store for oil."
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of financial help for people wanting to try the cannabis oil treatment for cancer.
"Insurance doesn't cover it," said Muzychenko. "Maybe someday they will. They're working on it. It's very expensive. You have to use your own money. It's like nutrition. Insurance doesn't cover nutrition."
Remarking on how her body reacts to the cannabis oil treatment, the retired photographer said, "Yes, it gets me high. But it's not a pleasure at all. I have a headache, nausea, an increased heart rate.
"It's not like you're smoking marijuana and getting fun.
"But even though it's hard, it's much easier than chemo. Even children can use it."
When Muzychenko first started using cannabis oil, she had trouble at first getting the right kind of dosage. However, she soon learned that two components of the oil were essential: both THC and CBD.
"(A)fter four months of using the two components," she recalled, "I was cancer-free."
"It stopped growing," she said.
"And it's increased my immune system," she continued. "Cannabis oil boosts your immune system. And it also kills cancer cells. It helps your body fight the cancer."
However, Muzychenko knows she is still fighting. Speaking in late November 2018, she said, "Now the cancer has returned, and now I am fighting (it) again."
Muzychenko obtains her cannabis oil from a dispensary. "You should register to be a member of (a) store," she explained. "There are many of them. Find the (one) nearby."
The dispensary Muzychenko uses is called Greenhouse, and is located in Deerfield, Illinois, near Pfingsten and Lake Cook roads.
"The doctor should give you a letter for the dispensary," Muzychenko, who grew up in the Soviet Union, continued. "(Doctors) cannot recommend or prescribe cannabis. (They) can only give you (a) paper with your diagnosis, to be registered in (a) store."
For people interested in learning more about using cannabis oil to treat cancer, Muzychenko has one word of advice.
"Internet," she said. "Internet.
"And, also in the store where they sell product, there are meetings where they explain how to use oil, there are testimonials."
Referring to people interested in more information, she continued, "If they go to (the) Internet, and put in 'Rick Simpson oil' (in a search bar), they will find a lot. Rick Simpson discovered cannabis oil as a treatment for cancer. He had cancer, or someone from his family did, and he discovered it. Now he is teaching people how to make this oil at home, to grow and make oil from (a) plant."
According to Muzychenko, beyond cancer treatment, cannabis oil has other health-restorative effects.
"Cannabis oil actually treats 44 diseases, other than cancer," she said, "such as diabetes, epilepsy, and high blood pressure."
"It's especially good for children with epilepsy," she continued, "significantly reducing (the) number of seizures — for example, from everyday to once a month."
Cannabis is doing a lot more these days than just getting people high.