Every five months Irvin Rosenfeld has gets a FedEx shipment, courtesy of the federal government, containing six metal canisters, each with 300 perfectly rolled joints of what today would be considered rather mediocre weed. But the quality of the government-issue reefer matters less than the fact that Uncle Sam has been supplying him with it regularly since 1982, when Rosenfeld won the right to smoke cannabis for reasons of medical necessity under the auspices of the federal government’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program. Rosenfeld smokes cannabis every day to treat a rare and excruciatingly painful bone disease called multiple congenital cartilaginous exotosis.
Medicine in a Can
A total of 15 patients with different incurable ailments would enroll in the Compassionate IND Program to study cannabis before it was officially shut down in 1992. As one of the last living IND participants, Rosenfeld remains a forthright and energetic medical cannabis advocate, a role he takes very seriously. His personal story is compelling. He has suffered with extreme pain for most of his life. At age 10, x-rays revealed more than 200 tumors sprouting from bones in his arms and legs. He would undergo a dozen surgeries and consume a steady diet of prescription narcotics and other pharmaceuticals.
When he first smoked marijuana as a teenager at a social gathering, it was a revelation. Before long he realized that if he smoked cannabis every couple of hours, his pain eased and he didn’t have to rely as much on doctor-prescribed muscle relaxants, opiates, and benzos to get by. Although he felt no euphoric effects from cannabis, the herb somehow kept his disease in check, inhibiting tumor growth and helping him live a decent life. A walking, talking refutation of the lazy stoner myth, he went to college, played sports, married his childhood sweetheart Debbie, and became a successful stockbroker.
There’s no doubt that cannabis helps Rosenfeld’s condition, but it’s not a cure. Though he has learned to live with his pain, at times its relentlessness makes him feel depressed, trapped in a lonely prison from which there’s no escape. At least that’s how it felt until one day in 2020, when Rosenfeld’s pain management specialist, Dr. Michele Weiner, mentioned a potential jailbreak: ketamine.
Ketamine, an FDA-approved “dissociative anesthetic,” has been around since 1962 when it was first synthesized by chemist Calvin Stevens. Employed initially as a tranquilizer in veterinary medicine, the drug was widely utilized during the Vietnam War for treating wounded troops. Ketamine kept injured soldiers conscious but cognitively disconnected from their pain, all while maintaining their vital functions.