was painful and required steely determination.
She’s not easily defeated. She served in the Air Force
as a cryptologic linguist, a job that involves, among other
things, identifying and analyzing foreign communications. After leaving the service she became a contract
manager for an engineering company. In her spare time
she became a licensed massage therapist and earned a
master’s certificate in Spanish translation. She already
had an undergraduate degree in Spanish literature. Jessup
was accustomed to being fit and productive.
;en the pain struck.
More than a decade ago she started feeling constantly
tired. Her joints hurt. Her doctor ran tests, ruled out
Lyme disease and was stumped. She grew sicker. Eventually she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. “By
then, I was in bad shape,” she says. “I couldn’t walk.” Even
the joints of her rib cage were so inflamed that it hurt to
breathe deeply. Chronic pain, she says, turned her into a
“shu;ing, grumpy old woman.” She was only 45.
Some drugs her doctor prescribed to combat her
arthritis were toxic; Jessup needed regular blood tests
to determine if they were damaging her liver. “;ey all
have side e;ects,” Jessup says. “Some give you headaches.
Some give you diarrhea. Some make your hair fall out. I
said to my doctor, ‘Sometimes I wonder if this cure isn’t
worse than the disease.’ ”
She kept taking her meds, but researched alternatives.
She changed to a whole foods, plant-based diet. “;at
helped tremendously,” she says. “I was able to do more
and move better. But I still su;ered every day with pain.”
In 2016, she and her husband visited friends in Col-
orado. Marijuana was already legal there and easily
available; her friends urged her to find out if it relieved
her pain. Walking into a store that sold pot, “I couldn’t
believe what I was doing,” Jessup recalls. “I have always
been taught that marijuana was a bad thing. I told the
man who waited on me that I didn’t want to be high,
I didn’t want to feel goofy, I just wanted my pain to go
away.” Her hands were so crippled there was no way she
could roll a joint. ;e salesman suggested she buy a pre-
rolled joint made with a strain of cannabis that had a
low percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the
psychoactive component of the cannabis plant that gives
users the feeling of being high. Even so, he warned her to
take just one or two pu;s.
Embarrassed by the experiment she was undertaking,
she went into the woods to light up. “Within one to two
minutes I felt the pain go away,” she recalls. “I cried. I
told my friend that it was the first pain-free day I’d had
in a decade. ;at night I had my first peaceful sleep that
I could remember. I was used to waking my husband up
all the time, rolling over and crying out because I hurt.”
Relief was temporary. Transporting marijuana across
state lines is a federal crime—and Jessup wasn’t about to
break the law. She returned to Maryland empty-handed
and continued taking her prescription arthritis drugs.
In May, Jessup was sitting in her dining room. “All of a
sudden the side of my face went numb and I was falling
o; the chair,” she says. “I had no strength.” A neurologist
later told her that event might have been a ministroke
and a warning that she was at risk for a larger one.
Stroke was a listed possible side e;ect of the long-
term use of at least one of the prescription drugs she was
taking; her primary care physician told her to stop taking
it, she says.
Now she doesn’t have to take it. She registered with the
Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, was certified,
and within three weeks was in a dispensary making her
first purchases. “I get up in [the] morning and the first
thing I do is I take one pu; of a vape pen,” Jessup says.
;e pen is filled with cannabidiol or CBD oil—a chemi-
cal compound in marijuana plants that’s touted to have
many health benefits—combined with a small amount
of THC. “About 30 seconds later the pain is gone,” Jessup
says. Every six hours she takes a pill containing a micro-
dose of CBD combined with a lesser amount of THC.
“I do yard work now,” she says. “I mow the lawn. I do
everything I did before I got arthritis. I got my life back.
My husband has the bride of his youth back. I am not that
grumpy old lady anymore, shu;ing in the house.”
Jessup has started writing to elected o;cials, saying
they will not get her vote or her donations unless they
push for federal reforms on medical cannabis. She’s a
registered Republican. She puts health and happiness
“I get up in [the] morning and the first thing I do is
I take one puff of a vape pen,” Darlene Jessup says.
“About 30 seconds later the pain is gone.”