Commonly missing from the debate over the medical benefits of cannabis is an understanding of the experiences of those who have been treated with it.
Michael Kerwin was an average high school sophomore in May 2008, before his first seizure. He attended Peabody Memorial High School, where he was a good student and played basketball and football.
Kerwin recalled his excitement after watching a Celtics playoff game that year, then taking a nap that he awoke from later on at Salem Hospital. Doctors informed him he had a seizure in his sleep and was diagnosed with epilepsy. His life changed in an instant. He was prescribed Ativan and other medications that made him anxious and depressed, told he could no longer play sports, and realized it was only a matter of time until his next seizure would occur.
The hospital prepared Kerwin for the physical effects of epilepsy, but he found the psychological impact equally challenging. By his junior year, he was experiencing as many as 20 auras daily, where suddenly his speech would slow and motor control cease. It was an aura that caused him to once crash his vehicle. It was the fear of an aura that led him to cease raising his hand or otherwise speaking up in class, since an aura might occur midsentence.
Kerwin first tried cannabis recreationally during his junior year of high school when his brother returned from home from college. He realized something profound in that experience—it was the first time since he awoke at the hospital that he found relief from the fear of another seizure. He was calm, relaxed, and able to feel lighthearted once again. Cannabis was something that gave Kerwin a break from the stress of his condition.
Experiences like those gave Kerwin inspiration as he began focusing his energy on painting, something he had enjoyed intermittently up to that point. He’s used his brush skills to portray subjects including Bill Belichick—in the attire of a Revolutionary War general—as well as the feeling of relief that he experiences with cannabis. With his passions aligned, Kerwin says he felt prepared to confront epilepsy in ways that hadn’t previously seemed possible.
In January 2015, Kerwin successfully underwent brain surgery, and he’s been seizure-free ever since. He no longer deals with the physical impact of this medical condition, but as the fear of another seizure lingers, his painting and cannabis regimen continue to motivate and inspire him. At the same time, his creativity and works of art serve as inspiration for others. He now works at Revolutionary Clinics, a medical dispensary in Somerville, where his art is on display and his acute understanding of the medical benefits of cannabis serve to help others.
Cannabis may not have been what stopped the seizures, he says, but the psychological benefit it provided was of comparable importance in his fight with epilepsy.
Michael’s art is currently on display at Revolutionary Clinics at 67 Broadway in Somerville. Exhibits rotate every 60 days, and are open to the general public during weekly education events held every Thursday.