Teen with Crohn’s disease returns to Illinois after years as a cannabis exile

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Coltyn Turner, a teen who has used cannabis oil to treat his Crohn’s disease, spoke Friday at the Midwest Cannabis Conference in Itasca. | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

Coltyn Turner smiled effusively as he discussed his family’s recent move back to downstate Illinois from Colorado, where the 18-year-old spent four years seeking cannabis-based treatment for a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease that hampered much of his young life. 

Turner’s battle with the disease started when he nearly drowned in a lake during a Boy Scouts outing in the summer of 2011. After being pulled from the water by his brother and three other scouts, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection that kicked his once-dormant Crohn’s into “full gear.”

He was prescribed a variety of medications to treat the rare bowel disease, developing drug-induced lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in the process. The family seemed to find a reprieve when he began taking Humira, an immunosuppressive medication that briefly improved his condition and helped manage the pain despite its side effects.

Looking for an opportunity to be a kid again, Turner enrolled in a summer camp in 2013 for patients with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, a more common bowel disease. Unfortunately, he contracted an infection.

“Putting a ton of kids in one area that all have compromised immune systems was a terrible idea because when one kid gets sick, they’re all gonna get sick,” he said. “And I was one of those kids.”

Coltyn Turner posing with marijuana crops. | Facebook

Coltyn Turner posing with marijuana crops. | Facebook

Shortly after, doctors at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital incorrectly diagnosed him with tuberculosis and informed the family that his severely swollen lymph nodes would have to be removed. However, a subsequent surgery went awry, and some of his salivary glands were taken out instead. 

Experts at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota later warned that he may have developed T-cell lymphoma. Luckily, it turned out that he was simply fighting another virus. Humira can lead to both tuberculosis and T-cell lymphoma, so the family was rightfully frightened by the false flags.

After stopping all his medications, Turner was crippled by pain and largely homebound. When he did go out, he was confined to a wheelchair. 

His parents began researching alternative treatments after his Native American grandmother advised them to “take him back to the earth.” They were encouraged by an Israeli study that showed that cannabis had the ability to induce remission in similar cases. 

Soon, Turner started experimenting with pot brownies someone gave the family. The experience was revelatory.

“I was feeling pretty good,” he said. “My energy was up, I was getting an appetite, I wasn’t in the bathroom as much and I was actually able to stand up out of my wheelchair.”

In March 2014, Turner and his father, Tommy, left for Colorado “with a suitcase full of clothes and a handful of cash.” The duo had no real game plan, but they knew a law that legalized recreational pot in the state had gone into effect a few months earlier and they wanted easier access to the drug.

After initially experimenting with recreational cannabis — a move that was illegal under state law given Turner’s status a minor — the pair established residency and met with a pair of doctors. He was then issued a medical marijuana card and his condition continued to improve. His mother, Wendy, and two of his siblings soon joined Turner and his father at their home in Colorado Springs.

The teen ultimately started taking pills multiple times a day that combined psychoactive THC oil and non-psychoactive CBD oil in equal measure.

“I felt like a normal kid,” said Turner, who later partnered with Mary’s Medicinals, a Colorado-based cannabis company, to create a signature oil that uses the same formulation.

The sick child once confined to a wheelchair has since grown into an exuberant young man. He’s now completely “pharma-free” and his Crohn’s has gone into remission. 

Last month, Turner and his family moved back to their hometown of Jerseyville, located about an hour north of St. Louis. He can now be treated under the state’s medical cannabis pilot program, which includes Crohn’s as a debilitating condition for adults

Over the course of his experience, Turner has become a tireless advocate for medical cannabis. He uses his Facebook account — which boasts more than 12,000 followers — to detail his experiences with the drug, and he’s made trips to Washington, D.C. to discuss policy with lawmakers.

“I want people to know about this because when I first got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, there was no one who went through it all,” he said. “[There was] no one to say, ‘I tried that, this is what works for me, maybe you should try it. It’s a plant and it won’t kill you because no one has ever died from it.’”

Coltyn Turner unloads the wheelchair he used to be reliant on during his recent move back to downstate Illinois. | Facebook

Coltyn Turner unloads the wheelchair he used to be reliant on during his recent move back to downstate Illinois. | Facebook

Turner, who has become a fixture at cannabis-related events, was welcomed home June 8 by attendees of the Midwest Cannabis Education Conference in northwest suburban Itasca.

“If it wasn’t for cannabis, I would be in the state of Colorado, but I’d be six feet under,” he told the crowd. “I wouldn’t have survived without it. And because of that, I’ve been able to get my life back.”

The 18-year-old is elated to be back in Illinois, where he can finally spend time with his 3-year-old nephew and go hunting with his grandfather. After being home-schooled his entire life, he is looking forward to a new milestone: going off the college.

“I’m not really sure which one I’ll go to, probably something in an anti-cannabis state, like Kansas, so I can maybe raise some mayhem,” Turner said.

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