Talyr Hall, a resident physician at a Pine Belt medical facility, looks for instructions from her physical therapist as she stretches during her therapy session Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Talyr Hall, a 30-year-old Brookhaven native and resident physician at a Pine Belt medical facility, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016 while she was in medical school.

Her life since then has been a painful cycle of intensive treatments and medications that have life-altering side effects. One of the most painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis is spasticity, or abnormal muscle tightness due to prolonged contraction. Spasticity was not fixed by a stem cell transplant she had in 2018, and the side effects were not completely alleviated through powerful prescription medicines.

“A lot of patients have side effects (of medication) that most people don’t want to deal with,” Hall said. “Some of the side effects are worse than the treatment.”

While taking an immunosuppressant medication, Hall was sick every week for about three months. She said that she contracted every contagious illness that her patients had. 

“I didn’t have an immune system to fight off anything, so that was frustrating,” she said. Hall also had a slow heart rate as a side effect to the medication — her heart rate never went over 50, which made her physically weak.

But after Mississippi lawmakers legalized medical marijuana in February, Hall sees some promise both for herself and for many of her patients.

Hall says that she would be a medical marijuana patient if it weren’t for her job, which currently prohibits use of the drug. She sees the benefit of the plant and how it can help her patients. 

“As a physician, I have patients that would benefit from it,” Hall said. “I do have a condition where medical marijuana would help, but I’d rather be an advocate for other people.”

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, studies have generally shown that some medical marijuana products help with symptoms of pain and spasticity, but more research is needed.

Medical marijuana is often compared to other medications that are pushed by pharmaceutical companies. But Hall sees the need for both and rejects the stigmas of medical marijuana. 

“It’s a naturally occurring substance,” she said. “I do know of people, not personally, but I’ve heard and I’ve had patients tell me that they go and buy it from the street which is terrifying because you don’t know what’s in it. I think it’s just like any other medicine. We prescribe medicine that has side effects all the time, and people take those because it is marketed as a medicine, whereas (medical marijuana) is not chemically modified and it grows naturally.”

During her experience, she has seen several patients take multiple medications to combat the side effects of other medications. 

“There is still use for pharmaceuticals, but I think there are some things that we could use instead,” Hall said. “We deal with a lot of polypharmacy, especially in elderly patients who are on different medications. I think medical marijuana could help with this.”

When Gov. Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act in February, the governor said that medical marijuana could potentially lead to increased recreational marijuana use and less people working. 

Hall’s perspective of the new law is different. 

“There will always be people who take advantage the system, but you have to do what benefits the people who would benefit from it,” Hall said. “You shouldn’t punish the ones who will benefit from it just because there are people who can’t play by the rules.”

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Eric J. Shelton was a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018. He rejoined Mississippi Today as our health photojournalist in January 2022.