After miraculously surviving a fall of 40 feet and breaking 108 bones in his body, Mike Conner’s biggest battle was still ahead of him. At 50 years old, the accident meant he was forced to learn how to walk again, and he endured an excruciating 26 surgeries.
The trauma, which occurred in 2013, very nearly cost Conner his life and left him hooked on the dangerously addictive opioid OxyContin, having been prescribed 400mg a day to ease his excruciating pain. (Typically, the drug is prescribed in 10mg, 15mg, 20mg, 30mg, 40mg, 60mg and 80mg tablets.)
Fast forward to today, and the sprinkler engineer turned cannabis entrepreneur has beaten his opioid addiction, having used cannabis to overcome his demons and lead a healthier life.
“What got me there is this amazing plant. It is truly amazing. This is what got me into the [cannabis] industry,” Conner explains. “The cannabis helped me get through all the stuff that was holding me back. Now, I go to the gym and get out there and sweat.”
These days, Conner is so health conscious, he doesn’t even take aspirin. And he doesn’t smoke marijuana, either.
“[Cannabis] is an amazing tool to be used in this fight against these opiates,” he continues. “Big Pharma is making billions of dollars. I don’t think they want the word out that CBD and even THC can get you through these [opioid] withdrawals. We don’t need these big, fancy clinics where you need to pay tens of thousands to go through [drug rehab]. I am an actual patient who went through it myself. I had such a huge dose [of OxyContin] prescribed to me legally, that today I should still be on the couch watching Judge Judy, popping pills. But I am not that guy.”
Conner, who was a prominent member of the Tea Party in California, was working in a megachurch when he fell from a beam — a height equivalent to four stories.
He recalls, “We were in the attic and walking across steel beams. I got caught by a flashlight across my eye and it blinded me. It affected my depth perception and I stepped on a ceiling tile and I fell straight through. I had over two seconds of freefall — I landed feet first, thank God. But I broke over 108 bones in my body.”
Conner explained that during the fall, he had something of a spiritual experience.
“I heard the words, ‘This is gonna hurt,’ on the way down. I am not a religious man, but I had a religious experience when I went through that hole. I heard the words clearly as I went down.”
And while he feels he was lucky for physically landing on his feet, the damage done sounds a far cry from fortunate.
“My feet, the bones turned to powder and splinters. My ankles were gone, my shin bone and the bones behind it flew out of my legs. My knees went in different directions. I broke my back in four places and my L4 [lumbar vertebrae] exploded into my spinal cord and severed it. My right arm broke and the bones in my hands were splintered. My wrist folded in half. And my right elbow and shoulder exploded.”
Throughout the whole nightmare ordeal, Conner remained conscious — a fall from that height usually has a 99.7-percent fatality rate — and remembers feeling nearly every single bone break.
“Not many people get to experience that,” he says with a sense of pride. “Nearly everyone dies [from that high a fall]. I was lucky to live. I have had 26 surgeries and multiple prescriptions for painkillers. I was confined to a bed and a wheelchair for a year and a half.”
When Conner was first rushed to hospital, the doctor told him he would likely not even survive the surgery to try to correct his pulverized back. And his injuries were so bad that one person who visited him in hospital fainted and was consequently admitted to that same hospital for three days.
Choking back tears, Conner recalls, “When they saw the X-ray, the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, but you will never walk again. Your spinal cord is so damaged that when we open your back up, the nerves that are keeping you alive right now are going to be severed.’”
This information prompted Conner to give his wife loving messages to relay to his four children. “We said our goodbyes — they didn’t think I was going to make it through my first surgery.” But amazingly, he did survive. And during Christmas of 2016, more than three years after his trauma, Conner learnt to walk again.
However, to manage his continuous, unrelenting agony, he was placed on a cocktail of drugs and painkillers, including OxyContin. Derived from the opium alkaloid thebaine and chemically similar to both morphine and codeine, Conner confesses of OxyContin that he was “completely addicted to it” and discovered how bad the addiction was when he accidentally missed a dose.
“I had to take 5mg every two hours and 10 every six and a 20 every 12 hours, as well as an 80mg dose every day. That didn’t include any of the other drugs I was on,” he explains. “I missed a 2 a.m. dose and then I woke up at 4 a.m. and I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t believe how much of a hold it had on me. But I also realized I was in the same amount of pain as I was when I was actually on the drug.”
It was then that Conner decided he had to take action — and chose to experiment with cannabis to help wean himself off his addictive medication. Before delving into a cannabis substitute, he devised a 10-day process, taking six months to complete this regime. “It was terrible,” Mike recalled. “I was absolutely experiencing heroin-like withdrawal. It is the worst fight you will ever be in. You fight the addiction and yourself. That is the worst bit.
“For example,” he continues, “I didn’t hurt my right femur at all. I would put the pill case on the side of the bed where I could see it. When I was in sound mind, I would tell myself, ‘Don’t take this pill.’ At that 15-minute mark, my right thigh would start to kill me. My mind would say, ‘Take the pill, take the pill. The pain will go away if you take the pill.’
And I would find myself reaching for it. And I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. Why is my right thigh hurting? I never hurt my right thigh.’ It was my body creating a pain, which had nothing to do with my injury. My body and brain were in a battle. Why am I fighting myself? It was maddening almost. … And it was unfair. You know yourself and [OxyContin] finds the weakest link and gnaws at it.”
Conner took 10 percent fewer Oxys for a period of 10 days, then decreased the number and strength of pills he was popping to 25 percent, then 50 percent, and finally 100 percent. When he got to the last four rounds, he realized he needed some additional help with getting through the cycles.
Medical marijuana seemed to Conner to be a safe bet to see if it could alleviate some of his symptoms, as he knew they would be tough to counter by himself. His wife agreed.
“She told me she thought I was an idiot for not [trying cannabis] in the first place,” Conner remembers. “[But] I didn’t want to be seen as a pothead. It wasn’t that I was anti-cannabis, I was just apathetic to it. I had got high once before and I got really paranoid. It wasn’t a good feeling.”
Four months and three weeks into his regime, Conner commenced his cannabis experiment, using medibles for the final 40 days of his withdrawal from his prescription meds. First, he started with edibles in the form of a muffin, and explains his experience.
“I was told to eat a quarter of it. The time was coming and I didn’t feel anything. Fifteen minutes went by and I was terrified the pain was going to come. So, I ate another quarter. Another half an hour went by and I thought, ‘I’m still not feeling any affect, the pain is going to come and it’s going to be torturous.’ I ate another quarter. Big mistake.”
Conner sat in his wheelchair and wheeled himself to see his wife and children, who were in the front of their home.
“I always asked them to clear out as I didn’t want them to see me puking, or shitting my pants when I was going through the withdrawals. I was very proud and I didn’t want them to see me at my worst,” Conner admits.
But then, something miraculous happened.
“I was telling them, ‘I’m such a bad dad, I ate my [weed] muffin and I ate three quarters of it!’ They were laughing at me because they knew I was high! They were telling me not to freak out. My kids were so forward thinking and educated on the subject [of cannabis]. My oldest son Nick suggested I use a vape so I could structure the dose a bit more.”
Conner’s four adult children — Nick, 23; David, 20; Lauren, 22; and Paige, 18 — had some fun with their dad as he worked out his doses. “They thought it was funny to mix a little recreational cannabis in there! They were having a joke with me! Nick was the ringleader. But they were really helpful and I was very grateful.”
Once he had his dose and delivery method figured out, Conner says the effect of taking cannabis was “amazing” and meant he could finally get up from his bed to function as part of the household. “I could be with my family. I could eat. I could hold down food. I could drink. I could be mobile. I could be almost normal. Just by using the medical cannabis. I still felt the flu-like symptoms [from opioid withdrawal], but nothing like I should have been feeling.”
He adds, “Those days should have been the worst, because I was dropping 50 per cent [of my doctor-prescribe medication], then 100 per cent. Your body wants to make you pay. But [edibles] were the best. When I was doing the 25 percent [fewer meds] without the cannabis, I told my wife to get out of the house and hide the guns. I didn’t know what was happening to me.”
Today, Conner feels back to his normal self, although, he admits, “I still feel the same amount of pain as when I was on the medication. Medication doesn’t attack where the pain is, it hides the pain, makes your brain fuzzy. The way we think about masking it and what it does are two different things. It’s hard to see it from my perspective, going against all medical practice. People will think I am crazy. But I have lived it.”
Now, along with his business partner Alex Metson, Conner runs Concept To Harvest, a company that aims to provide opportunities for investors who want to get involved in the cannabis industry, often helping to pair growers with companies and investors from as far afield as Australia and Israel. Plus, Conner is also involved in a cannabis farm in Oregon.
“So many people who get into this industry are undereducated, and the growers have been growing for decades,” Conner says. “They have been to prison and done it right. But they have paid a price. Now, they are under the spotlight of legality and they are underfunded. And the thing is, these people don’t know how to talk to each other. They speak two different languages. At Concept To Harvest, we bridge [that gap] so investors can talk to growers and we can translate.
“We understand the lingo and the struggles of a grower,” Conner continues. “But we are also investors. We can help manage them for a corporate structure. [Alex and I] have gone everywhere, from being addicted, to using cannabis to get off that addiction, and now we are literally growing and helping everyone, from seed to sale.”
Conner is now an advocate for legalized cannabis, regularly meeting with his local leaders in Fresno, California to help push his agenda of legal cannabis investment to boost the economy in his state, as well as full-blown federal legalization. “I helped get the mayor elected. I told him, ‘I’m growing cannabis and I am going to bring it to Fresno and I don’t care if you like it or not!’”
Above all, Conner hopes his story will help others who are similarly drowning under the weight of opioid addiction. “I still struggle with pain every day — but I treat it like an emotion.” Speaking of his survival from such a traumatic injury, Conner says, “It’s awesome to be in a place where no one has been before. You have to learn how to accept help. Every time you turn down someone’s help, you are taking away the opportunity for someone to help you. I learned how to accept help and now I want to help others — don’t deprive me of the opportunity. I now work with disabled kids and veterans and that is where my time and money goes.”
When asked about what he hopes people learn from his experience in regard to their own struggles with addiction, Conner is quick to answer. “The message is, ‘You can get through it.’ I made the conscious decision to survive that fall. It’s getting back on your feet that is the hard part. And getting off that medication is the best thing I could have done.”