Lior Meshulam has lived with chronic pain 24 hours a day since the age of 16. The only solution to his constant agony is smoking medical marijuana. But as an observant Jew, the onset of Shabbat every Friday sundown, with its ban on smoking, was the start of a 25-hour nightmare.
"Every Shabbat was a de facto process of detox, in which the body becomes paralyzed," he says. "Either you go to bed after every meal and try to sleep the Sabbath away, or you are angry, on edge and suffering from the entire Shabbat."
But Meshulam may have found the solution. Over the past year, the 50-year-old has been working on what is supposed to be the "ultimate solution" for the Sabbath-observant patient: a way of smoking marijuana without desecrating Shabbat. He has even got a "kosher" certificate from the Tzomet Institute, which seeks to integrate Jewish law into the modern world.
For apparently there is smoke without fire. According to Meshulam, the device evaporates the material that is inserted into it within 10 minutes or so, and a small fan pushes the steam into the bag above. When the bag is filled with the vapor, one disconnects it from the appliance, attaches it to a cigarette holder and smokes.
At the age of 16 Meshulam awoke one morning to discover that he had become half-paralyzed by a virus. "The doctors had no solution, and since then I have been confined to a wheelchair and 100 percent disabled," he says. "The paralysis has led to other medical problems aside from the pain. This is not normal pain, but rather pain that is present all the time, even when eating or talking to someone else. About five years ago, I received approval for medical marijuana and since then the pain has not completely disappeared — it still exists — but cannabis makes it bearable."
About 20 years ago, Meshulam became religious. "I discovered that Shabbat is a serious problem for all smokers, not just cannabis users. Smokers are actually addicts, and every Shabbat poses the same problem from the start."
A revolution in pain management
"One solution is to use cannabis oil or marijuana cookies, but for me and many others, when it comes to cannabis use to counter pain, the oil and cookies simply do not affect us. Another possibility is to say that this is life-saving treatment, and the Jewish law states that saving a life takes precedence over keeping Shabbat. But it's not truly life-saving, and therefore not a solution," Meshulam says.
"A few months ago I had an idea of using an evaporator. But during that process you heat the material and breathe in the smoke that was created during combustion. The idea was to take a vaporizer that would warm the medical marijuana and produce steam that enters the balloon. It was a primitive device that I developed with the help of an electrical technician, with some form of a Shabbat clock, that periodically switches on during Shabbat. And when you need it, you put the material in the cartridge, and the evaporation occurs."
Meshulam's wife, Bat El, pushed him to invest in commercial development of the device.
"Not only to take care of myself, but to take a direction that would benefit the many, that is, something that would help other people who are religious and face the same difficulty." So I turned to the Tzomet Institute, presented the device I created and they told me it was worthwhile to go for a more innovative solution. I turned to a computer programmer who created software that runs the device every half hour, but you can also time it for longer breaks."
The device, called "Elor," got the Tzomet seal of approval. "The reactions," says Meshulam, "were amazing both for those who need medical marijuana, and those who are addicted to cigarettes and suffer every Shabbat."
Rabbi Menachem Perl, dean of the Tzomet Institute, explains that halacha (Jewish law) permits the use of the device on Shabbat as there is no act of lighting or extinguishing a flame.
Perl says the institute approved the use of the device on Shabbat "only for the substance defined as medicine, and only for a person who suffers without the use of the drug during Shabbat." They also determined that in order to make the appliance suitable for use on Shabbat, all the material for vaporization had to be inserted into the cartridge before the start of Shabbat.
"The institute sees its role as to be as helpful as possible to patients and to those who need medical marijuana in line with their doctor's instructions," says Rabbi Perl. "We are pleased that the Tzomet Institute has the means to find solutions and help Lior and anyone who else who can experience Shabbat without suffering and pain."