Smooth out the rough edges

Patient profile: Byron Brennan

Byron Brennan, who volunteers at El Camino Wellness Center, uses medical cannabis to help with his depression.

Byron Brennan, who volunteers at El Camino Wellness Center, uses medical cannabis to help with his depression.


Byron Brennan does more than just get the word out in Sacramento about medicinal marijuana. He points people in a positive direction.

Brennan, a 38-year-old social worker and volunteer counselor at El Camino Wellness Center dispensary, regularly hits the streets of Sacramento with informational fliers that advise patients on how to obtain a medical-cannabis referral. He also recommends patients to ECWC, which offers free counseling, massage therapy and employment resources. The center also provides information on free health clinics, transportation, homeless shelters and how to manage bills and afford cannabis.

“A lot of patients, the main thing is medical information, help with rent, help with utilities,” Brennan said. “Those are probably the biggest concerns. If you’re in pain, medicine is the most important thing to you before anything else. Gas, car payments become secondary when you’re in pain and you’re sick.”

“He’s very knowledgeable about all the services and what El Camino provides,” said a patient, who wished to remain anonymous, of Brennan. “He’s got a huge heart. He comes to work on time and works hard. He talks about how he always enjoys interacting with patients.”

It was a rocky path that led Brennan to ECWC in April of last year.

In 1993, Brennan was attending college in Chicago, Ill., when he had a breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Brennan dropped out of college and left his colleagues behind, staying with his mother and friends in the Sacramento area. But rather than seek help, he spiraled downward through methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol abuse and accrued a police record, including vandalism. At one point, he was even homeless.

“I was sleeping outside for a week,” he remembered, “and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m not going back to this place anymore. Once I get back on my feet, I’m not going back. That’s it.’

“I’ve hit rock bottom so many times, and something inside you goes, ‘OK, this is it. I’ve had it with this.’”

In 2003, Brennan turned things around, seeking psychiatric treatment and discovering Francis House through community service. At Francis House, a counseling and resource center for the poor and homeless, he got a fresh start and inspiration, and he was subsequently asked to volunteer there.

Meanwhile, he was still on the mood stabilizer lithium and not on an even keel. Brennan was often depressed or in a manic state. He often complained of being too tired or wound up. So in 2006, he turned to medicinal marijuana.

Brennan said he uses sativa to get energy when feeling sluggish and depressed and indica when he’s feeling jittery and overly energetic.

“Lithium does not provide full coverage for this illness,” he explained. “I still have highs and lows. It doesn’t always work for somebody with my condition.” He said medical cannabis helps “smooth out the rough edges of being on high dosages of medication every day” and that it alleviates the highs and lows that come with his depression.

Brennan has come a long way since Chicago. He has not only overcome the obstacles of bipolar disorder, but he also continues aiming to live a life of normalcy—and change the lives of many Sacramentans.

“I feel honored to help those who walk in my old shoes, both at El Camino and Francis House, as well as the other people who have come across unfortunate times,” Brennan said. “I am very grateful. I have come a long way. I had my own apartment for six years and have never relapsed. It feels great to give back all the times when all I did was take.”