I first found out about Dustin Brandon via Instagram: he sent me a private message. Confused by his username, 2LessLegs, and intrigued by his profile pic – featuring a symbol for a person on a wheelchair flipping their finger, I decided to open his note.
My name is Dustin Brandon from Portland OR. As a disabled/wheelchair Cannabis Activist and Comedian, I am doing big things. I’m putting on Portland’s best Cannabis event of the year. I am not here to promote the event. There is a big story behind this, where I come from, my fight against big pharma, and my struggle with opioids, to finally finding Cannabis.
My recent loss of my sister due to big pharma over prescribing her psychoactive meds for her mental health…
I come from more hardships than most experience in a hundred lifetimes. I have a brittle bone disease and have broken/fractured over 400 bones and 40 + surgeries in my like - I am 34. I come from poverty, foster care, drunk/pilled out parents, state institution…
I shouldn't be here. I should have lost my life 3 times over the last 3 years.
And where I am at in my life, I am using all of my struggles and pain to make sht into hope and change. And turn some fcking heads.
OK, I thought. Let’s give this guy a shot – although, being honest the first thing that came to mind was, how the hell is this guy not saying he’s a sit-down comedian, instead of a stand-up comic?
I remember the first bit of his I saw. His sense of humor is dark:
"Do you know why I have no problem punching kids? Because they are honest AF, and they’ll remind me how small I am everywhere I go… Fucking assholes."
Take into account Dustin is about the size of Austin Powers’ Mini-Me.
Meet The ‘Mini MoFo’
Dustin is 34 years old, which means he’s been suffering from excruciating pain for over three decades now. He inherited Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bones) from his father – a motherf*cker, both figuratively and literally.
“Like I said, I am 34 and have broken/fractured over 350 bones in my life,” Dustin told me during a recent chat. “I have had roughly 35 or 40 surgeries for rods, wires, hardware, to fix bones.
“I look like Wolverine’s failed project.”
“I have full feeling everywhere… so [breaking a bone] doesn’t hurt any less than an Average Joe.”
Reflecting on a tough childhood New Bedford, MA, he tells me he grew up “poor, [surrounded by] projects, gangs, poverty, soup kitchens and shootings.
“My parents were both pieces of shit,” he adds. “My dad divorced early in life. He was disabled, but also a drunk and real piece of shit… Mom, was a pill popper, a pharmaceutically-induced nutcase. [So], it wasn’t long until I was getting shuffled through the foster care system… At the age of 8, my older brother – by 9 years, left home and went to a state institutionalized school called Massachusetts Hospital School, a state institution for people with disabilities. I followed very shortly. I was there from age 8 to 18. Grew up there. It was a campus, open year-round.”
Not having a family or a home to back to, Dustin lived in (and for) school. Sports, especially wheelchair basketball, saved his life in many ways. “I graduated [high school] at 18, like everyone else, and took my basketball passion to the University of Wisconsin Whitewater - following the footsteps of my brother who also played wheelchair sports,” he says. “UWW was the Duke of wheelchair basketball. During my 4 years there, we played in the championship game every year – and won 3 in a row.”
‘My Love For Opiates And Pain Pills’
After college, Dustin moved to Phoenix, Arizona. “[This] is where I found my love for opiates and pain pills,” he says. “My entire life, I have always had to depend on pain medication for injuries. But luckily for me, the younger me never cared or got hooked to the fun part of them,” he adds, reflecting on his addiction to Codeine at age 2.
“Doctors in Arizona don’t just give out prescriptions, they give out massive prescriptions – and they do it very willingly,” Dustin continues.
So, taking advantage of the easy-to-get prescriptions, Dustin started taking opioids and pain pills for fun. This rapidly turned into dependency, he assures.
“I am blessed that when I would run out or not have opiates, I never turned to hard drugs like most do… I just dealt with the withdrawals and go thru the 4 to 7 day process of detox. I did this for years; probably went thru withdrawal well over a 175 times.
It wasn’t until 3 years ago that Dustin finally realized how badly his addiction was affecting his life, as well as those of his family and friends. “The shitty part was that almost no one could ever tell; they had no idea… And if anyone said something to me, [I’d] first [say] fuck you, and second: my doctor is giving them to me. So, how is this wrong?”
‘Couldn't Get A Kick In A Stampede’
Everything changed the first time Dustin broke his neck for the first time, he reminisces. It happened during a basketball practice in 2015, and led to two big surgeries. “I prevailed, rehabbed and came back from it (and into the basketball court again) in three months,” he says. “Fucking Crazy.”
A year later, bad luck hit again. Dustin was crossing the street in Medford, Oregon at 1pm when a 4x4 truck hit him from behind – talk about not being able to get a kick in a stampede! Once again, Dustin found himself hospitalized, dealing with 30 bone breaks and fractures, internal bleeding and severe head trauma. “I had quite a few complications during my stay at OHSU, one of the biggest was a bleeding lung which required surgery for a chest tube,” he says. “Hours after the chest tube was put in, I started bleeding out massively into the chest tube and my body went into shock… Over the course of the next 6 days in the ICU, my body would go into shock several times a day; my heart rate was often on the verge of a heart attack…”
Dustin believes pharmaceutical drugs were causing this and says he tried to get doctors to try with his cannabis vape pen.
“On the 6th day, after being certain I was not going to make it thru one more night of my body going through this, I had a friend sneak in a THC distillate cartridge,” he continues. “I made a homemade sploofy with a toilet paper roll, dryer sheets and elastics, and off we were. Hand to God, it saved my life. I slept on my own for the first time in 6 days.”
His stay at the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital extended for a total of five weeks. But the days that followed the delivery of his vape pen were a lot more tolerable, he assures. “I was sleeping, eating, feeling better…
“My doctors and nurses knew what I was doing. They couldn’t acknowledge it, but they knew I was healing, and that’s all that mattered. My nickname from them was 420,” Dustin reveals.
A New Leaf
Facing death head on changed Dustin’s life. Nothing was the same, he says: “my view, my relationships with family and friends… everything changes. I felt truly blessed to be alive. I can’t explain the feeling. It was a blessing. As fucked up as it sounds, it took getting run over by a truck to change my life.”
After a two-month struggle, Dustin was finally ready to move on. He decided to relocate to Portland, Oregon (one of the stoner capitals of the U.S.) to pursue a career in cannabis-themed comedy and acquire a more prominent role in marijuana activism. He was decided to turn his hardship into laughter and inspiration.
Borrowing an idiom from the Spanish language, I’d have to say Dustin has been pissed by an elephant, meaning his bad luck seems to always acquire massive proportions. As things started to look brighter, Dustin slipped in the rain and once again broke his neck. Once more, he was rushed to a hospital where he had yet another surgery.
The Season Finale
Brace yourselves: this history of pain, suffering, struggle and recuperation is not over yet. It’s time for the Felicia chapter.
Dustin’s younger sister was his number one fan and supporter. Dustin often describes her as “one of the brightest stars in this world. Bubbly, bright, driven…”
Felicia had recently finished med school and was headed to college to get her pharmacy degree. Devoted to her brother as she was, she flew out to Portland to accompany Dustin when he got out of the hospital, putting her life on hold as she often did.
“I needed help at home. Significant help. I was severely injured and could barely move, yet alone sneeze without agony. That week Felicia spent here would be the last time I would see my sister,” Dustin remembers, as his eyes fill with tears.
Only two weeks later, Felicia took her own life.
“She struggled with mental health from a very hard childhood, same as me. Foster care and our parents, with a sprinkling of shitty men in her life,” Dustin says. “You would have never known however. I had her here, and had no idea she was so depressed on that level.
“When she was here, she used cannabis instead of heavy psychoactive meds, and she felt so much better using only cannabis.”
Unfortunately, she was not allowed to use cannabis back in Florida, where she lived; not only because laws didn’t allow for it – he medical license would be in peril, but also because her employers would not tolerate it. She was forced to using pharma drugs to treat her psychiatric issues.
“This time when she went back to the heavy pharmaceuticals… That was it,” Dustin laments. “The combinations of medications from several doctors she saw was enough for her to take her own life far too early. Far, far too early.”
Dustin is now decided to succeed in comedy and cannabis advocacy. It’s the only way to really honor his sister’s memory, he says. “Everything I do is for her. It’s why I won’t NOT succeed at this. I can’t. I won’t. Besides making it as a comedian, everything I do is with cannabis… Fuck Big Pharma, at the forefront of it all.
“Big Pharma took my sister's life. They almost took mine. They’ve taken a lot of people I know. I am ready to carry the weight of the cannabis world. I am ready to sacrifice everything. I will be the messiah for the people of cannabis and won’t stop until we make significant changes,” Dustin concludes. “I am not just a guy in a wheelchair doing this; that’s not what makes me special. I have the ability to capture anyone, their heart, their minds, their thoughts, and they will remember me.”
Dustin will be hosting PotLandia's 1st Annual Canna-Comedy Event at the NW Cannabis Club, in Portland, Oregon, this coming Saturday, September 8. The event will feature Oregon's top cannabis farms, producers, and dispensaries, celebrating Portland's best comedians. Make sure to check it out.