When Everything Hurts, Weed Can Help
Linda was 51 when she first tried cannabis. Not exactly the stereotype of the stoner millennial living in their parents’ basement.
After being diagnosed with chronic rheumatoid arthritis in 2003, Linda underwent many treatments to deal with the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and joints, causing severe inflammation and swelling. Left untreated, it can cause bone erosion and joint deformity. To get the inflammation and her immune system under control, Linda tried treatments like steroid rounds, chemotherapy drugs, cortisol injections, epidurals, and biologic treatments. Linda was sensitive to most opiates, and her alternatives to keep pain at bay were intense and had a litany of side effects.
Linda described being “borderline suicidal” from an degenerated joint, and her prior medication had made her stomach so weak that treatments were “in short, not worth it.” That’s another thing no one likes to talk about with chronic pain: It’s an isolating malady. More researchers are investigating the impact chronic pain has on suicide and depression rates, but chronic pain is unique in that doctors aren’t treating a single symptom. In many cases, chronic pain triggers more duress—whether it be emotional, or stemming from lack of sleep or intense side effects from medication.
Unable to try traditional medication, Linda began exploring CBD and THC. Over the past year, she’s tested what works for her, trying everything from vapes, edibles, and CBD sublinguals. She gets her supply from other states and illegally transports it back. For Linda, it’s worth the risk: They “all have been super effective in relief of symptoms and pain,” she says.
Cannabis has also helped Linda manage stress; however, she is frustrated with the slow progress of legalization. More research, knowledge, and help from the scientific community can help educate the 100 million people in America suffering from chronic pain. Patients shouldn’t have to trial and error what actually works, and they shouldn’t be judged or fear incarceration, something Linda struggles with. No one wants to be labeled a burnout stoner or go to jail for trying to relieve pain responsibly.
Anna lives in Colorado, a state that legalized recreationally in 2012. Having suffered from chronic headaches and back pain for as long as she can remember, she was prescribed migraine medication, which was “largely unhelpful,” and she says, “No doctor has ever given me helpful advice or a diagnosis of any sort.” Anna avoids prescription painkillers because addiction runs in her family. Instead, she uses an array of THC and CBD topical lotions and salves for neck and back pain, in addition to almost daily flower use. To Anna, cannabis is about more than treating her pain—it improves her quality of life. Weed “relaxes my mind when I feel discouraged and hopeless,” Anna says.
Anna is in a legalized state, making cannabis safe and readily available. Others, however, like Linda, have to travel and transport products illegally. Jacqueline is another such person: She suffers from trigger finger, and cites medical and quality-controlled cannabis as “one of the main reasons” she moved to Vancouver, where she doesn’t have to fear being fined or jailed for treating her pain.. Everyone we spoke to who experienced the plant agreed cannabis should be a viable national option for pain management. Over half of Americans agree cannabis should be legalized.
But the legal status of cannabis in some states can still pose risks when it comes to random drug screenings. Caroline, a consultant in New York, has to keep her treatment to CBD only as her clients hold the right to test her. While she’d like to try THC products, she can’t without putting her job at risk. Instead, Caroline uses CBD topical sticks, CBD vapes, and different oils to treat her compressed discs and carpal tunnel. Caroline finds cannabis to be a better solution with fewer side effects than prescription pain medication, which would make her groggy. She hopes New York legalizes in the next year so she can receive better treatment.
Stigma is another hurdle. Even in San Francisco, where medical cannabis has been legal for over 20 years, Rachel, who suffers from TMJ and vaginismus, recalls a recent lecture she got at a party, in which she was told weed causes memory loss and addiction. While short-term memory loss is associated with THC, many solutions to pain, like topicals, don’t penetrate meaningfully through the skin-blood-barrier, meaning they do not impair memory or create any sort of high in users. When you compare weed with socially accepted painkillers and drugs like opioids and alcohol, the side effects of cannabis on memory, addiction, and health are far less severe.
While D.C. keeps fighting over a flower, here is our Nice List for pain management.
The Nationwide Prison Strike, a nonviolent protest against prison conditions, began early last week and will continue until September 9th. Nice Paper supports the demands of the Nationwide Prison Strike, including "immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women" and, critically, prisoners' rights to vote, both for those serving sentences and for "so-called 'ex-felons.'" We highly recommend giving the strike a page view by clicking on the links below.
Read the ACLU's in-depth explainer here.
Read more about the 2018 Prison Strike, and how to help.