When I Tried Cannabis to Manage My Crohn's Disease Symptoms
Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.
It took me three years to accept the fact that my Crohn’s disease was never going to go away. In that three years I did a lot of things, both medical and holistic in the hopes that some Band-Aid would stick and my body would heal itself. For three years my quality of life kept declining as time went on and as my GI put it: “Since I’ve started seeing you as a patient, I’ve seen you terrible and better, but never great.”
On the eve of my 23rd birthday, I smoked weed for the first time. I grew up in a drug-free household where my parents were candid about the actual fears they had about me doing drugs (mostly surrounding where I was planning on getting them and if they were safe, and a criminal record that would follow me around). Rather than using fear tactics, they just told me the truth and I respected them enough to listen. Also, I was broke as hell in high school anyway and too busy with grades, activism and life to bother.
However, after recreational marijuana became legal in Oregon, and after having Crohn’s, generalized anxiety disorder and unknown to me at the time, fibromyalgia for over three years, I decided to give it a try.
First of all, I was embarrassed. I had never smoked anything in my entire life, and I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Eventually, with some coaching from my husband, I figured out how to do it.
Relief was immediate. It worked faster than any pain relief method I was use to — I’m talking 15 minutes and I was golden. I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t in pain, I was hungry for the first time in days, and I was able to get to sleep at a reasonable time for the first time in three months.
I cried. I honestly cried from the relief.
After that, I poured myself into the research, looking for a scientific reason it had worked as well as it had. There were lots of studies that indicate cannabis as an anti-inflammatory agent — which made me curious about different effects caused by different strains.
I will be purchasing books later this year and dedicating some time to some real reading on the subject. I’ve explored websites like Leafly and that helped me immensely while I was getting started. I was able to pinpoint exactly what I thought I needed with their comprehensive format. Then, I spent a few afternoons watching some documentaries, listening to some people talk to just get use to the idea that this was my new normal: that cannabis is a medicine and that there was nothing wrong with that.
And there was the shame, the social stigma creeping up into my brain to breed doubt. I don’t escape it, and neither does anyone else with Crohn’s or anything that causes chronic pain. When we look for pain relief, we’re often treated badly by doctors, therapists and medical professionals who accuse us of just looking to get high or for Band-Aid solutions. Even now, when I ask about it in groups, I’m often met with a group of very enthusiastic outsiders, and a lot of people pushing products that are heavy in CBD and don’t contain any THC — which is fine, if that works for you. However, THC lifts my mood, encourages my appetite, is partially responsible for some of my pain relief and quells my anxiety. Why is there so much shame surrounding THC when oftentimes, people won’t flinch when they tell you they can go through an entire half-bottle to a bottle of white wine or vodka by themselves in order to fall asleep? (everyone’s bodies vary but many people with IBDs shouldn’t have alcohol or caffeine — these were the two things I had to give up first).
Can I just tell you something, reader?
The day I smoked weed for the first time? I walked down two flights of stairs without help. I laughed. I played with our landlord’s kids outside, just tossing a ball back and forth and drawing with some chalk in our shared driveway.
Other times, I laid and listen to music with my husband. We walked to the store and got snacks and sat outside, enjoying the fading sunshine together. I watched arguably my new favorite movie on Netflix and only had to go to the bathroom once. Some days I smoke weed and clean my whole house, organize my life, make my husband dinner and then relax and others I couch lock and play video games, like a normal 20-something-year-old.
All without the mind-numbing, debilitating pain.
I can still feel the pain sometimes present in my body, but when I use cannabis, it’s far away and much more manageable. However, I can feel the pain and fatigue when it gets too bad, and I can tell when it’s time to go in for some medical intervention. Cannabis has yet to put me in a dangerous situation other than maybe a couple of awkward social interactions, which knowing me would have happened anyway.
Cannabis isn’t a miracle cure. It’s not going to work for everyone. I still have Crohn’s disease and I still suffer from symptoms, but I can manage my symptoms: the pain, the nausea, the vomiting, the fatigue, the cramps, the shaking, the muscle spasms, the depression and anxiety, the lack of appetite, on and on.
No, it’s not a miracle. My quality of life is still not where I need it to be. I still have Crohn’s, but I’m starting to live with it now, and that’s enough for me.
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Thinkstock photo by SEASTOCK