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5 Tips for Success With Medical Cannabis

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.

Several years ago, I moved from Georgia to Colorado hoping the drier climate would slow my rheumatoid arthritis and other issues. In 2013, the “War on Opiates” was just beginning, but I could see the writing on the wall. After having trouble each month filling my prescriptions, I decided to try cannabis. Yep, I turned to that “marijuana” stuff.

Colorado had just legalized recreational, so I jumped in my car and drove 60 miles to the nearest dispensary. I stood in line, showed my ID and I froze when they asked what I was looking for. Well, I had no clue really. All I knew is that I was out of my pain prescription and the next day was going to be rough. I ended up with three different joints, or “prerolls” – and really had zero clue what I was doing. Up until this point in my life, I had never considered cannabis as more than an anti-nausea agent, or for glaucoma. You know, wink wink. Back in Georgia, patients still don’t have the access, so nothing about this was familiar. I hadn’t used cannabis in years, and I had teenagers. Was I making the right decision?

My first opiate-free day was May 16, 2014. I’m horrible with dates and forget my own anniversary. I remember this date clearly. There was no immediate change in my disease, however after about three months in I noticed a difference. That is when my inflammation markers dropped; I was doing more and healing better. However, there were several varieties that made me feel worse. I needed to learn how therapeutic cannabis worked if I was going to have any success. My labs were coming up normal for the first time in decades, and I felt human for the first time in a very long while.

The journey from grasping at straws to learning how to target symptoms was in full swing. Here are five things I learned along the way that no one really talks about.

1. You need to be consistent to see real results. Cannabis is like any other therapy and needs to be used consistently for best results. Patients have a better chance of success when they have consistent access to the types of cannabis they need. Remember, doctors often treat acute symptom management and disease modification very differently. Therapeutic cannabis works the same way. Having access to a daily base dose has been a game changer for patients living in robust medical marijuana states. Unfortunately, many states are creating inaccessible “medical” programs. In areas that have restrictive medical access, costs are astronomical and options are limited. Be sure to factor in access when developing your therapeutic plan.

2. There is no answer to the question, “What strain is good for my disease?” Each type of cannabis you buy has unique properties. Since chemical make-up varies greatly, even within the same strain name, there is no way to determine if Pre-98 Bubba is going to be better for your RA or if Lemon Skunk will have more success. This is all trial and error, and you will get closer to the results you want by learning about what compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids can do. Be willing to learn more about strains, how to recognize specific terpene profiles, and to experiment with ratios of all of it. It sounds overwhelming, but it isn’t as intimidating as it appears. It sucks that this is one more thing we have to figure out, but when you have a severe and/or rare illness, figuring this out can become a way of life. We often are more in tune with our bodies, but dismissed by the Medical Industrial Complex.

3. Purple Urkle in one shop isn’t necessarily the same as Purple Urkle in another shop. Siblings from the same parents can be extremely different. Cannabis is a plant and works the same way. Remember those Punnett Squares from fifth grade? Cannabis is a perfect example of this. Any strain can produce very different siblings. Then, keep in mind even identical twins can have opposite personalities. So, the chemical content of the Purple Urkle in your closet depends not just on strain, but also on phenotype and growing conditions. Most states require some sort of potency testing, but very few also test for terpene profiles. Learn how to smell the terpenes and find what is working. This way it can be named anything and you can still find what works for you.

4. Cannabis isn’t just CBD or THC. These are just the two most studied cannabinoids, but there are many more. For example, I found my autoimmune diseases responded extremely well to acid forms of cannabinoids, which are only found in raw, fresh cannabis. Cultivation and a good caregiver system are the only way most patients have access to these types of cannabinoids. Make the time to learn about cannabinoids like cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCv). Patients will find nearly all of these potentially useful. Keep a journal so you remember the attributes of what works and what doesn’t. In addition to using acid forms, I found my body worked well with THC and CBG, but it reacted to CBD. This has allowed me to increase the THC and CBG levels to have better results. I also know to avoid CBD. Each person is unique, and so is each type of cannabis. Find what works for you and how to incorporate it into your routine.

5. It takes time to see lasting results. I have severe RA, Sjogren’s, lupus, Crohn’s and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It takes a lot to even touch that pain. While many have immediate pain-relieving effects, I was not among those lucky souls. I kept using cannabis because it helped my insomnia, not because I was receiving pain relief. About three months after being consistent, I suddenly noticed things were different. My inflammation was down, labs coming back normal for the first time in decades, and I could do more than I had before.

Little did I know, but cannabinoids are being studied as tnf-a inhibitors and are showing that they work in a similar manner as biologics and NSAIDS. This is what GW Pharmaceuticals wrote about trials using Sativex and rheumatoid arthritis. “In the first-ever controlled trial of a CBM in RA, a significant analgesic effect was observed and disease activity was significantly suppressed following Sativex treatment. Whilst the differences are small and variable across the population, they represent benefits of clinical relevance and show the need for more detailed investigation in this indication.”

This was only possible with access to consistent dosing. I have the ability to match my symptoms with cannabinoids. During this time, I was still on a biologic, but was able to get off nine other prescriptions. Cannabis won’t work for everyone, but neither does any medicine. No medicine cures rheumatoid arthritis, and cannabis does not cure incurable diseases. It takes time and patience, so be willing to wait for results.

Getty image by Sage Elyse.