Day by day, I am getting better. Day by day, I am remembering to care for myself and my body. I am feeling stronger and more equipped to take on all the shit that MS doles out on a regular basis. I have cannabis to thank for that, but when I think back through my journey with learning about and then trying marijuana, it is alarming to think just how close I was to never actually trying it. If I hadn’t pushed and pursued it, I am not sure that it would have been brought up as a viable medical option. Given where I am in my life now, given that I feel as if I have a restored outlook on what I can accomplish and achieve, it is more than slightly disturbing to think I might have missed out on this chance for a better life.
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2007. Cannabis was legalized medically for “certain terminal or debilitating conditions”…including “severe muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis” in my state in 1998. The first time cannabis ever came up for discussion with my medical care team was in 2013. Six years after being diagnosed, and 15 years after it became legal as a medicine here in Washington. I was the one to bring it up. I asked if medical marijuana might help with the chronic pain. Truthfully, I didn’t have the balls to ask my doctor, so I waited until I had an appointment with the nurse practitioner that was at the clinic.
I asked and although we did have a brief conversation, she seemed hesitant to give me much information. She did give me a business card of someone that was a “health and wellness expert.” She told me to contact him as she closed up her bag and stood to leave the room. She had this “old school” doctors bag – leather that was worn and nicked – like it had some long sordid history. The whole scenario had me “running for the hills.”
It seemed DISREPUTABLE? SHADY? SCARY?
Maybe a mixture of all three? I just know that I walked away from my first conversation with my medical care team thinking “I am not even going to go there. If they seem to be so uncomfortable with even just talking about it, it must be as bad as I have always been told it was.”
The next time cannabis came up in conversation with my medical care team was in 2016. I had been battling severe chronic pain for over 4 years. I had been on numerous prescription drugs to try and quiet the ever screaming voice of the pain. Whatever the doctors prescribed, I took it, believing that it was my next BEST HOPE in finding relief from a pain that had taken over my life and was threatening to destroy it.
I had reached a point where I was 40 pounds overweight, I hated myself and what I was doing with my life, and I would wake up each morning, dreading the day, and the pain, that lay ahead. I was suffering from chronic pain but I was also suffering from depression, which is a common side-effect of chronic pain – BUT also from many of the medications I was on. I was NOT in a good place. I had hit rock bottom. Nothing the doctors had recommended had worked out, none of the prescription drugs had provided the elusive relief to a level of pain that was simply indescribable.
So I asked again about “medical marijuana”, but this time I called it cannabis because I had started reading up on it. I had begun to go down rabbit holes in search of something that might help me get out of the abysmal hole my life had become. This time my inquiry was met with what I viewed as a candid, yet guarded response. I was told that he had a “number” of patients that claimed to find it “helpful” but I was also told he knew nothing about it and that it would be in my hands to learn and figure it out.
So I did.
Even though it is legal in my state, both medically and recreationally, and getting access to it was not a challenge, it wasn’t as easy and just popping into my local dispensary. I had to overcome the stigmas and stereotypes of my past, what I had been told about marijuana. I was raised being told and knowing that it was illegal. It was AGAINST THE LAW – but not in the “you can’t legally drink alcohol until you are 21 – but then after that it’s okay” type of illegal. I knew people that were arrested and put in jail for possessing pot. I had been in cars that were pulled over where the drivers and all of the passengers were questioned and searched because the police thought that there was marijuana in the vehicle. That’s what I grew up with and that goes a long way in making you believe it is bad.
“It does bad things to people (like puts them in jail) so how can it not be bad?”
I managed to push past all of that because the pain had reached a level where really if there was something out there that could help, I was willing to try it, irrelevant of stigmas and even legality. In hindsight, I am so thankful that my other half kept nudging me to go to my local dispensary. Having his support made all the things I worried about seem less important than finding relief from the pain and getting myself better. It has only been 18 months since I went off all my medications and started using cannabis as my medicine, but it has been a game changer. I have my life back – I’m out and about and doing things again. I am no longer a fat blob on my couch just desperately trying to get through the day and I am learning to like myself again!
Looking back – I think if cannabis had been introduced to me as the first line of defense rather than my last ditch effort to try and find relief from the pain, the last decade of my life would look a lot different for me. Knowing what I know now – having lived through it all – I believe my relationship with this disease and my body would have been a lot more cohesive if I had been introduced to cannabis at the start of this journey to try and help with many of the symptoms and issues that come with living with the disease. Instead, I spent years not only battling with the disease, but with the myriad of medications and their effects on my body.
It’s as if the pieces of the puzzle are finally beginning to fit together and I am feeling whole again thanks to my daily consumption of this plant.
I believe that my doctors did have my best interest at heart. I got to know my team, and they were always there, willing to listen and try and find something that would help. But the simple fact is that they won’t recommend or prescribe something that they know little to nothing about. It is not in their nature and it certainly isn’t in their best interest – given potential liability and lawsuits. They need to know about the things that they give their patients, and like me, many of them were raised in a time and a society where it was illegal and we were led to believe it was a bad substance.
My encounter with Shawn’s doctor last week really opened my eyes to the continued ignorance of many in the medical field in regards to this plant and its medical properties. Having navigated the road to learning about and then trying cannabis on my own, I can say with absolute certainty that it would have been a lot easier if I not only had the passive support of my doctor but had a doctor that actively helped me through the journey. If I had someone in the medical field guiding me through the process it wouldn’t have seemed so “scary.”
I realize that I don’t have the power (or outreach) to make doctors learn about cannabis, but I can encourage individuals to begin the journey, to try and educate themselves and begin to ask questions. I think back to the day that I asked the second time and I realize that if I hadn’t done that, if I hadn’t brought it up, if I hadn’t asked about it maybe being the next thing I try for the pain, then it probably would never have been presented to me as a possible solution.