My Experience with Medical Marijuana
Disclaimer: this post is simply about my own personal experience with cannabis products. I am not a medical professional and am not trying to give direction or advice on how you should use this substance. Always consult with your doctor before starting or stopping any kind of medication.
I have read many articles online (even here on MultipleSclerosis.net) describing how different people have used medical marijuana (cannabis) to try to help treat their Multiple Sclerosis (MS) symptoms. As this topic has become less taboo than it was even just 3 years ago, I feel like I should share my own experience with people looking to give cannabis products a try. Now please keep in mind, like any other medication, it can work great for some but not at all for others, especially because there really isn't a consistent dosing guide for the many different cannabis products available. Some people even find that it affects them negatively. With that said, let's move on.
Why I tried marijuana
Growing up, I never did drugs or alcohol. Like a good little boy, I waited until I was 21 to have my first drink. Because of where I grew up, I actually despised marijuana. I hated the smell and I found all the stoner “kids” to be unbelievably annoying. I say kids but many of these people were actually adults... adults in age, not behavior. Eventually, I was diagnosed with MS and my life became overwhelmed with pills. Pills in the morning, pills at noon, and pills before bed. Doctors handed that stuff out like candy so I had quite a collection going.
Switching to a new MS therapy
A few years ago I switched to the MS therapy Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) which you could argue (though many would disagree) is a minor chemo agent. It’s actually a monoclonal antibody, and at full strength, it was used to treat B-cell type leukemia. Because all the paperwork I had to sign before receiving this medication referred to Lemtrada as a "chemotherapy," I just refer to it as a "chemo agent" which sounds a little less serious than "chemotherapy". But don’t quote me on any of that; in fact, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that when used as Lemtrada for MS, it is given at a much lower dose than it was for Leukemia, and for an extremely short period of time in comparison. But despite all the technical stuff, a lot of the potential side effects were what you would expect from a drug like this and that is the only point I am trying to make here.
Fighting side effects
So for me, the worst side effect I experienced was nausea, and it didn't just present during the actual infusion, it lasted for days. First, they gave me an oral medication to help treat this symptom but that did absolutely nothing. Next, they gave me that same medication via IV and it sort of took the edge off, but I still felt pretty terrible. Now, about a week earlier, because I thought this might be an issue, I had got my medical marijuana card (in California) and bought a tube of thick sticky cannabis oil because I had read how well it had worked for people treating their cancer and the side effects of their chemotherapy.
Cannabis (marijuana) vs. hemp
Before I go on, let’s get some of the terminologies down. Many people will talk about CBD oil, which you can legally buy online because it comes from hemp which is just another species of the cannabis plant (aka marijuana), but is not illegal because it can't get you high. Now if you have heard about “CBD oil,” you have probably heard the term “cannabis oil,” which is a term that many people use when describing CBD oil, but it’s not the same stuff. Here is the absolute basic difference: hemp oil is full of CBD and only has trace amounts of the well-known THC in it, so it doesn't alter your state of mind at all. Cannabis oil, which is what I bought and is sometimes referred to as Rick Simpson oil (RSO), is full of THC and contains very little CBD so it will definitely induce feelings of euphoria. Because this oil is from cannabis (marijuana) and not hemp, you can only buy it from a medical dispensary in states that it is legal.
So, why choose one over the other? Cannabis and hemp contain many different substances called cannabinoids, and different cannabinoids produce different effects. CBD is the cannabinoid you usually hear about when it comes to stopping seizures, and THC is often great for pain relief and insomnia. You can look up charts online that show what symptoms each cannabinoid helps with (there are over 100 cannabinoids including THC and CBD), and while hemp oil contains a lot of cannabinoids that many people will tell you definitely helps their MS, I was trying to treat very specific symptoms, primarily nausea which generally responds well to THC.
How did it do?
OK, I once again have to preface this by saying that just because it did this for me does not mean it will do the same for you. It's just like how some people find Tylenol with codeine to be extremely helpful, while others get really sick on it. Everyone is different. That being said, in my case, it was amazing. After days of taking pharmaceutical pills and IV medication to try to help mitigate the nausea my treatment was causing me with no success, I took a tiny drop of cannabis oil and about an hour later the nausea was gone. It didn't take the edge off, it didn't make it easier to deal with, it completely eliminated it, and I was even eating just the same as I had been before starting this medication.
Because I was using an oil which has to be digested (unlike smoking or vaping), the effects lasted much, much longer. People often describe edibles as causing a "body high" and can be (if dosed wrong) incredibly intense. I'm not a doctor, but I'll just say, based on my own trial and error and what I later learned online, when first taking this stuff you should only take a drop the size of a grain of rice, which may not seem like much but trust me, it is pretty potent stuff. Now here is the thing, when you smoke marijuana, the effects are pretty instant but when you use any kind of edible (which has to traverse your digestive system), it usually takes about an hour or two to kick in, so don't keep taking more every 20 minutes because "you still don't feel it kicking in," because if you do, it will all come in and hit you out of nowhere and probably cause you to have a terrible freak-out. I had no idea how the dosing thing worked at first, so let's just say that advice is based on personal experience. If you do end up taking too much my best advice is that you go lie down and just enjoy your nap while it wears off.
What else can this stuff do?
After realizing just how well it worked for my nausea and my steroid-induced insomnia (they pumped me full of Solu-Medrol before each infusion), my interest had definitely been piqued. For years, I had been taking a handful of pills several times a day that didn't always even work that well and often induced side effects that required even more pills to counteract. So I wondered, could I use cannabis oil (and other cannabis products) to reduce the number of prescriptions I was taking each day? I started reading testimonials online and joining conversations about it in Facebook groups for people who used medical marijuana to help treat their MS and for those who were simply curious about trying it.
Experimenting with different forms, doses, and strains
As I learned more, I started experimenting with different forms, doses, and strains (there are many different strains of the cannabis plant which all contain different amounts of different cannabinoids, which means each strain produces different effects) to see what (if any) medicinal value they had. Unfortunately for me, many of these different products did not affect me the way other people said it affected them. I did not find it to be a "cure-all" like many claimed it to be, but instead a really good replacement for many of the prescription medications I was on.
I have always had really bad insomnia, especially when I have to keep getting up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. But with a little cannabis oil? It didn't matter if I drank a full glass of water before bed! I would sleep the whole night through and still not even feel like I really had to "go" when I woke up in the morning. I am sure many of you reading this who also suffer from insomnia and a constant urge to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom can imagine how much of a positive impact this alone could make on your quality of life.
I don't feel depressed
Being able to get a full night's sleep completely uninterrupted is amazing enough, but among a few other things it has helped me with, it quickly became obvious that it was also greatly helping me with my depression. I have had terrible depression since my late teens and have always been on some pill for it. I wasn't ever really depressed about anything in particular, I would just wake up with a heavy feeling/pressure beneath my sternum that would sometimes lead to emotional breakdowns. Because I had lived with this feeling for so long, I had become really good at hiding it behind a smile, but on the inside, the torment was still there even when on medication. At times I may have been joking and laughing with you but in actuality, I was probably pretty miserable.
It became easier for me to function
After taking a small drop of oil each night for a while, I noticed that feeling was gone, and not just when the oil was actively doing its thing. I would wake up feeling fine, and my levels of stress were greatly reduced, so it became a lot easier for me to function and actually get stuff done. I wasn't starting my day completely miserable for no reason, and was even starting to develop a positive outlook on life. I don't know the science behind it, but the fact of the matter was it seemed to have a lasting effect, and because my depression had always been so debilitating, I was more than grateful for having the opportunity to try it. Now, this isn't something I would recommend doing without the supervision of your doctor, but I, for the first time in years, stopped taking my anti-depressants.
I'm not 100% sure how this works, but I know it's really hard for researchers to do actual clinical trials on Marijuana/Cannabis, because while it may be legal in certain states, it is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. I know there are groups who have somehow got permission to research certain aspects of it, but it's not enough. Medical researchers should have full access to this stuff and be able to conduct double-blind studies like they would with any other experimental drugs that pharmaceutical companies are working on. While it doesn't help me with many of the MS symptoms like spasticity that many people with MS do find relief from, I can still see the incredible medicinal benefit this substance has, and I feel so terrible that there are people reading this right now who do not have legal access to any of these products. Because of my own experience with medical marijuana and the experiences that other people with MS have told me about, I really do feel this should be researched more and even offered as an alternative to many of the prescription medications we have all grown so familiar with, because in my experience marijuana treats a lot of the symptoms I live with ten times better than some pill.
Do you use medical marijuana or hemp oil to help treat your MS? How do you take it and what symptoms does it help? If you feel comfortable, share your experience in the comments below.
Do you have a fear of needles and take medication that requires injection?