How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.
While some daughters may have memories of accompanying their mothers to their work, my childhood memories are full of mornings assisting my mother at the methadone clinic.
Her brother — my uncle and godfather — helped raise me. He died of a drug overdose in our apartment when I was 15. Though my mother eventually kicked her heroin habit for many years with the help of methadone, she still used cocaine and occasionally crack.
When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and prescribed Dilaudid, an opioid, for her pain, she not only relapsed into opioid addiction, but took my brother with her — offering him her pills until he became hooked, too.
Needless to say, it seems possible that a predisposition toward developing an addiction is in my blood. I didn’t want to risk going down the same path as so many of my family members.
So, for much of my life, I didn’t drink much and steered clear of most drugs, prescription or otherwise.
And yet my outlook eventually evolved.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare connective tissue disorder. The diagnosis explained the premature degenerative damage in my body as well as the severe chronic pain I had started to experience on a daily basis the year before. Up until then, I’d been no stranger to pain, though it was more sporadic and less severe.
I tried many different diets and supplements as well as all sorts of stretches and exercises to help alleviate the pain. I went through several rounds of physical therapy, too, even one with a specialized program for people with chronic pain.
None of these things helped much, if at all. Some even made the pain worse.
I called my boyfriend at work and all hours of the night, sobbing that I felt like I was dying and I couldn’t see living in this kind of pain for the rest of my life.
My mobility became so limited at one point, I got a walker and looked into getting a wheelchair.
I became desperate to relieve my pain, which was making it impossible to do much of anything, whether that be walking or working or sleeping or sex.
So earlier this spring, I began taking a small fruit gummy chew containing 2 milligrams of medical marijuana between four and five evenings a week, shortly before bed. I live in Massachusetts, where medical and recreational marijuana is legal.*
The most immediate effect I’ve noticed since taking medical marijuana is that I sleep much better. Yet, it’s a different kind of sleep than I’ve experienced compared to taking something like a muscle relaxant, which tends to knock me out cold and leaves me still feeling groggy and exhausted the next day — even if I sleep for a solid 10 hours.
My sleeping patterns under the influence of medical marijuana seem more natural. When I wake up the next day, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated, rather than lethargic.
I also slowly noticed that the intensity of my pain was gradually going down, until it was finally at a level where I could actually manage it most days.
I realized I was able to sit for longer periods, therefore able get more work done. I could go for longer walks and didn’t need to be in bed for the next several days to make up for it.
I stopped researching wheelchairs online and devoted more of my time to doing all the things I wasn’t able to do before — such as writing and enjoying the outdoors.
While I used to take muscle relaxants and ibuprofen several times a week to manage my muscle spasms and achy joints, I now only take them a few times a month.
Just a few weeks ago, my boyfriend commented that it had been months since I had called him crying about my pain.
Does this make medical marijuana a miracle cure? It definitely doesn’t, at least for me.
I’m still in pain every day.
And it’s still crucial I don’t push myself too hard, or I can experience relapses. I’ve had a relapse since taking medical marijuana, though it was less severe and long-lasting than previous relapses.
I still have limits for how long I can stand or sit and how much I can work in a given week before my physical bandwidth is used up. I still need special pillows to sleep well.
But compared to where I was not even a year ago, the contrast is stark.
My pain is perhaps only half of what it was back then. And since I’m still pretty limited by pain, it’s a testament to how serious my situation had been getting.
I do notice that if I take medical marijuana too many evenings in a row, I can start to feel tired during the day as well, which is why I tend to skip a few doses a week. But it still pales in comparison to the exhaustion I experienced on other prescription medications or from lack of sleep due to pain. Other than that, I’ve experienced no negative side effects so far.
While it may not work or be an option for everyone, medical marijuana has given some of my quality of life back.
For someone like myself for whom opioids aren’t an option — that is, for those of us who have a personal or family history of addiction or experience adverse reactions to opioids — medical marijuana can potentially be a vital tool in pain management.
And as anyone who’s lived with chronic, severe pain knows, anything that can help significantly relieve pain and actually enable one to live their life to a fuller extent is usually worth exploring.
All people deserve that opportunity. I hope eventually people who need it are able to access it, regardless of their home state or income.
*Even if marijuana is legal in your state, it continues to be illegal under federal law.
Laura Kiesel is a Boston-based freelance writer. Her articles, essays, and opinion pieces have appeared in many media outlets, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, Politico, Salon, Vice, Self, and Headspace. She currently blogs about chronic illness for Health Union and the Harvard Health blog. Follow her on Twitter.