How Medical Marijuana Changed My Life

Coping with fibromyalgia’s cycle of chronic pain, anxiety, and depression left me hopeless. When it seemed like all else had failed, I decided to try pot—and it was amazing.

It was roughly the summer of 2013 that I was walking past my mother’s bedroom door and heard, “Karisa, come listen to this.” I went to sit on her bed and immediately fell into the story playing on the news. It was about a little girl who was riddled with seizures. Desperate, the parents bought some marijuana and the effect the drug had on the little girl became international news. Marijuana subsided her seizures to a point where she could live her life (in 2018, FDA officially indicated cannabidiol to treat certain types of epilepsy).  Turning from the TV, my mom, a person who wouldn’t know a bong from a bowl, looked at me and said, “Karisa, you should try marijuana for your fibromyalgia.”

Shortly after complications with the birth of my son in 2009, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a catch-all for a long list of symptoms including brain fog, fatigue, and all-over pain.  At the time of diagnosis, my family and I were living in Malaysia as part of an overseas teaching program. Back home in the US, my mom continued to send me ideas for finding relief as she heard the struggles I was living with via Skype.

It has been a messy, ugly seven years filled with too much pain to bare, as well as anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm (see my first story in this series). Doctor after doctor wanted to add another pill that would cause another host of mess. All the while, I was trying to fill my role as a “normal” wife, mom, and teacher. I felt like I was in constant survivor mode—not a healthy place to be.

 

My Quest to Try Medical Marijuana, After All Other Treatments Failed

Since April 2018, my life literally turned upside down—for the better.  Medical marijuana was finally legalized in the state of Maryland, where I now reside, and I found a doctor who practices integrated medicine. He took the time to listen to me and worked with me to help find answers. He supported the use of medical marijuana, also known as medicinal cannabis.  Both of us had read studies that demonstrated positive effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis) use in patients with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and more. (Read more about the basics of navigating cannabis.)

My doctor gave me the information I needed to apply for a Medical Marijuana Card, which acts like a prescription to obtain the substance at licensed dispensaries. I was surprised at how easy it was to apply: a few short questions, a photo of myself against a white background, and that was it. I waited about three weeks for the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission to approve my application, at which time I was given a number to return to my doctor with. At my next doctor's appointment, he submitted his written certification and 48 hours later, I had a temporary card. Maryland now requires an official card, which I purchased for $50 and which will last three years.

Now that I had “permission” to use medical marijuana, I was surprised at how nervous I became. Would it really help? Would I get “hooked on drugs” (I was a proud graduate of the D.A.R.E program)? What was my next step?

The author keeps a journal on the effects of each strain she tries and shares the information with her doctor and budtender.

My First Visit to a Medical Marijuana Dispensary

After finally mustering up my courage, I drove to the dispensary. I envisioned it being surrounded by armed guards and located in a shady part of the city. But when I arrived, the shop appeared more like a teashop than a “pot store.” Surrounded by hipster restaurants, I pushed a button and was buzzed into a small sterile room with a tall desk and some chairs for visitors. In the corner sat an ATM; I quickly learned that dispensaries only deal in cash. I was welcomed immediately, showed my card, and filled out some forms much like one does when visiting a new doctor.

Minutes later, a clean-cut young man probably in his early 30s welcomed me behind “the door.”  I expected to be led to a glass window behind which a person dressed in white surgical attire would be sitting between two tightly packed and organized rows of medical marijuana. Instead, I found myself inside a spa-esque room with clean wood floors and tons of natural light. A tall counter of glass-topped cases displayed all the different cannabis products they offered. I laughed a bit when the cases pulled out like jewelry store drawers. Within the displays were “loose buds” which I was allowed to smell; edibles (many in the form of gummies); tinctures; pre-filled vape pens, and more traditional-looking pre-rolled joints.  

The young man, officially called a “budtender,” stayed with me the whole time. We talked for about 10 to 15 minutes about what I was looking for, what I was struggling with, and how I had never smoked marijuana before. He suggested a few starter products, explaining what each would do and how it worked. I turned down the idea of “flower” cannabis which you have to smoke, and which I wasn’t ready for.  He sold me instead on Elixir Lemonade & Tea Half & Half, which is a drinkable cannabis product meant to help with sleep. It was a great experience. I also purchased a “Lucid Mood” vape pen for pain relief, and Mary’s Medicinals 1:1 compound, a topical for acute pain. I spent between $150 and $200 on this first visit, which seems to be about the amount I spend each time I go (every other month).

 

My Experience Trying Different Strains and Medical Marijuana Products

With the Half & Half tea alone, I started sleeping for the first time in over a decade! Real restorative sleep! I take one-half tablespoon before bed and there is no drowsy, pulling feeling as I drift off and no grogginess in the morning. I can even get up at night to respond to restless or scared little ones and return back to sleep. This experience on its own has been life-changing. Even more amazing, is that once I got back into a natural sleep pattern, for the first time in nearly a decade, I found that I no longer needed to take the tea every night to reach restorative sleep. I use it from time to time, but for me, it is not an everyday need.

Lucid Mood “pain” was the first pre-filled pen I tried out. Vape pens are often filled with an oil derived from the cannabis plant. I found that I could use the pre-filled vape pen and stop a cycle of anxiety in its tracks, which further helped to relieve the pain increase that often came with an anxiety attack, which obliterated dropping into a depressive state. I could breathe. I felt like I could see a little more clearly and laugh so much easier. Oh my goodness, it was so unsettling to see how much energy I had previously put into looking and seeming well. It felt so good to laugh. I carry this pen with me and use it when I feel a cycle of anxiety coming on. I prefer about three to four inhales and, on average, use it three times a week.

I also use Mary’s Medicinals “The Remedy” concentrated CBD oil, which is a tincture (ie, a concentrated oil derivative from the cannabis plant).  I have worked up to placing five drops under my tongue each morning when I wake up.  CBD oil does not contain THC (the part of cannabis that provides the “high) and helps me anxiety, pain, and inflammation. I’ve experimented with gummies (also called “edibles”), which can be great but they often take 30 minutes to an hour to take effect, which is not a dependable way to relieve pain and anxiety.

In talking with my budtender over the next few visits, I learned that smoking often offers the most immediate effects and can be the easiest to control in terms of how much is ingested and knowing how long the effects may last. He recommended a few “buds,” which are the flower of the marijuana plant, and explained why he thought they would be helpful. He asked me to smell them with the philosophy that, if it smelled good, it probably would be a good fit (ie, the nose knows). So, I bought my first bud, called “Jilly Bean.” My budtender sent me to a separate shop to buy my first bowl, supplying me with a discount coupon.  

Buying a pot bowl was just weird. I went from the dispensary, which offered a very mature and educational experience, to a straight-up head shop with a clerk who had no advice for me other than “what one do you like,” as in which bowl looked pretty. I bought a small one, pretty enough, and headed home. It was a nasty experience. I felt like I was licking an ashtray. While the effect was nice and calming, I knew immediately that I was not a bowl-smoking type of girl. This led me to look for a vaporizer, a small convection heater that warms the ground flower buds enough to release the vapor from the plant without it catching on fire. I settled on FORCE by Healthy Rips, which came with a grinder to grind up the bud, and was about $150 online. What a difference the vaporizer made! Now, my experience with smoking marijuana is smooth and tastes fairly similar to the smell of the bud.  

Whether you go with a bowl or a vaporizer, and I highly recommend the latter, be prepared to cough a bit.  Have a drink close by to help. The bud comes dried as a whole flower so you will need to break it apart with your fingers or use a grinder to put it into your smoking device. You will not want to grind up all your flower at once, but instead, find a safe place to put your extra grinds until you need them again.  I have created a little “pot caddy” for myself (see pic below).  In it, I have tiny glass jam jars that I label with the type of grinds inside them. I keep the flower from the dispensary in its original container. And I keep a little notebook with the types of medical marijuana I have used and their different effects. One great app to have on your phone is called LEAFLY, which offers a wide array of information about various strains and places to purchase them. In addition, the app provides a little “biography” of the specific plants available, including taste, reviews, and potential effects.  

The author's "pot caddy" keeps items organized and secure.

I will warn those considering trying medical marijuana for chronic pain and related symptoms that I did have one bad experience during my early trials with the substance. It was with a vape pen and a product called “Big Lemons.” I had tried a few hits of the pen and noticed that my heartbeat increased and I felt a bit off, but I put these feelings aside. Twenty minutes later, I started to shake and felt nauseous. Then, things escalated quickly. The front of my brain felt too “alive,” with my thoughts racing, imagination flying.  I felt as though I couldn’t stand and eventually threw up.  I tried hard to focus on calming down, aware that I was experiencing a poor effect of the marijuana and that it would soon end. It did end, 3 hours later. I called my dispensary representative the next day and she invited me to come and talk. She, and my budtender, took time to listen to my experience and explained that some strains can have negative effects; they recommended using small amounts when trying a new product to see how the body reacts.  It was a very insightful conversation and I’m grateful to have a dispensary that cares so much about its clients. 

See what other types of plants may help with chronic pain.

Medicinal Marijuana Helped Me to Reclaim My Life

Overall, I cannot express how much my life has changed in just a year. I am making it. I’m not falling apart. I feel closer to myself in a decade. With fibromyalgia, I find that the colder the weather gets, the worse my symptoms become. For years, I have dreaded the change of summer into autumn, worried about what would happen, and if I would make it through another winter. Yes, winter is still hard, but when that anxiety and pain sneak in, I now have something that offers a release and a break from the pain, from the cycle.

Medical marijuana isn’t something I find myself using every day, but rather, a dependable “friend” I turn to a few times a week when I know I need to break the cycle. I feel so blessed.  I would recommend trying cannabis to anyone who struggles and feels as though there is no relief, no answers. I believe that medical marijuana could change the lives of so many as we continue to learn more about this multifaceted plant and its countless potential benefits. 

 

Tips for Your First Dispensary Visit*

  1. Find a distribution center that makes you feel comfortable. A good center will have a person to talk to regarding your questions and concerns.
  2. Get over the stigma. You are not automatically going to become an addict just because you want to try a substance with medicinal benefits. Instead, be part of new conversations and growing movement toward the benefits of medical marijuana.  
  3. Start off small, for example, when smoking a new flower. Take a hit from your pen or bowl, and then give it 3 to 5 minutes to take effect before taking another.  If it’s a new gummy, take only half and give yourself 30 minutes to see if there is any effect. Edibles like gummies have the potential to last a long time in your system, and you don’t want to ingest too much.
  4. When possible, be with someone when you first try different strains of marijuana. Each strain has the potential to react differently in your body, and it’s wise to have someone around to support you.
  5. Keep a journal of what you’ve tried, including notes about your experience with each product. These notes can help you learn what works for you and will provide good information to share with your dispensary and your doctor as you determine what works best for your needs.  
  6. Avoid using medical marijuana as a replacement for prescription medication. Over time, you may be able to reduce or discontinue some of your medication (if your doctor agrees), but it is crucial to do this under a doctor's supervision. This has been my experience with fibromyalgia specifically.

 

*These tips are based on the author’s personal experience and do not represent official nor medical advice nor clinical recommendations. Learn which states offer legal medical marijuana and always speak with your doctor and your dispensary personnel before trying any new cannabis product. 

 

 

Updated on: 08/14/19
Continue Reading:
Navigating Cannabis Options for Chronic Pain
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