I have to admit it. I still feel the stigma. I rack my brain to figure out why this thing tugs at me. Where does that stigma come from and is it doing more harm by preventing me, all of us, from looking at the topic of marijuana objectively?
Today I am coming clean and telling you something I don’t typically share and honestly have kept private until recently.
I smoked pot when I had breast cancer in 1998.
Maybe this doesn’t sound like earth shattering news. To me it felt like a dirty little secret. I was a wife, mother of two toddlers, Human Resources professional in a financial services firm and didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a pot smoker.
It was illegal. There was a stigma around marijuana use. And guess what? When I smoked it, I felt great. The nausea disappeared, my appetite came back and I slept like a baby.
My two biggest regrets are that I didn’t use it more consistently during my illness and that I didn’t use it the first time I had cancer eight years prior. It worked that well.
Chemotherapy and radiation can be very difficult. Back in 1989 when diagnosed with my first cancer there were rumblings that marijuana could help with nausea but no real discussion. At the time there was a new pill called Marinol, a “pot pill” and because of what I had heard about cannabis and nausea I asked if I could try it. I was discouraged from using it because the nurses said other drugs were more effective. So, I used the typically prescribed anti nausea drug but I still felt continually queasy and hated the overall feeling of it. I was lethargic, restless and anxious all at the same time. Basically, I wanted to jump out of my skin.
Eight years later, I was diagnosed with a second cancer. This time there was a newer, very expensive anti nausea drug for me to try. It felt slightly more effective with the nausea but I still had that feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin.
Despite the stigma around cannabis and feeling guilty about potentially using it, I decided to accept a joint from a friend, and give it a try.
I only smoked a few times because I was worried about the inhalation of the smoke given my health history. At that time there were not vaporizers or other forms (edibles, oils, etc) of cannabis available. Suprisingly, it was far more effective, with less side effects than the medication I had been prescribed. The nausea, anxiety and restless feeling went away and I felt good. It stimulated my appetite. I was hungry and sat down and ate a full dinner. Progress.
Today, 23 states (including Massachusetts where I live) have legalized medicinal marijuana and because of my personal experience, I support the initiative.
My point of view is patients should have choice and access to treatments that are best for them.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Why then do I still feel the stigma of using it?
The truth is this is a very complicated and misunderstood subject.
Images of “tie dye” and “clouds of smoke” fill our heads. I mention it to a friend, a few family members and they roll their eyes and say it is just an excuse for people to use drugs. I hear stories of doctors who won’t prescribe it to patients, under any circumstances, even though it is considered legal in the state.
So, what is the deal?
The law passed in Massachusetts over 3 years ago, yet there are less than a handful of dispensaries that are open. It has been slow going. The slower the process, the less available cannabis is to patients and the less education people receive about it.
Typically a drug goes through an approval process, patient trials and then we are given the scientific evidence that not only makes the case for the drug but also the dosages, chemical formulation and applications. In the case of cannabis, this has not and will not happen any time soon.
What makes this situation unique is that patients rather than science are driving the cause. Patients have seen benefit in many areas including cancer, chronic pain, MS, epilepsy, and post traumatic stress disorder to name a few.
So why don’t we have the scientific proof? We all seem to be asking for it.
It is because the government has prevented research on the benefits of marijuana.
Marijuana is still one of the tightest-controlled substances under federal law. The U.S. government considers it a Schedule I drug, meaning the Drug Enforcement Administration considers it to have no medical value. It’s right up there with heroin and LSD. To do research on marijuana, scientists need approval from several federal departments. And that approval is rare. Researchers are submitting proposals and are regularly turned away.
In order to do the much-desired research, marijuana’s classification must change. Until that time, we will not have the facts we need to form our best opinion and treat people most effectively.
So what we have is a case of the patients and the public voting for states to legalize the medical use of marijuana all based on testimonials of those using it.
Testimonials are not research and we don’t have the data we are craving. Without the data many physicians are reluctant to support.
Until they change the classification, the research we need cannot be done and cannabis will not be looked at in the same way as a drug that has been approved by the FDA.
My state says I can use medical marijuana but federal law says I can’t.
Patients will self medicate with marijuana with little guidance. There is no consistent formula for strains and dosages most effective for patients.
No wonder we are all confused.
Bottom line. Patients should have choice and access to treatments that may benefit them. Cannabis is a viable alternative to managing the negative side effects of various conditions. Opiates are prescribed too frequently and are not without side effects, potential for addiction and may not be the most effective way to treat symptoms.
We need the government to reclassify marijuana so we can do the research and provide data to support its’ benefits.
I know only what I know. And that is that marijuana helped me tremendously get through my rigorous treatment. The more I open up and share my experience, the more I learn of people I know, who I would least expect, who also were in the shadows using marijuana secretly the same as me.
Check out this video series with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. There are two videos that proceed – Weed 1 and Weed 2. Here is the latest. I found the series to be fascinating.