I've suffered from chronic pelvic pain for six years. Over the years, I've made some small victories, had periods where it's been more "under control" than others, but even when my pain is under control, it's still an expensive, daily battle I fight.
Recently, after an operation to have a polyp removed, I found myself in an especially bad place, pain wise. After weeks of intense pain 24/7, restless nights and no solutions on the horizon, I spoke to my friend Lara Parker, who has similar pain problems.
"My osteopath wants me to go back to my pain specialist, but if I do that, it'll be another $200 appointment and he'll just want to put me on opioids because I've already tried amitriptyline, Lyrica, and everything else they've thrown my way," I lamented.
Lara - who lives in Los Angeles - suggested I try smoking weed. Despite my being an ex-smoker who likes a good gin (or five), I'd never smoked weed before, and I'd never really had any great desire to. But between the options of opioids - which are highly addictive and difficult to come off of - or marijuana, I began to consider it.
Here's Lara talking about pain and medical marijuana:
Anyway, I needed more information.
"I tried it as an option because it's truly viewed as a medicine in California and is commonly used as pain relief," she said, adding that she'd never smoked before using it for pain in 2015, either. "I read about it helping people with headaches and figured it was worth a shot because to be honest I was desperate."
I asked her what benefits she gets from it, to which she replied: "It almost immediately eases my pain in some way, sometimes erasing it completely," adding that it also helps her sleeps and helps her appetite when her stomach is hurting and she can't get food down.
"But what about side effects?" I asked. "Are there any downsides?"
"The downsides are that it makes me a bit immobile, in that if I smoke on a bad pain day I can't drive and I often fall asleep," she replied, adding that sometimes she's forced to stay home from work. "But I generally only smoke on bad pain days, so the chances are I wouldn't have been making it to work anyway," she added.
"It definitely always makes me feel drowsy which is okay on a weekend or at night but otherwise I feel drowsy and don't feel like doing much," she continued, calling it "a stereotype of people who smoke weed".
"It affects everyone differently but for some reason it ALWAYS makes me sleepy, probably because it's the only time I feel little to no pain and my body stops fighting and just goes to sleep," she said.
Lara told me that she only smoked, "because it's almost instant pain relief". She said that although she'd tried an edible "once", they can be "unpredictable".
"Also, I don't like the taste," she laughed.
Depending on her pain, Lara smokes around "5-7 times a month," mostly when she has her period and her pain is at its worst.
"Otherwise, if I'm feeling restless or having my leg pain I will smoke before bed so that I can fall asleep and stay asleep," she added.
"So what advice would you have for someone who's looking to maybe try marijuana for chronic pain?" I asked.
"Try it in a controlled and comfortable setting with people you trust," she replied. "It's definitely not for everyone but it can absolutely help ease pain and I think it's worth a shot for anyone who is suffering. It helped me, and I would recommend it to anyone if it would help them feel less pain."
After discussing this with at least ten other friends - all of whom offered various forms of encouragement - I gave it a shot, and wow.
That's not a good "wow", FYI. That's a "WOW WAS THAT NOT FOR ME".
Look, maybe I smoked a bit too much (half a joint). Maybe the weed was too strong and a different strain would've been better. Maybe if I'd tried cannabis oil instead. But as it is, this was not an experience I ever wish to relive.
I was categorically f--ked UP for no less than 20 hours. Did it help me sleep? No. I finally got roughly 90 minutes of restless sleep around 6:30am. Did it make me hungry? No. I had two bites of a magnum over what I'm told was around 20 minutes (although it felt like LITERALLY 400 YEARS). And most importantly, did it help my pain? No, it didn't. What it did do was make me incredibly ~aware~ of my pain and the fact that my body is never completely at peace. It made me aware of how often my muscles spasm in angry retaliation to the nerve pain. It gave me a deeper understanding of how my pelvic pain travels down my leg and past my knee, because I could feel the course it takes to get there.
Oh, and it also made me realise that Scary Movie 2 is actually just a bunch of skits strung together.
Overall, I don't regret trying it, because when you're six years into dealing with chronic pain you will honestly try ANYTHING to make it stop. Maybe if it was legal here I would try it again, because that would mean that I'd be able to buy specific strains meant for pain management (and like, way, way less of it). But for now, it's not for me. As for whether I'd recommend it to others, look. Like Lara said, it affects everyone differently, and if there's a possibility of it helping, then give it a shot.
Further exploring issues related to health, industry, and governance of marijuana is Weediquette on SBS VICELAND, airing every Wednesday night at 8:30pm.