Why do I have to choose between opioids and medical cannabis for chronic pain?

Ann Crane (not her real name) is an Iowa woman who has suffered from chronic pain for nearly 18 years. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Around the country, there has been much discussion around the use of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to treat medical conditions. Most states allow the use of medical cannabis, and a few have legalized recreational use of cannabis as well. Under a 2017 Iowa law, cannabidiol with no more than 3 percent THC can be used to treat a small number of “debilitating medical conditions” (recently expanded by one).

I am one of thousands who suffer from “intractable or chronic pain,” one of the qualifying medical conditions in Iowa.

A little history about my pain. I am 40 years old, and my back pain began in my early 20s. My first back surgery was in 2003, followed by another surgery less than a month later. I have now had nine surgeries on my back, including three fusions, with the possibility of numbers ten and eleven in my future.

I have had countless other surgeries for other ailments. A partial hysterectomy alleviated most of my pain due to endometriosis. But in 2016, my entire body began to hurt. My joints felt like they were being ripped from their sockets with any movement.

Having seen several physicians since this began, I’ve been told: maybe it’s fibromyalgia; you have arthritis beginning in your joints; maybe sleep apnea is the problem; you take pain medication, so maybe you need rehab.

That last comment angered me so much that I came home and stopped my pain medication cold turkey. Guess what: I had no withdrawal symptoms! I am not an addict. I take my medication as prescribed, some days not even taking all that I am allowed. However, I did have pain, excruciating pain, which did not allow me to function as well as I could if I was taking the pain medication. So I resumed my meds to get me down to a tolerable level of pain.

How many people say that daily, a tolerable level of pain? Not many, I’m guessing. I wanted a tolerable pain level to be able to function. I cancel plans often. I don’t leave my house much, and my family and friends don’t get the best wife, mom, daughter or friend they could have. Don’t they deserve that? Pain rules many of my days, and those in constant pain know that sometimes emotions run unchecked and are followed by sadness, regret, or depression. “How could I treat those I love that way?” runs through your mind.

Now you know why I take pain medication. This causes a vicious cycle, because even after fifteen years of using pain meds on and off, daily for the last six years, the drugs still makes me nauseated. So I take an anti-nausea medication, which has a side effect of constipation (pain medication can have the same side effect). So I take a stool softener. Then I may eat something that doesn’t settle well with my stomach (another symptom of fibromyalgia), so I end up with diarrhea. I avoid anti-diarrheal medications for fear that I will then need more stool softeners or even a laxative.

Maybe I’ve shared more than you wanted to know regarding bowel movements, but this cycle continues day in and day out for many chronic pain patients. People need to hear the ugly that is part of everyday life for so many.

Why am I sharing all of this information with you? Since cannabidiol dispensaries will open in Iowa in December of this year, I recently decided to raise the topic of CBD oil with my physician. I did so with great anxiety, because not all physicians are open to the use of CBD and THC. In fact, I went to a specialist in a state that has legalized medical marijuana. That office had very large signs on the back of the doors in each room stating that they do not give medical marijuana recommendations.

Now back to my primary physician, who takes care of all of my medications, including pain medication. He is always, always speaking to me about being healthy, watching what foods I put into my system, which foods make inflammation worse, which foods help inflammation, working on getting more exercise, continuing to move, even on the bad days, because it will help. So, I thought, maybe, just maybe, he will be open to something more natural to help reduce the amount of pain medication I take daily.

I could not have been more wrong. My doctor sees no scientific proof that CBD or THC is helpful. He believes anyone who uses marijuana is burnt out, lazy and a non-productive member of society. He is certain that no successful person would use CBD or THC.

Now in Iowa you do not need a physician’s recommendation to use CBD oil with less than 3 percent THC. However, to apply for the state’s medical cannabis program, you need your physician to sign a form from the Iowa Department of Public Health, confirming you have a qualifying condition. I don’t know how my doctor would feel about signing this form. [Editor’s note: many doctors around Iowa refuse to sign paperwork confirming their patients’ diagnosis.] I do know though, that I have to take random drug screens.

What do I do? Take the chance that CBD oil would reduce my pain? That is a scary decision to make. Do I risk losing my pain medications, which definitely help? How does a person make this decision without fear and trepidation? Please understand, I don’t want to be high. I have a toddler to care for. Anyway, if that was the case, I could turn to street dealers for drugs.

I want help. I want a cream I could rub on my joints to help alleviate the excruciating pain on the really bad days. I want relief. I want options. I want an end to the days when I think I would be OK with dying to make the pain stop.

Ann Crane is a pseudonym for an Iowa woman who has suffered from chronic pain for nearly 18 years. She has dealt with side effects from prescription pain medication and sometimes been treated as a drug seeker, and she faces the struggle of seeking alternative treatments.

  • Meanwhile...

    …Iowans who do not need pot for medical reasons are traveling to Colorado to buy it for fun, and Colorado is making money from pot-buyers hand over fist. Taxes and fees on pot sales provided Colorado with $247 million in public revenues in 2017 alone. That money is being used for education, health care, mental health programs, affordable housing, public safety, school construction, and other things that a lot of people want, including a lot of people in Iowa.

    Soon Michigan, which just legalized pot, will be another option for Iowans who want to buy it. What’s wrong with this picture? Or more accurately, what’s stupid about it?

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