On Medical Marijuana
I survived Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
I also survived long-term opiates, almost seven years of daily use. What a price I paid for that.
Opiates took a piece of my soul.
Coming off of them seems to have registered in my brain as if I am the lone survivor of a horrific train crash, even though all I did was stop taking them by my choice, because my health was so much better and I just wasn’t in that much pain anymore. I am not sure if I will ever be able to think of that time — the acute withdrawal and years after — without becoming depressed.
By all medical evaluations, I was not an addict. Doctors congratulated me because I was never drug-seeking, never took my pain medication for emotional relief and reduced my dose over time, as my health improved. But opiates have such a profoundly negative effect on the body, I am not sure how much the psychological component of a compulsive need to use matters.
I thought having Ehlers-Danlos was the absolute worst, but getting off and over long-term opiates was just as bad, in its own special way. And no one warned me. I feel sorry for heroin, oxy, etc. addicts. My recovery from long-term opiates was not complicated by the fundamentalist religion of 12-stepping or the lucrative industry of bullshit that is drug rehab. I just went off slowly and stayed off, no matter how bad I felt. To me, opiates represented only pain and disability, a life I never wanted, so there was no thought of going back, not ever. I had hated going to the hard drug pharmacy. I \swore to myself that a day would come when I would get better and get off these drugs. I am a dreamer. Until then, opiates were just another horrible medical decision I had to make. I was not given any better options for pain management. With the intolerable level of spine pain I had, I am not sure any exist.
I went off opiates just as the war against patients in pain was amping up, an intended consequence of the crackdown on the U.S. Opioid Epidemic that ignores that people like me exist: those who are stable on opiates and have a legitimate need for drugs that strong.
Way back then, doctors were so naive about long-term opiate use, that my withdrawal was a novelty to them. I was going through something they had not personally seen but maybe heard something about. Good medical advice and appropriate help for withdrawal and recovery was not available, I discovered, even from the addiction psychiatrist I saw.
I got off my daily use of Vicodin, morphine and Soma (a muscle relaxant used to increase the impact of the opiates) by force of will. Then I had a new untreatable medical problem: the black hole opiates left in my brain. But I had an advantage over addicts, my ability to accept what is completely unfair and also endure endless torture, thanks to being born with Ehlers-Danlos. Plus my elite skills as a patient. I just kept on ignoring how rotten I felt. Doctors told me my brain would heal, but years went by and it did not. Finally I did find medical advice and finally I did recover, which I will talk more about later.
While in the throes of cutting back my Vicodin dose, waking up in the morning with tears streaming down my face, so sick with stomach distress I went to the G.I. doctor to find out if I was dying, unable to think straight, and screaming at everyone, I went to the just legalized medical marijuana clinic because I had heard of people transitioning to pot to get off opiates.
Even though I hadn’t been able to find a heroin addict who switched to pot then got off the pot (see my elite patient skills at work here), I was so crushed by opiate withdrawal, I went to the medical marijuana clinic anyway. There I saw people high to the point of incapacity. I’m referring to the employees, who forgot to charge me and couldn’t remember what I said two seconds before, over and over. It was funny when Cheech & Chong acted like that, not in association with the word medical.
The patrons scurrying in, deeply stressed, hyper-focused seemed as frantically desperate for marijuana as my body was for opium. I left the medical marijuana clinic horrified, but willing to resume battle with opiates, the devil I knew. Disabused of any notion there was another way out except to keep cutting back on my dose of opiates and get dopesicker, I resumed my titrate that day. As a professional patient, my number one rule is to not make more problems for myself. I refused Suboxone for the same reason, too many people can’t get off it.
There was another reason I did not want cannabis: my mother was psychotic, so I avoid all drugs that can cause psychosis. I have enough problems already.
It’s been known for a long time that there is a correlation between cannabis use and increased psychosis, but I never found data on whether the cannabis caused psychosis or if people prone to psychosis just found marijuana more interesting.
Recently I got an answer to that question, on this podcast on Marijuana and Mental Health.
I am sharing this with you because you deserve some actual research about marijuana, not ridiculous billboards or Facebook promo from The Mighty.
Research on Cannabis
Never one to shy away from being unpopular, I will sum up the research for you. But do give that podcast a listen. It is so informative. Spoiler alert: the facts about marijuana are not good.
Cannabis is highly addictive.
It causes anxiety and depression.
It changes the brain by altering gene expression, so the pleasure felt when first using becomes unattainable over the long-term.
Canniabis lowers intelligence and messes up short-term memory.
It affects men’s sexual health.
It causes impulsivity (think Elon Musk).
It increases hostility.
It diminishes motivation, even increasing unemployment.
It interferes with visual-spatial thinking.
It reduces emotional intelligence, that very important skill of managing your own feelings, recognizing the feelings of others and applying all that information to solving your life’s problems. The result is impaired social functioning which heavy users manage by isolating themselves.
Cannabis causes psychotic disorders.
It is especially damaging to the adolescent brain, making teens more likely to be come depressed, suicidal and seek opiates later in life (maybe this is factor in the opiate epidemic?).
It does not help pain.
My Opiate Experience
I do not have a history of marijuana use, and perhaps that is a key factor in why I never found opiates to be particularly awesome and was able to get off of them.
Pot was extremely popular in the town I grew up in. I hated it. Stoned kids reminded me of the vacant look in my psychotic mother’s eyes, her disconnection from reality, her distraction by her auditory hallucinations, her paranoia and rage. I had enough of that at home and couldn’t be around it.
Alcohol and opiates are similar drugs to marijuana, but unlike cannabis addicts, alcoholics and opiate addicts usually are aware that they cannot stop using. They have tried privately many times. They are humiliated by their failures to quit.
Cannabis users universally promote the message that we all need cannabis, that it is the drug that solves everything. Their lack of awareness of their own enslavement is fascinating. Maybe that is because THC takes so freaking long to leave your brain. Opiate withdrawal comes fast and hits hard. So does withdrawal from alcohol. But perhaps it has more to do with the particular way THC changes the brain and diminishes self-awareness.
Without being ironic, we could call my experience of using opiates long-term to treat my chronic, intractable, unlivable EDS pain a “success.” On them, I had some relief from my inescapable agony. I could sleep. I became able to focus all my efforts on getting well, and I did. I could not do that when all I could do was survive a day of pain. Opiates did not change my sparkling personality or drive, but they definitely made me stupid, in addition to stupidity caused by Ehlers-Danlos. And opiates made me very sick, in addition to EDS. Opiates derange the endocrine system, which does not necessarily recover after you’re off, a little known fact.
We should definitely call my experience of using opiates long-term to treat my chronic pain “thoroughly inhumane.” The pain of withdrawal from opiates is like no other. Opiates are fake happy, bathing your brain in chemicals that make absolutely everything seem okay. After the fake happy comes the fake sad, where everything looks hopelessly wrong and life is full of emotional pain, no matter how hard you try to rise above it. When you come off long-term opiates, get ready. The horrors of your life are coming for you, even if they weren’t that bad. I had years of night terrors and other PTSD phenomenon, a common but top-secret consequence of opiate use. I fully appreciate why people leave rehab for opiates, overdose and die. Cessation of opiates hurts too much to endure.
I wonder about the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, his years on heroin and then on methadone, a form of opiates worse than anything I was ever on. Was it the black hole opiates left his brain that he could not live with any longer, in spite of his incredible life?
Posts coming about what treatment worked for my brain and body to heal after all those years of opiates.