Marijuana has been in the news a lot lately, and it isn’t because of a PSA on its dangers as a gateway drug. Instead, there’s been formative debates regarding its use, and pundits that are all for its legalization are coming armed with scientific evidence.
For years, the federal government had largely been mum on this front, and marijuana is still defined federally as a Schedule I drug. However, the tide has been turning. Last year, the Farm Bill legalized the use of CBD derived from hemp. This has led to the placement of hemp-based products onto the national marketplace.
It has also opened a much-needed discussion on the merits of marijuana and how it can be used. States have been given leeway in determining how individuals can cultivate, use and distribute marijuana. Some are more lenient than others. For those suffering from chronic pain and illness, there’s never been a better time for a truthful discussion.
Medical marijuana users are becoming more profuse; and as their numbers grow, so does their support for clear and favorable weed legislation. Years ago, stigma would have prevented many from speaking out about their experiences. But nowadays, individuals are coming forward to share their stories with a public that is eager to explore alternative forms of medicine.
As the cost of healthcare has increased, so has the level of information surrounding cannabis. Pop culture is slowly moving to a more accepting landscape and we no longer live in the shadows of a fear-induced ‘Reefer Madness’ discourse.
Five women gave us a glimpse into how their lives have been shaped and affected by medical marijuana. They share with us their first experiences, how they have benefitted from marijuana, and just how easy (or not) it was to get approved for the medical card in their respective state. (Identities and some locations have been redacted for privacy.)
Juliana* – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:
Juliana is a former nurse living in the City of Brotherly Love. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after an attempted robbery and nearly fatal shooting. It has taken a toll on her career, her life and ultimately her marriage.
“I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over me all the time. I had palpitations. Thoughts of suicide. Everything seemed to trigger me. Loud noises. Crowds. Bright lights. It was a bad time in my life. I felt trapped.”
Her ray of hope came when someone suggested she take medical marijuana. She’d tried plenty of antidepressants and other medications, but none of them seemed to work.
“They either left me feeling tired and run down or feeling nothing at all. My doctor was constantly trying new things, trying to find something that “worked.” I went to psychotherapy. I got a cat. I tried to act as if everything was okay. But it wasn’t, and everyone around me suffered for it. I felt guilty. That’s when someone I knew at a support group told me to try and get some marijuana.
I laughed at first. I wasn’t in high school anymore, I told them. That stuff’s for teenagers. It seemed like such a weird suggestion. But as the days wore on, I found myself getting more and more desperate. I started looking into it. Recreational weed wasn’t legal. I didn’t know where to even begin trying to get the stuff. I knew drug addicts that would come into the ER all the time but I didn’t know where to look. Then suddenly they legalized medical marijuana. I found some information online and started looking into getting a card.”
“It wasn’t as easy as wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” she quips. “I had to jump through a bunch of hoops. I had to get registered with the state government, get a note from a doctor–”, at this, she rolls her eyes.
“Finding a doctor that would write the note was a bit hard. I got a lot of pushback from medical professionals. I knew what they thought. They thought I was trying to score free drugs. But then I found someone to write me a note and then I started the process.”
“I had to pay a fee for the card and then wait to be approved. Once I got it, I had to wait for the effective date on the card. I couldn’t just go and pick up some weed. Once this was done, things changed.”
She says that her experience with medical marijuana has changed her life. “The first time I did it, I thought it would make me sick or something. But it didn’t. I felt very relaxed and my mind felt less cluttered. I felt like I could think again.
“After a few weeks, I started noticing I was having fewer panic attacks. I wasn’t thinking as many dark thoughts. I was feeling good enough to leave the house. I felt more upbeat. I could focus.”
“Taking medical marijuana helped to save my sanity and my marriage too. My husband has been super patient, but he and I talked about separation a few times. Now, I feel a lot more capable of dealing with my issues.”
Juliana still attends psychotherapy once a week and a support group. She says she “definitely” supports legalized marijuana use in her state.
Erin* – Location Undisclosed:
“I had twins a few years ago and started experiencing symptoms of fibromyalgia. It was tough dealing with motherhood and all the things that come with this disease. I had brain fog, fatigue, and chronic pain. My husband got a job in another state and we were forced to move.
I didn’t have family or friends living nearby. It was – just a really tough time. I struggled for two years with increasingly horrible symptoms. It got to the point where I got really depressed. Medical marijuana was finally legalized in my state. And that’s when things turned around for the better.”
I found a physician that specialized in integrated medicine. He really listened to my concerns and seemed intent on finding out the best method of handling my pain. When I told him I wanted to use medical marijuana, he was supportive.
I had read so many studies about the effects of marijuana and I felt that any side effects were worth the possibility of living pain-free. He and I both read extensively on the merits of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) 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, or as some would say, medical cannabis. Both of us had read studies that demonstrated the positive effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol. I had also heard that CBD didn’t have what a lot of researchers thought were the psychoactive effects. I’d read online that marijuana was really good at helping people with my condition.
So after discussing all the possible ramifications, my doctor gave me what I needed to apply for a medical card for marijuana. Basically, the card is like a prescription so that I could get what I needed at a local dispensary. It was as hard as I thought it’d be.
I answered a few questions, got my photo taken and that was pretty much it. The total wait time was about three weeks. I didn’t hear back until then. Once my application was approved though, I was given a number and told to go back to my doctor. I had an appointment, he gave the state his certification and about two days later I had a temporary medical card. I had to pay $50 for the official card though.
After everything was said and done, I was free to go to a dispensary. I was nervous. I had heard so many bad things about weed. I didn’t want to tell any of my friends and family back in my home state what I was doing. I was afraid they’d question my judgment. My husband was open to it and I was grateful for that.
I had all these crazy scenarios in my mind about going and picking up my cannabis. I thought there’d be a group of people shouting and protesting in front of the shop. I thought everyone would stare and point at me. I thought I would have to go to a dangerous area. But when I got there, it was far from what I had imagined. The store was very ordinary. It looked like a coffee shop.
I was buzzed inside and sat down to wait for assistance. A friendly looking young guy came out told me that if I was interested in purchasing, I had to do it in cash. I showed him my card, filled out a few forms and was led to another area. It looked like a jewelry shop. Everything was shiny, clean and new looking. Products were displayed on shelves and behind glass cabinets and display cases. They even had an atm in one corner.
The guy helping me out told me he knew a lot about cannabis. He gave me a run-down of what they had. I told him what I was suffering with and he gave me a few suggestions. I ended up choosing an infused tea that would help me sleep. I also got a THC and CBD patch for frequent pain. I think I spent no more than about $150 on that visit.
That first time I sipped that tea, I was super drowsy. I hadn’t felt that way in a while. My limbs felt heavy and weighed down, but in a good way if that makes sense. I slept for seven hours. After about a few weeks of taking the tea and using the patch, I started sleeping so much better.
I wasn’t feeling tired during the day anymore and I was relatively pain-free for the first time in years. I wasn’t cranky and irritable. I was laughing again. My marriage got better and I was able to enjoy being a mom.
My anxiety subsided and I began to invest in some other products. I purchased CBD oils and was no longer afraid of driving to the dispensary. There were a few bad incidents, though. I tried a strain called ‘Chemdawg.’ It was way too potent for me.
I had a very scary, aggressive high. I learned the hard way that if I tried to smoke something different, I needed to try it in a low dosage before increasing it. My heart was racing and my brain so full of thoughts. I got really sick and threw up.
I have to say that my overall experience has been a good one. I’m back on track and I feel much more like myself. I would recommend it to anyone going through what I went through.”
Sarah* – San Jose, California:
“I was always the consummate athlete, even after high school. I had an active life in college and even when I began my career, I made sure to run, jog, surf and did any number of things. My mother jokes that I’ve never sat still a day in my life [laughs] I guess that’s why I opened my own business. I wanted the freedom to create my own hours and craft my life the way I wanted it to be.
That all changed some time three years ago. I woke up one morning and I just didn’t feel like myself. I tried to shake it off. You know we all have bad days and I thought it was one of those. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, so I thought for sure once I got going the feeling would go away.
But it didn’t. It lingered with me for an entire week. I had trouble focusing. Then the pain started. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t get out of bed some days. That’s when I knew I had to go see someone. After a bunch of tests and useless pills, I was told to have an MRI.
They told me I had a pituitary tumor. I would have to get it removed. I was afraid of what would go wrong. Would I be blind? Would I lose my hearing? What could happen? But my doctor assured me the technology was so much more advanced than it was years ago.
They didn’t even have to open up my brain, they went through my nostrils and pulled it out that way. That was amazing to me. By all accounts, the surgery was a success. But I still had some residual side effects. Mainly the headaches.
I talked to my doctor a bit about my options as traditional painkillers weren’t working. She told me to try medicinal marijuana. I thought she was crazy [laugh]. You just don’t hear that kind of thing every day. But my doctor was adamant that this was something I could try. I didn’t want to start downing opioids. I had heard too many stories about that. The headaches were unbearable some days, so I decided to give it a go.
Recreational marijuana’s quite legal where I live, but my doctor suggested a medical card had its benefits, including cheaper costs. Not only that, but I was allowed to have a little more in my possession than a recreational user. So I went through the process. I had to go through the county. I didn’t go through my doctor like in some states, but she did give me a recommendation.
I found that I couldn’t take my cannabis out of state, but since I didn’t plan on doing any of that, it didn’t matter too much. I went to a dispensary, talked to a few folks there and got a strain. I had done tons of research and for the first weeks, things were the same.
The first time I toked, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My brain felt foggy and I didn’t like it at first. But then a feeling of intense relaxation took over and the migraine I’d had all day receded into the background and then vanished. I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I was a little giggly, but it felt good.
After a few weeks of smoking daily, I suddenly stopped having so many headaches. I also noticed that I was getting better sleep. Soon I was back to my old self. I was running again and biking and I just don’t think I could do that without cannabis. I think it helped me.
If someone were to ask me would I recommend it, I’d say yes. Without hesitation. The only thing I’d caution is to do your research. I live in an area where things are kind of relaxed, you know? Plus, owning my own business exempts me from having to deal with employment-based drug tests.”
Juanita* – Location Undisclosed
Juanita is the owner of a clothing store. She’s dealt with chronic pain for a long time. She says that it wasn’t until recently that she thought about trying medicinal marijuana.
“I grew up in a very conservative, Evangelical Christian environment. I was taught that drugs were the devil and marijuana was a part of that. Sure, some kids did it, but it was forbidden and like any good little girl, I didn’t do it. Looking back on it, I got lots of messages that smoking marijuana meant that I was for sure going to get into heavy drugs and have an unproductive life.
It wasn’t until I got into a car accident that my perspective changed. I was dealing with lots of pain after my surgery, and the doctor had no problem supplying me with all kinds of sedatives and pain relievers. I began to depend on them.
That’s what scared me. So I started looking into alternatives and found out that lots of people were taking marijuana for chronic pain. I found a doctor willing to take my request seriously and applied for a medical card in my state.
The first time I did marijuana, I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. I had never really smoked anything other than a cigarette, and that was back in college when I wanted to be “cool”. I thought for sure I’d mess it up. But after a few inhales, I was so high! [laughs]
I lived alone, so it was okay! I felt an immediate buzzing in my head. It wasn’t unpleasant, just strange. Then my whole body felt… relaxed. I was smoking a strain that had a yummy, fruity flavor and that was really nice. And I just felt – good.
But afterwards, boy was I hungry! After the accident, I hadn’t been too keen on eating. I was in too much pain. But my appetite came roaring back. It’s been a year now and I love marijuana. My only regret is not doing it sooner.”