Roughly one in 10 veterans in the United States live with severe, chronic pain and I happen to be one of them. In the 14 years that I’ve lived with this issue, I have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying different treatments. Medical cannabis is one of the most effective treatments I found for veterans suffering with chronic pain or other conditions like PTSD.
I could have taken opioids — and my diagnosis came when opioids were prescribed like candy — but I refused. Early in my pain journey, I attended the funeral for a beautiful, vibrant woman with chronic pain who died in her sleep from an accidental prescription drug overdose. Her teenage daughter became an orphan.
I know that even if opioids reduce pain, they bring a gamut of side effects. Additionally, many veterans with severe chronic pain also have PTSD. A young man with whom I served in Iraq was prescribed OxyContin, Morphine and other pharmaceutical pain killers to deal with his pain, and we discussed complementary and alternative medicine options to add to the mix in an effort to alleviate his desperate struggle. The fight got to be too much for him and sadly he took his own life in 2015.
Pain may not be visible, but it can be fatal.
I can’t help but wonder if medical cannabis had been available and legal sooner, it could have prevented Ann from dying of an overdose. Or since it helps with both pain and PTSD, it may have offered Matt greater symptom relief with fewer side effects.
Sadly, it’s too late for Ann, Matt and many others, but there are still 100 million Americans living with chronic pain and nearly 8 million with post-traumatic stress. They are the reason I am speaking up. More people need to understand the treatment possibilities that this medication provides — and more need to move past the stigma associated with marijuana. Trust me — I’m not pounding bags of potato chips every night in a smoky room. The “this is your brain on drugs” commercials many of us grew up with remain memorable, but it shouldn’t prevent considering medical cannabis for those who have a medical condition that may improve with its use.
For me, using medical cannabis with a number of complementary medicine treatments has brought a good amount of relief. The combination has me feeling better than I have in a long time. My pain isn’t gone, but it’s much more manageable. With a capsule before bed, I can sleep through most of the night and wake up with little or no pain. Unless you’ve lived for years with chronic pain, it will be hard to fully understand how incredible that feels. For perspective, I’ve had days where I’ve been in too much pain to leave bed — even though the weight of the sheets hurt, too. I’m optimistic that those days will continue to be fewer and further in between.
This isn’t about me, though. I happen to be one of millions. If we can continue to educate about the benefits and reduce the stigma around medical cannabis, more people may find the health they need to not only survive, but to thrive.