While reaching the tail end of 2020, people are looking for tools as we all try to adjust and cope with uncertainty, stress, and anxiety. The cannabis industry has seen sales soar as people seek assistance with mental health. But for some of us living with disability and chronic illness—visible or invisible to the naked eye—we have been figuring it out as we go for years.
One of our commitments at Veriheal is to raise visibility and awareness of those who use medical cannabis for managing chronic illness and disability. For some, it makes a huge difference each and every day.
Disability and chronic illness are far from easy to live with. Many people know the story of children like Charlotte Figi, whose epilepsy was treated with medical cannabis. As the cannabis movement progresses and the use of medical cannabis becomes more destigmatized, it seems as though epileptic patients and those with combat-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have become synonymous with the words medical marijuana patient. But we are nowhere near done on the journey towards the normalization of medical cannabis treatment. We are also still on the road towards tackling the stigmatization of disability and chronic illness. It’s hard to understand something that you haven’t lived with or you can’t see physical manifestations of, but that doesn’t mean it affects someone’s life any less.
Access to medical cannabis for those who truly need it can be an incredibly difficult struggle, especially if you’ve already tried multiple treatments that don’t work. One person can get stuck desperately looking for help, all while attending endless doctor appointments, ordering lab work, getting diagnoses that are off track, going through repeated failed attempts at treatment, and trying multiple prescriptions. For some living with chronic illness, this can go on for years or even decades at a time.
At Veriheal, our team is committed to pulling back the curtain and using our platform to raise visibility and awareness as well as eliminating the stigma of medical cannabis treatment for those living with chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, PTSD (combat or non-combat related), anxiety, cystic fibrosis, endometriosis, cancer, chronic pain, and more. The need has never been more salient than now when cannabis legalization is making strides in more states.
To learn more about how patients suffering from chronic illness go about finding medical cannabis as an alternative treatment to improve their quality of life, we sat down with Karolina Kristina, a writer and chronic illness/disability advocate living with Crohn’s disease. She is an ambassador for the Crohn’s Colitis Foundation NE and the author of Self Care for Spoonies. Karolina uses medical cannabis to manage chronic pain and nausea related to her physical condition as well as for the management of anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Veriheal: How did you approach finding alternative treatments for your medical conditions?
Karolina: I was very lucky to be living in the state of Massachusetts. The first time I really got into [medical cannabis] was right after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease for the second time in 2015. My number one symptom that I just can’t get rid of is nausea. I’ve tried every drug on the market—through the IV, through injection, through everything since I was eight, and nothing ever worked for me.
I had a friend who was in the industry, and they very smartly reminded me, “Don’t you remember munchies from college?” And I was like “Oh, yes.” That was kind of how I started getting into it. After that, I got sicker with arthritis and was in even more pain and really needed to find different ways to manage the pain, because I wasn’t going to get any form of pain medication. Living in Massachusetts, we’re sort of at the center of the opioid crisis, so I didn’t want to play with that. I didn’t want to take that chance, because I knew this was going to be an illness I was going to be dealing with for my entire life. This wasn’t going to be a couple of months where I’m going to use this and then I’m going to feel better.
I was looking for something that was sustainable for me, and that’s how I expanded my understanding of cannabis and started moving more into a 1:1 [ratio of CBD to THC], looking into CBD, THCA, and other cannabinoids and how those impact me. It’s been five years now, so I have five years of experimenting. It was originally that nausea that had me turn to something else because I had looked forever for some form of relief and that was what really changed for me.
Veriheal: It’s important to take time for ourselves. What recommendations do you have right now for self-care during COVID do you have?
Karolina: I think the biggest thing that I would recommend is meditation. It’s completely changed my life. I also deal with mental as well as physical illness. It really has me reevaluating my place on this planet; it really helps me come back to the center and source energy, because like you said, right now is an exhausting time for multiple reasons. Whether it’s the election or the rampant racism that is finally getting attention in this country. It’s just important for people to take some time alone to center themselves, to reconnect with what their true values are and what is important to them. So meditation has definitely been the most important thing for me when it comes to self-care.
Medical marijuana has also made a huge difference for me. I can’t imagine my life without it honestly at this point…Any time with nature. Animals. My dog is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Every time that I start to get overwhelmed and just really depressed and down about everything, she kind of pulls me into the present and has me really focus on what’s happening in the moment. Usually by excessively licking my face. So meditation, marijuana, and puppies.
Veriheal: Do you have any medical cannabis-specific meditations that you do?
Karolina: It’s definitely a meditative experience for me. Often, I’ll smoke before I do an hour-long meditation, which really helps me calm down and center and focus on the task at hand, which is to unwind and to recenter.
It is a time when you stop in your day, and you’re connecting with a natural plant, an herb.
I almost always have my crystals on hand, and I clear the room whether with sage or palo santo. It is a very meditative experience for me.
And every single time I engage with medical cannabis, I am very aware of how much of a privilege it is to have access to this miracle plant that so many people have had their lives ruined over, because of unfair drug policies and the war on drugs. So I am always overwhelmed with gratitude when I take part in it. Whether it’s the simple access that we have in our state, in Massachusetts, or the fact that I am privileged with my skin tone to be able to engage in it in a less stigmatized way and to now finally have legal access to it. So that’s never lost on me when I’m medicating…It’s absolutely a meditative experience.
Veriheal: Have you pinpointed which strains, cannabinoids, or terpenes really help you?
Karolina: That’s a great question. Nausea definitely and I believe that because I was on a form of chemotherapy for a couple of years, and I had a greater understanding then of what that class of medication can do in terms of symptoms. I think that’s where cannabis is truly lifesaving in many ways.
I love strains for appetite. Black Mamba always is good for me. Afghani Purps. I’m always a real Indica fan because I do have such severe anxiety, depression, and OCD, so I need something that’s going to chill me out. Indicas are the main thing for me when it comes to fighting nausea…I love an indica leaning hybrid. That’s where that Black Mamba comes in. It’s also been again for pain management; Indica has just really truly has changed my life. I can’t not get excited about cannabis when I talk about it, because it’s had such a massive impact on my life.
Veriheal: How has access to medical cannabis changed your life?
Karolina: I always say for people who haven’t really experienced medical cannabis before, it’s the difference between me laying in bed all day feeling miserable in pain, nauseous, [and] depressed, because I’m in this state. It’s the difference between that—and now we don’t go places but—going to a museum, or going to dinner with a friend or something. Those activities and things that made me happy I couldn’t engage in, because I was in so much pain, and to have access to that quality of life is just awesome. It’s an immense privilege…it’s been a very long, not awesome road but cannabis has changed that for sure.
Veriheal: Are you able to speak to how cannabis helps you be more productive?
Karolina: That’s where CBD really comes in, like a 1:1. Strains like Critique and Orange Tide and Clementine. Those all happen to be citrusy. Those are strains that are great for me for during the day. When I was in California for a mini-honeymoon, I was able to go to a couple of dispensaries there, and California is far more advanced than Massachusetts when it comes to cannabis. And I was able to try this transdermal patch that was really focused on THCA, which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that really for me just helped with pain and anxiety, and I had no high whatsoever…Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find too many products or really any products at all that are just focused on THCA so far in my area, but I’ve figured out there was actually concentrate, rather wax and shatter, for dabbing that had very high THCA content in it and that has been my go-to for during the day if I need to mellow out and still want my brain to be there.
Veriheal: One of our goals is to raise visibility for people who use medical cannabis and people who can say it improves their quality of life each and every day. A question that comes up a lot in our work is how to best talk to people in your life, whether it’s loved ones, family, friends, or even employers, about medical cannabis use, because there’s still a lot of misconceptions and stigma towards it.
Karolina: That’s where I kind of view my privilege as a tool because if I’m out there talking about smoking weed, I’m the face of being a stoner. This is what weed consumption looks like. I’m going to force it on everyone. I’m going to break the stigma as much as I can because I have that ability to…And that’s where I think you just have to approach it and approach people with it as medicine…It’s a medication. It saves people’s lives. I think people who don’t support medical cannabis are unbelievably privileged because they clearly haven’t been put in the position where they are so desperate to feel better. They will do anything to feel better. People who don’t believe in cannabis, lucky you. But also, your loss, because weed is fun.
I would love to just wake up and not have this OCD, depression, pain. I don’t have that option. How nice for you that you can take ibuprofen and feel better. I’m happy for you, but that’s not what’s happening in my life. You go on chemotherapy, and you tell me that you don’t need to smoke weed. You have to walk a mile in those shoes first.
We see the tides changing and stigmatization going away with the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in more states following the 2020 election. Everyone deserves access to medical cannabis. No one should have to be stuck in an endless cycle of failed attempts to better live their lives or continually walk into closed doors because of unmanageable pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
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