A Patients Case for Medical Marijuana

Over eight million Brits suffer from disabling chronic pain and rely on opiates to get through the day. Most aren’t addicted – they don’t abuse their medication – but are technology dependent. Their neurons have adapted to the only function normally in the presence of the given drug.

‘Opioid epidemic’ is a phrase the media throws around like confetti. They vilify the doctors for overprescribing; patients for abuse; and drugs dealers for exacerbating the problem. But what about the substantial segment of patients who aren’t addicted, don’t abuse their drugs, but do rely on them to survive? Why are we seemingly exempt from the opioid epidemic? Simply put, because there is no alternative. We must live our lives on prescription opiates stronger than heroin, hold down jobs, drive cars, have families and function because for us this is the only reality on offer from the government.

When you search for ‘opioid statistics’ on google, you’ll find a wealth of reports about the abuse of these drugs but nothing related to the “approved” use of these drugs. To understand the epidemic is to understand opiates. They are designed to decrease the perception of pain but don’t fix or remove it. Many are also known to produce a sense of well-being and warmth. If you are presenting with chronic pain and you have exceeded the likes of paracetamol and ibuprofen, you will typically begin on the low-level Hydrocodone derivatives. Depending on your conditions the doctor might throw in an anti-seizure medication like Gabapentin or Pregabalin for good measure. As you inevitably become tolerant to the opioids – for some people it takes weeks, others years – you are slowly stepped up the opiate ladder until you reach the dizzying heights of fentanyl (the drug that is famously said to have killed Michael Jackson) and morphine. But what happens when you reach the top?

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way. After 10 years using codeine, tramadol and morphine to manage my increasing pain, they just stopped working. I saw a consultant who deemed that I had opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Despite being on these drugs for many years (a number of them as a teenager) this was the first time I had ever heard that word. I learned that it was ‘opioid-induced hypersensitivity to painful and non-painful stimulus’. The opiates that I was using to hold down a job, sleep at night, maintain a ‘normal’ life, had turned against me. They were actually making me worse.

I was fortunate in the scheme of things. I avoided other serious side effects of long-term opiate use like gastroparesis, hormonal dysfunction, liver damage, immunosuppression and more. I spent two weeks detoxing from the medication: I vomited, had hot and cold sweats, tremors and, rather strangely, I sneezed a lot. But when I came out the other side, my pain was less than it had been in years. I still had significant pain, particularly when I had a dislocation, but I was desperate not to take any opiates again. After some research, I found CBD oil. I ordered some and after the first dose, the effects were almost instantaneous. Within an hour my base level of pain had all but dissipated. It was roughly 5 hours later before I needed to take another dose. I had the first hours of pain-free life that I had known for many years.

There are a handful of alternative therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness, that can offer great relief to some people living in chronic pain. But it isn’t a ‘fix-all’ and should not be presented as such. I have personally found these very helpful but they do not actually ease the pain, they just allow me to cope with it better.  I have found CBD oil more beneficial to my pain levels than my prescriptions ever were. It has have allowed me to stay off opiates almost entirely (the perfect record was broken by a dislocated hip).

Cannabis has been proven time and time again to be medicinally beneficial. From Multiple Sclerosis and cancer to HIV/Aids and chronic pain; there are thousands of reports and government-sponsored reviews that outline the legitimate uses and benefits of cannabis. Yet still, my only legal form of pain-relief is one that is also making me sicker.

Today, MP Paul Flynn will read the Medical Cannabis bill in parliament. I’ll be there along with the United Patients Alliance to stand up for a better life for people suffering from chronic pain. Join us and you will see that we are patients, not criminals.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 19.35.26


She’s hiding a chronic knee injury.

Today we are hearing from Jenny, who is one of over 10 million Britons suffering from chronic pain on a daily basis. She gives us a unique insight into the life of someone who didn’t suffer from their disability until fairly recently and the long-term prognosis is still an unknown for her.

How old are you? I am 29

Can you tell me about your disability? 

I have a chronic knee injury. I injured my knee over a year and a half ago. It makes standing for more than a few mins and walking hard and painful. I have regular physiotherapy sessions and do up to and hour of exercises at home every day to strengthen my knee and leg muscles, but have had very little improvement. I don’t know when (or if) I am going to get better.

What is your typical journey like (prior to the badge)?

I commute for an hour and a half – two hours from one side of London to the other. I changed my hours to get to work 30 mins earlier to get a seat in the morning and I take a longer route, which adds 30 mins – one hour (on a GOOD day) to my hour and a half journey to get a seat on the way home. Even if I get a seat there is a lot of walking and sometime stairs between trains. Walking downhill is particularly hard so the ramps at my nearest station are even worse than stairs for me. 

What happens if you don’t get a seat? How does this impact your day?

I try and stand on one leg as much as possible (even though my physiotherapist tells me not to as I need to build up the muscles in my knee). Every time I stand for more than a few minutes my knee gets worse. It gets painful at the time and for around a week after it will be painful and swollen meaning it’s even harder to walk or stand.  It will mean I can barely walk for at least a few days after and every step will hurt. If there is space I sit on the floor but there’s often not space to even do that. I often get home on the verge of tears.

Just two weeks ago my train on the way home was delayed and I didn’t get a seat. I tried to stand on one leg as much as possible and I was surrounded by people watching me struggle with tears streaming down my face but no one offered any help or asked if I was ok. When there was space I sat on the floor. My knee is still sore from this incident. 

Are there any visual cues that would signal you need a seat (prior to the badge)? i.e. walking stick, crutches. How successful is this?

No visual clues. Unless they see me trying to stand on one leg, but this doesn’t help. A few times I had blue tape on my knee and up my leg and this helped get me a seat once but that’s it.

How do you feel about the badge trial? 

I’m so happy it’s happening and I don’t know why it doesn’t already exist. I also don’t know why it is just a trial – what if they decide that people are not responsive; then what? Are we supposed to go back to life before the badge? I think it just needs marketing to raise awareness. Personally the badge has been a huge relief and a life-saver for me. I feel more confident asking for a seat and showing my badge than before when I looked like there was nothing wrong with me. I was worried people would question if the badge is real or why I need a seat but so far people have jumped up no questions asked.

A few times I’ve asked for a seat showing my badge and other times people have just given me one – all in rush hour. It’s also connected me to other people going through similar struggles and reminds me I’m not alone in my suffering! It’s also raised my awareness of other conditions and how they impact people.

How do you feel living in London with a disability?

Living in London with a disability can be frustrating, isolating and scary. There are so many fun things to do in London – galleries, exhibitions, festivals, concerts, and exploring new areas; all of which require a lot of standing and walking. So it’s frustrating that I can’t do everything I’d like. It can also be scary. Like I can’t just go out with my friends, I have to think about if there will be a seat there and if there’s not then I won’t go. It can also feel very isolating when you’re struggling to walk and everyone is rushing past you and bashing you around.

What do you think would most surprise those without a disability about the way yours affects you?

Just how life changing it is and how seemingly simple things I would’ve taken for granted are now hard or impossible. Even things like queuing are hard. Also the fact that when I stand for a long time it aggravates my condition and it feels like I’m going round in circles or being able to walk a bit more then standing and making it worse. They say muscle injuries are worse than broken bones as they take much much longer to heal.  

A lot of emotions that I think everyone can relate to in here.  Thanks for sharing your story, Jenny.

Check back next week when we will step into Tina’s shoes for her daily commute.

Lily x