There is a lot of controversy about medical marijuana’s efficacy and little research to back up claims for or against its therapeutic value. Most of the information doctors, patients and caregivers have to go on is anecdotal. While some of this information is highly compelling, bear in mind it isn’t scientific evidence. With that said, I’d like to share my late husband’s experience with this alternative treatment.

Cancer treatments can be debilitating

After undergoing an esophagectomy (a surgery to remove his esophagus) as part of his cancer treatment, my husband, Michael, experienced severe cramping and nausea every time he ate. It severely diminished his quality of life. Watching him turn pale and perspire in agony with every snack or meal was horrible.

He was prescribed Reglan, which made the pain and nausea more bearable, but then Michael went through a major health crisis and developed dystonia as a side effect of the drug. Dystonia is a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions, which can be permanent. Michael was lucky that his dystonia resolved, but he was no longer able to take Reglan. At every doctor’s appointment, he begged for some kind of relief, but there were no other options available to him.

A medical marijuana card

While catching up with an old acquaintance one day, she mentioned that the office building she worked in was “weed central.” Of course, I had to ask for an explanation. She said there was a drug lab for testing the potency of marijuana products and a non-profit organization that helped low-income individuals afford medical marijuana (MMJ) in her building. I was especially interested in learning about the non-profit.

Although MMJ is legal in Colorado, Michael and I hadn’t considered trying it because we assumed we couldn’t afford it. Health insurance doesn’t cover MMJ, and we were already struggling to pay for his conventional medications. Michael applied for assistance from the non-profit, and he was eligible. But, before he could use his discount, he had to obtain a medical marijuana card from the state.

I had worried about “what kinds of people” we would find in the waiting room at the doctor’s office we went to for Michael’s medical evaluation for the card. It turned out they looked like the average people you would see at any suburban mall. The doctor was professional and thorough and felt that Michael might benefit from trying cannabis. Unfortunately, the non-profit closed its doors the day after he got his card.

Edibles, experimentation and relief

Even though he was no longer able to receive a discount, Michael had become committed to trying MMJ. We found a dispensary that specialized in candy and food infused with marijuana, since he was not able or willing to inhale smoke. Michael ventured in to select a product to try while I waited outside in the car, feeling like a character in “The French Connection.”

He started with a small dose of a chocolate toffy candy—about half of what is considered a standard amount to take. The effects of edible marijuana can be intense and long lasting, so it’s best to be very conservative in establishing an effective dose that doesn’t cause unwanted side effects. Michael didn’t want to deal with the psychoactive effects, like feeling “high.” He was trying to feel normal in spite of all the prescription drugs he took.

We did some research and found that he needed to focus on products with high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), the cannabinoid second only to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) when it comes to average volume. Some scientific research suggests that CBD has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects that THC is known for.

We were merely hoping MMJ would reduce his cramping and nausea to a more manageable level, but it turned out to be a miracle drug for Michael. A small daily dose provided complete and total relief from his suffering! It led to a huge improvement in his quality of life. Better yet, we were able to afford the small amount that he needed to be effective—an $8 candy would last him eight days. A dollar a day was a cheap price to pay for the immense benefit it gave him.

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Who should consider MMJ?

People’s physiologies vary greatly and respond differently to drugs, conventional or otherwise. I don’t believe that MMJ is a snake oil that can remedy any condition. However, if all conventional pharmacological options have been exhausted and a patient is desperate for relief, it might be worthwhile to explore MMJ.

CBDs look promising for conditions that are difficult to treat, such as Crohn’s disease, PTSD, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms, especially those associated with paralysis and Tourette syndrome. Just be sure to keep your doctors in the loop. They may not approve, or, as employees of a national healthcare system, may not be able to talk about MMJ as an option with their patients. At that point, you may have some difficult decisions to make.

We found Michael’s doctors to be compassionate and supportive, if not somewhat skeptical. However, once they heard of his incredible results, they were either neutral or quietly supportive. Don’t forget to include MMJ on your loved one’s medication list as you would any other drug. This will ensure that all care providers are fully informed when reviewing or altering their treatment plan.

Where do I start?

First, consult your state laws to establish if medical marijuana is legal where you live. If it is, you’ll need to meet local regulations for approval to purchase and use MMJ. Once that’s squared away, you can make your first visit to a dispensary and start to titrate an effective dose.

I recommend not smoking MMJ. There are obvious health issues with inhaling hot smoke, and it’s unnecessary. The dispensary my husband went to had just about every food you could think of, many of which infused specifically with CBDs. Pizza, soda, baked goods and candies were just a few of the options available. There are also tinctures that can be administered sublingually and patches and creams that can be applied topically.

As I mentioned earlier, start with a small dose. You can always administer more later on if needed, but the effects last a long time after ingestion. Even though CBDs are emphasized, the edible products still contain varying amounts of THC and could cause unwanted feelings of being “high” or “stoned.”

If you or a loved one decides to try MMJ, I wish you luck and hope it will be as effective as it was for Michael.