by Donna Gregory Burch
I was about a year into my fibromyalgia diagnosis when I figured out the typical drugs – Lyrica, Cymbalta, gabapentin and the like – weren’t going to be the answer for me. Since then, I’ve been on a journey of trying different treatments in an effort to stop the pain. Some have helped; most have not.
Throughout my search, there was always one treatment that I held out as my last resort: medical marijuana.
I’m not anti-marijuana. I smoked my share of it in college and always supported legalization. My reservations centered more around my hubby. As a former law enforcement officer, he didn’t really approve of his wife smoking pot. He was worried I would turn into a stoner, eating chips and watching soap operas all day.
By the time I applied for my medical marijuana license earlier this year, the usual fibro drugs had failed me. I’d spent hundreds of dollars on supplements and products that gave modest relief or none at all. I’d overhauled my diet, cutting out gluten, sugar and most dairy – again, with partial success. Given the current political environment, opioids weren’t an option for me.
In September, I received my medical marijuana card from the state of Delaware. My first trip to the local dispensary was surreal. When I pulled into the parking lot, I was greeted with the skunky smell so familiar from my early adulthood. Entering the dispensary is probably a little like visiting someone in jail. I was required to show multiple IDs, leave most of my personal belongings in the car, and was buzzed through two sets of locked doors manned by security guards. When I finally made it into the lobby, two things stood out to me: First, it was odd to see and smell cannabis and its related paraphernalia as law enforcement officers stood nearby. There were several cases filled with pot paraphernalia – bongs, pipes and even slow cookers for making cannabis butter. There was a large-screen TV on the wall, advertising that day’s available strains. Behind the sales counter were racks where the product was kept. It was all very professional, but it felt like a dream. Was I seriously getting ready to buy pot legally?
Secondly, the lobby was noisy. Strangers were actually talking to each other because no cell phones are allowed inside the dispensary. One customer was explaining how to make cannabis gummy bears. Others were discussing changes that needed to be made in Delaware’s medical marijuana law. I had forgotten what it was like when people didn’t have their heads buried in their phones.
I overheard one customer say, “Man, ain’t nobody want that Jet Fuel or AC/DC stuff. That stuff don’t do nothing!” Funny thing was I was there to buy those particular strains because they contain higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), one of more than 85 cannabinoids that make up the cannabis plant. Most people are familiar with CBD’s family member, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid that gives marijuana users a pleasant (at least to some people) high when they smoke it. Unlike THC, CBD won’t get you high. Some tout it as a great alternative for people who are seeking the medicinal benefits of cannabis, but don’t want the stoner effect.
And then, my name was called, and it was my turn to go up to the sales counter. Kevin, my customer service rep, was a long-time stoner, and for that, I was grateful. I had no idea what to ask for, other than I sort of knew I wanted to try cannabis oil, and I also wanted something to help my sleep.
With Kevin’s guidance, I ended up purchasing the following items – my first medical marijuana haul:
- AC/DC tincture in grain alcohol 1 oz. ($55) – I’ve used hemp CBD oil off and on for about a year with decent results for pain relief, but I’d been told over and over that cannabis oil’s pain-relieving benefits were far superior to hemp, so I was pretty excited to try this. AC/DC contains a 20:1 ratio of CBD:THC, so it does not cause a high. I’ve been dosing around six drops every six hours, on and off, for about two months now. I can’t say that it works any better than the hemp oil I used, but I’m still playing with my dosage, and I admit I need to be more consistent about using it. I also wish the dispensary would use a coconut-oil base instead of the grain alcohol because it stings the heck out of my mouth. The dispensary sells another cannabis oil product that’s coconut based, so I will try that next time.
- Preloaded Vaporizer Cartridge 565 mg ($60) + Vaporizer Pen Set ($20) – For sleep, Kevin recommended a preloaded vaporizer cartridge containing a liquid mix of different cannabis strains. I don’t feel comfortable smoking pot anymore because I’m worried about developing lung cancer. My mother died of lung cancer, I’m a former smoker, and genetic testing indicated I’m at elevated risk for lung cancer. I decided to try the vape pen/cartridge combo because vaping is supposed to be gentler on the lungs. I’ve been using the preloaded vape pen at night before bed. Because it contains more THC, it definitely makes me woozy. One night, it took me five minutes to figure out how to put my shirt on because I couldn’t find the arm holes. When I told one of my girlfriends that, she looked at me alarmed. I had to explain that was a good thing! It meant I wasn’t thinking about my pain! I have used the preloaded vape pen a few times during the day when my pain gets intense, but I can’t do that every day because it gives me the munchies and then puts me to sleep. As for pain, it seems to work similar to how I feel on Tramadol: It puts a buffer between the pain and my brain. The pain is still there; I just don’t care about it. As for sleep, I do fall asleep quickly when I use it, but it hasn’t lessened the number of times that I wake up during the night. I’m still up about every three hours or so. I was hoping cannabis would zonk me out so I could get a full night’s rest. I’m still looking for a strain to do that.
I wasn’t overjoyed with the results of my first two products, so I returned to the dispensary the following week and purchased the following:
- Rick Simpson Oil Sleep Salve 50mg ($10) – A fellow customer raved about how his wife used this for her joint pain. Since I’m a sucker for any pain-relieving cream, I had to try it. The salve consists of Rick Simpson Oil, lavender, vitamin E, aloe gel, beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter and some essential oils. It comes in a small container, so it’s best for localized areas, like the knees or hands. I’ve used up most of the container, and although I love the smell, I haven’t seen any benefit from it.
- Jet Fuel 1 gram ($13.50) – I was most excited about trying this strain because it contains an equal ratio of CBD:THC. It still causes a high, but it’s more of a body high, meaning most of the stoned feeling is centered in my body instead of my brain. My mind remains pretty clear. I’m still experimenting with dosage, but I think it would be possible to use this during the day in very small amounts and still be able to function and work.
- Alchemist 1 gram ($16) – Of all the strains I’ve tried, I like this one the best. It’s recommended for pain and sleep, and it definitely does that. It’s a THC-based strain, but the high is very soft and mellow, and it’s good at blocking pain.
- Small glass bong ($16) – I let Kevin upsell me on a small glass bong. He said there’s no evidence that marijuana causes lung cancer, but a subsequent Google search told me the jury is still out on that. I did use the bong once. It felt like I was going to singe my eyebrows, and I’m still concerned about the cancer risk, so it’s tucked away in a basket where it’ll probably never be used again. I have buyer’s remorse.
I made one online purchase:
- Atmos Jump – I invested in a refillable vaporizer for dry herb. (The other vaporizer I bought only fits the dispensary’s preloaded cartridges.) After some research, I settled on the Atmos Jump ($45 via Groupon) because it’s relatively small (about the size of a cigar) and it got good reviews. I usually step out on my porch at night to vape before bed, so I wanted something that was easy to grab and use. It’s working well so far.
I was pretty excited to start my medical marijuana journey because so many fibromyalgia sufferers have good results with it. It’s not the cure-all that I was hoping for, but it is helpful. I had hoped the cannabinoids in the cannabis would kill the pain over time. That hasn’t been my experience yet. Yes, it dulls the pain, but it does it by creating a hazy barrier between me and the pain; it doesn’t actually make the pain stop.
I’m still experimenting with how to incorporate cannabis into my day-to-day life. I frequently use it at night to relax or to help with sleep, but I haven’t quite figured out how to incorporate it into my daytime hours and still be able to function. I am still finding my way.
So now it’s your turn…Have you tried medical marijuana for fibromyalgia? Did it help? Is there a particular strain you would recommend for pain and/or sleep?
Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.