My Story: Why Not Choose the Cannabis Option for Chronic Pain?

My Story: Why Not Choose the Cannabis Option for Chronic Pain?

Stu and Ellen Smith

Stu and Ellen Smith

Stuart Smith resides in N. Scituate, Rhode Island with his wife of forty two years, Ellen. They raised their now four adult sons on their organic farm that they still work today. Stu has dedicated his life to being Ellen’s caregiver as she lives life with two rarer, incurable conditions, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Sarcoidosis.

As the legalization of medical cannabis spreads across the US, many patients must be contemplating it as a treatment option. There currently exists considerable medical research, outside the United States, which suggests that cannabis has proven to be an effective treatment for many diseases and chronic medical conditions.  I would like to confine my remarks to the issue of chronic pain, as this is the area in which I have had experience. Keep in mind I am not an MD but I remain a husband who was in a desperate search for treatment and pain relief for the love of his life.

I have been allowed, under RI state law, to provide medical cannabis to legally eligible patients for the past 7 years. My first patient was my wife. My wife, Ellen, suffers from a relatively rare disorder which causes severe and constant joint pain. For years, she was unable to experience what many of us take for granted, deep restorative sleep. The result was exhaustion and intensified pain levels. Ellen began utilizing cannabis as a medical treatment seven years ago. We learned to make cannabis oil which she ingests every evening, allowing for decreased pain levels and healthy sleep almost every night. We sought this treatment at the urging of a pain doctor who knew very little about cannabis but due to the fact that Ellen reacts to almost every conventional pain medication, he suggested we try cannabis as a last resort. I truly believe that my wife is alive today due to the incredible medicinal qualities to be found in the cannabis plant.

Over the past 7 years Ellen and I have legally provided Cannabis to perhaps as many as 20 patients. Many referred to us by physicians who have come to embrace cannabis as a legitimate medical treatment. To many in the medical field, those using medical marijuana are simply another group of drug seekers. This is a common perception held my not only doctors but the general public. Marijuana, when utilized responsibly by those in pain, does not produce the euphoric high so sought after by recreational users. This is particularly true when ingested in an oil form. Marijuana does not produce any toxic side effects as so many of the commonly utilized pain remedies do. If one chooses to utilize cannabis oil irresponsibly the worst one may experience is an extended period of grogginess in the morning.

Many  of the patients whom my wife and  I have provided medical cannabis to over the years have turned to cannabis in an effort to find an alternative to narcotic based medicines.  Many pain patients experience harmful effects from the prolonged use of powerful narcotic pain medications. While it does not appear that cannabis is able to eliminate all pain to the degree that narcotics can, the patients we have served over the years were more than willing to give up a degree of pain relief for a clear head, a healthy digestive system and any number of other medically induced symptoms which were eliminated with the substitution of cannabis for powerful narcotic base medicines. For most of the patients I have had contact with, medical marijuana takes away the raw pain and thus allows for good pain management starting with healthy restorative sleep. To then to be able to include exercise and a healthy diet, many patients are able to look to the future with a degree of hope which for many was in very short supply, since the onset of their particular disease or condition.

I hope in the very near future, medical marijuana will be looked at as the drug of FIRST choice so that more and more will be able to return to a safer life while addressing their pain.

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Authored by: Stuart B. Smith

Stuart B. Smith is the C0-director of Cannabis Advocacy for US Pain Foundation.

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Great anecdotal story but completely useless to other people who suffer from chronic pain. No one seems to share anything of value. People who write these articles seem to be more concerned with their own vanity and press. Dosage? How many mgs of THC or CBD did you use? What strains? What ratios?

JT Bedard

I, too would like to extend my appreciating to the author and his family. Even as someone that has long supported the de-scheduling of Cannabis, and as an experienced chronic pain sufferer, it took a long time for me to approach my PCP regarding the efficacy of Cannabis. Perhaps it was the stigma associated with it. Perhaps it was a result of the repeated condescension of supposed professionals. Regardless, I am nearing the qualification for a med card within the month, and to get there, I actually refused the doctor’s advice and requested a second opinion. The initial practitioner refused to even entertain the conversation. And that is a problem. I forget the actual number, but some 88% of all U.S. medical schools fail to describe the human endo-cannabinoid system in their curricula. And that is a root of the aforementioned problem. Stand up for your well-being.

stuart Smith

Jen, I can only comment on RI and Mass. Both states have clinics specializing in evaluating patients for the possible effective and legal use in their respective states.If you move and have flexibility of choice explore the situation in each state.

stuart Smith

Medea, the oil my wife and I make is olive oil based and we make it from trimmings from a number of different plants. The base is olive oil. We mix it with food Yogurt or applesauce and take the appropriate dose 1/2 hour prior to bed. I will send you our web site. The precess to make the oil is on the site.

stuart Smith

Heather, we have come a long way towards public acceptance yet clearly not far enough. there are a few lawsuits in RI pending relative to the issue of individuals being let go for utilizing medical cannabis on the job.I believe one is a police chief of a very small town. Obviously the fight is not over. UNfortuatly the answer lies in becoming active in politics which many are not comfortable with. Keep the faith.

stuart Smith

John, actually I was not referring to CBD oil. We make an oil out of a combination of trim. We do have some very high CBD plants which seem to very effective for anxiety and PTS but my wife who is my primary patient finds that she needs some THC for effective sleep and pain relief. It seems everyones bio-chemical system differs.

stuart Smith

Rachel, access is clearly an issue even in legal states and to take it a step further access to the most appropriate strain can create more complexities. I love the comments by many former legal opiate users as they refer to cannabis as an exit drug rather than the anti drug people who call it an entry level drug.

Great article! Thank you for sharing your and your wife’s story with cannabis. Legal access to cannabis seems to be the biggest barrier for most patients and even where it’s legal, the requirements vary so much state to state! As a pain patient myself I can say that cannabis definitely helps my symptoms. With all the recent studies coming out about the dangers of opiates (, I’m also hoping that cannabis can become a first-line treatment option.

John Vineyard

I am assuming you are referring to CBD oil Stu? I have been considering trying it. I could get a medical marijuana card here in New Mexico for my chronic pain but my wife doesn’t really like the idea so I’m staying away from it so far. Any more information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.


I am sorry but I have to hope it does not become the FIRST choice drug. It’s getting harder for me to get opiate drugs. I want those to remain an option. My employer would likely fire me if I used marijuana, no matter if it was medically prescribed or not… even if I confined my use to the evenings. There are still very, very conservative employers out there. We need a range of options that suits everyone’s situations. I’m so glad you were able to help your wife and thank you for sharing your story!

I am loosing my eye site from glokoma. The only thing that helps my eyes is Cannabis. But its not within the law to get it. If I am not able to get it I will go blind. Having trouble driving my truck, for I am not able to see well . I am only 49 years old and cannot do what I need to do or want to do. I just hope that Florida decides to make medical cannabis legal. That will help my problems.

Thanks for the great info Stu! I have some technical questions for you. Many of my pain patients have had a lot of success with a homemade alcohol based oral tincture, which is nice because it is much less expensive than the tinctures and oils available in the medical dispensaries for disabled folks who are on a limited income. But there are a few drawbacks - some people find the alcohol base too strong to use under their tongue comfortably, and also some people with an alcoholism history aren’t always comfortable having a bottle of alcohol in the house to make the tincture. Is the oil you describe something these patients could make for themselves at home? Is it similar to the glycerin based tinctures they sell in dispensaries?

To answer Jen’s question, most of the pain providers in states with medical marijuana are getting pretty familiar with the various products available, and if you let them know you are looking for a version of medical marijuana that doesn’t make you high you should be fine. The main difference in whether the product causes a “high” or not is whether or not the THC has been activated by heating it up to a certain temperature. If the THC hasn’t been heated enough it won’t become psychoactive. With this “cold” or “cool” processing technique the chemicals that help with pain and inflammation are still available, minus the “high”. (Stu please jump in if I missed anything important in my explanation!)

Jen Ashley

I currently live in PA but once I go to grad school I may move to a state were medical marijuana is legal to use. I am, and have been, a chronic pain patient on high dose pain medicine for about 6 years. I have tried marijuana just to see if it would help my pain and it did. Obviously that is not something I can do though given it’s not legal here and I’m given monthly urine screens. My question is how to approach a pain management DR (in a state where it is legal) about using marijuana instead of pain medicine without being dismissed as a drug seeker or dismissed from the practice entirely.