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Thursday, July 18, 2013


A Pained Life: Changing Attitudes about Medical Marijuana

July 17th, 2013 by Carol Levy, Columnist

When I was in my early 20’s, years before the onset of my pain, I was offered a marijuana cigarette. I didn’t want it, but the pressure from my friend was so great I finally took it. I puffed on it once. I did not inhale.

I was not sure what effect it might have on me or how it might make me feel. I was afraid of it.

bigstock-The-words-medical-marijuana-su-17121803A few years ago, feeling desperate for anything that might help with the pain, I googled “medical marijuana.”

I found a site in Canada. The only requirement was that you send them a note with the name of your medical disorder. The seeds arrived in the mail and I planted them in the laundry room sink.

They were fast growers; within a week or so I had some beautiful plants.

I wasn’t sure how to use them. I also wasn’t sure I had the nerve. It turned out my worry was for naught.

On my way to check on the plants I walked into my living room. My cat Rooty was running around the room, really, really enjoying herself. That was out of character. As soon as I walked into the laundry room I saw why. All of the plants had been eaten down to the root.

It let me off the hook. I no longer needed to make an active decision about trying “pot” for my pain.

I have been sitting on the sidelines on this issue. Although it has disturbed me that, despite proof of the benefits for those with cancer pain, loss of appetite, HIV and other disorders, medical marijuana has remained illegal in most states. Even when I am asked to sign petitions about making it legal I have not done so, not being sure exactly where I stand on the issue.

But then my self-interest came into play.

I have “phantom pain” of my face (anaesthesia dolorosa). This is a neuropathic disorder. It often defies treatment.

A recent study published in The Journal of Pain about vaporized cannabis significant improving neuropathic pain changed my mind. Although I have not become an active advocate, at least not yet, I follow the debate over medical marijuana much more closely. I am more willing to add my name to the petitions for making it legal.

As chronic pain patients, we are under fire from the DEA. Their rules have made it more and more difficult to get the narcotic medications many of us, including me, need. It has also made it harder for some patients to find doctors willing to prescribe them. That makes it even more important that alternative therapies be found.

Marijuana is one of those therapies.

The study is a small one, only 39 subjects, but the researchers found a significant benefit for those patients who have treatment resistant neuropathy. That would be me.

I know there are many reasons and many people who do not want to see medical marijuana legalized.

However, for me and many others, it could mean the difference between staying disabled and being more able. Dare I hope, maybe even becoming “able.”

Reposted from my column:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I was sitting at a table with some people I knew, slightly.

I did not know how much of my situation they knew, but the issue came up about my not being able to work. I told them about the pain that comes from any consistent use of my eyes for more than 10 to 20 minutes before the pain becomes too severe for me to continue.

They immediately came up with suggestions, most of them centered on using a timer.

“Set it for 15 minutes so you will have to stop,” they suggested.

That’s a good idea. In fact, I came up it with a long time ago. The only problem is, it’s a lot easier in concept then reality.

I am reading a mystery, my favorite kind of story. The book is getting exciting, the clues mounting, the name of the person “who dunnit” to be disclosed in… wait, bringgg!

Off goes the timer. I can’t stop now. I have to find out who did it.

I know better, but I think, as I often do, five more minutes won’t make a difference.

But of course, it does.

Sometimes it is more important eye work, writing this column for instance. I cannot break off in the middle. I lose my train of thought and have to start over, which means going past the time limit the next time I work on it.

Sometimes I get to the point where I need to stop, but in order to not lose my concept, I continue making notes; which takes me past my time limit. The pain is then at the point of no return, at least for the next hour or more.

If I go to a store, I need more than 15 minutes to find what I need. I use my eyes the entire time. I cannot just stop.

The same is probably true for most of us. The time allotted before the pain becomes unmanageable is usually taken up with getting ready to do whatever task is at hand. By the time we are in the midst of doing what we set out to do, the time is up.

From the outside looking in, the answer to keeping the pain at an “acceptable” level is simple. Just stop. I daresay it would be easy if this was not our lives.

If it was just a a short term problem, a sprained ankle or a scratched cornea for instance, it is no big thing to keep our usage of the pained area to a minimum. When it’s a constant pain, the timed approach is not workable.

When I try to explain that to people, I see the eye rolling, the turning away: she doesn’t want our help. She doesn’t want to change her situation.

They have no idea how dearly I want that.

I wish we (I) could use the same tricks and ideas that work when pain is temporary.

But I don’t think we can.

The timer rang about 10 minutes ago. I added another 10 minutes so I could finish this column. And now I am paying the piper.

Do I regret forcing myself to continue past the time limit? Yes and no.

Yes, because now the pain is very bad.

And no, because I was able to finish what I started.

Reprinted from my column at National Pain Report