Patients Making the Switch for Better Health
For more than a decade, the opioid epidemic has claimed innocent lives all across our nation, but Ohio has seen the worst of it. Patients across Ohio have a new option for pain management since January 2019, and many are taking advantage of Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
By 2017, Ohio’s opiate addiction rates had soared and earned the ranking of second in the nation for opioid-involved overdose death rates and prescribing levels, with statistics projecting even grimmer death and addiction rates for the future, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Surprisingly, most are not recreational drug users. Research has shown that roughly 60% of opiate-related deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to legally purchased prescription medications.
Many Ohio patients have struggled with opiates as they’ve been prescribed painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet by their doctors to seek relief from conditions such as chronic or intractable pain that can occur separately from or in addition to the treatment of other diseases like spinal surgery, rheumatoid arthritis, or cancer.
Data from the CDC and the NIH states that the number of new addiction cases is slowly declining, ultimately resulting in fewer overdose-related fatalities. Could medical marijuana potentially be playing a key role in this shrinking data prevalence nationwide?
Tides Are Turning
Many Ohio patients say they are using medical marijuana (MMJ) as a permanent alternative treatment option. Patients are opting to not only treat symptoms but also other conditions associated with pain managementand finding relief with MMJ when they previously had to use multiple medications to acheive pain relief. Many of these patients are, for the first time, learning how pain relief compares when using a cannabis-based medication versus an opiates.
A Learning Experience
For former teacher and high school coach Rick Johnson, who was first diagnosed in 2009, cannabis medication has become the ultimate game-changer.
At the beginning of his journey into managing his chronic pain, cannabis medication was not an option as an Ohioan. So began his journey medicating with Vicodin. Johnson was advised to consume the prescription numerous times a day. Over the course of time, his condition worsened, forcing him to ultimately leave work as a paraprofessional.
Inevitably, Johnson explained, that he was allotted even more of the opiate medication.
“These medications started to come in higher doses to alleviate the pain,” he said. However, over time, upping the dose and milligrams wasn’t enough to effectively manage his pain.
By 2016, Johnson had enough of the endless cycle of prescriptions, as well as the side effects associated with them. The mental and physical effects had started to take their toll on his overall health long term. He also feared addiction.
Johnson opted to investigate other treatment options, traveling to Amsterdam many times between 1984-2016 to study cannabis as a potential medication. Rife with new-found knowledge, he started to begin the journey of supplementing with cannabis as an alternative treatment for his pain management. Johnson is now in year four of his pain-free journey.
“Cannabis has given me my life back, in a variety of ways at that,” Johnson explains.
Johnson was bedridden from pain, riddled with debilitating side effects, bouts of depression, diarrhea, headaches, and forms of aggression that destroyed his quality of life. However, since 2016, he’s been able to reclaim both his mental and physical health. His pain management success, as well as improved quality of life, he claims, can be attributed to using cannabis.
Johnson also noticed something remarkable: he had regained the ability to function, pain-free. For the first time since his initial diagnosis, back in 2009, life began to feel normal again.
But that’s not where the benefits stopped, Johnson said. “[There have been] improvements for other, unrelated conditions such as gout, pain associated with Diabetes and stage four kidney failure — which is now miraculously at phase two.”
Johnson said he believes supplementing cannabis as medication as an alternative to synthetic opiates could play a major role in the improvement in his kidney health along with his overall quality of life.
“[There have been] improvements for other, unrelated conditions such as gout, pain associated with Diabetes and stage four kidney failure — which is now miraculously at phase two.”-Rick Johnson
A fight he didn’t see coming
For Bryan, Ohio native Cameron Pool, fighting is something he is familiar with. As a former cop turned MMA fighter, his background displayed that he had a threshhold for pain that was stronger than most.
Unfortunately for Pool, after facing a work-related injury, the pain became a much more common occurrence in his everyday life. This resulted in an eleven-year long battle that even he was not prepared for. In 2009, Pool was diagnosed with intractable back pain. Where and when prescriptions failed to suffice, Cameron faced a litany of reconstructive surgeries. The aftermath of such repetitive surgical turmoil only resulted in more opioid medication being allotted to him.
Over the course of time, Pool had interchangeably been prescribed everything from Percocet to muscle relaxers, to Tramadol and oxycodone. He admitted to becoming briefly addicted. “It truly can happen to anyone,” he said.
After losing a life-long friend to opiate overdose, Pool decided it was time to change. During his battle to break away from medications, he faced a wide span of unsettling side effects.
“[I experienced] rebound pain, extreme loss of motor skills, depression, and frequent nausea — even experienced a very frightening convulsive seizure.” Pool shared.
In November of 2019, Pool underwent another grueling 8-hour procedure. Afterward, he opted to utilize a local pain management program, supplementing with legal MMJ to come off of opiate medication. In a conscious attempt to combat falling back into vicious cycles of addiction, Pool sought help. At this point, he was a firm believer in cannabis in the treatment of not only his pain, but also the PTSD attached to the trauma he had endured while fighting for his life.
Despite being a legally registered MMJ cardholder, the pain management clinic insisted that he sign a waiver stating that he could/would not use legal cannabis medication, as long as he was a patient at that facility.
However, as Pool explained: “MMJ is the key component that not only effectively treated [my] pain but helped to truly wean me off opioids.” Without regret, he was later removed from the program for testing positive for legal MMJ.
“Since I’ve started using medical cannabis in a variety of forms I’ve been opiate free and healing faster than normal. It’s the first time I’ve been pain-free in 11 years.” Pool says.
He also notes expedited healing from surgery and vast improvements in his overall mental and physical health. He believes his experiences echo the sentiment that not allowing legal patients to have freedom of choice only often feeds into the opiate addiction wheel.
“Since I’ve started using medical cannabis in a variety of forms I’ve been opiate free and healing faster than normal. It’s the first time I’ve been pain-free in 11 years.”-Cameron Pool
As patients become more active in their pain management, MMJ remains a hopeful option. As an Ohio patient who also reported she found healing through cannabis, MedicateOH’s founder and publisher Gabrielle Dion Visca said she’d like to see better resources, more education, and loosening some of the restrictions of the state’s legal MMJ program to make it easier for more patients to access cannabis as an alternative to opiates.
“Despite all the stigma and silly misconceptions about cannabis, personal stories of triumph through properly medicating naturally, coupled with groundbreaking research coming from leading universities each day, shows that Ohio needs this,” Dion Visca says.
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In addition to serving as Founder/President of the Autism Alliance of Ohio, Tiffany Carwile is a cannabis and special needs activist versed in the history of cannabis policy, research, utilization, and wide spanning pharmacology. She is a Featured/Staff Writer for Ohio Capitol Journal, The Weed Blog, MedicateOH, and CannaMaps.