Why I Choose Cannabis for My Pain

Felicia Carbajal

[I have to preface this article by saying that while I never used recreational drugs, lately I have had a consistent, disruptive backache that I am still trying to resolve. It’s interfering with my quality of life by now, and upon recommendation of some people, I’ve tried CBD cream. I have to say I love the results! So I thought I’d reprint this article from the February 2020 issue of PEN, by someone who knows her stuff! …Laurie]

 The cannabis plant has been deeply engrained in American history since our country’s inception. Commonly called medical marijuana and hemp, cannabis sativa has been used in everything from textiles and paper to medicines and spiritual tools. Although cannabis has been viewed as harmful or illegal, it has the potential to combat our nation’s opioid crisis, repair some of the harm caused by the war on drugs, and offer Americans a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.

Felicia Carbajal

            Why do I believe so strongly that cannabis can do all of this? It’s pretty simple: cannabis has been a wonder drug for treating my chronic pain from a spinal cord injury over a decade ago. It has also revolutionized the treatment of my depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and has numerous therapeutic effects when used in its various forms.

            After my last back surgery, a microdiscectomy, I took Vicodin to manage the pain, but this would alter my mood and only mask the pain momentarily. I wasn’t myself, and the pain always came back. My medical team said this would be my life. Between the epidural injections and physical therapy sessions, I began researching alternatives.

            I tried everything to reduce my pain. I bought gadgets like seat and hand-held massagers, a laser acupuncture pen, and electrostimulation devices. I tried countless complementary therapies like chiropractic treatments and acupuncture. Up to that point, cannabis was last on my list of options. Fortunately, I was introduced to a world-renowned medical professional who was working with patients on low-dose cannabis options with controlled intake of THC. His team gave me a bottle of tincture to try. Three days later, I was pain-free, no longer needing Vicodin, and smiling.

            This introduction marked the beginning of my journey with cannabis. I knew the power of sharing my story, and became even more intrigued by the potential of this plant as I weaned myself off a cocktail of anxiety, depression, and pain meds that caused more harm than good. I knew I had to keep learning.

            First, I researched the legal history of cannabis. I grew up a DARE1 evangelist during the 1980s and was unaware of cannabis’s history in the US dating back over a century. Hemp was a valuable crop in the American colonies, used for a variety of purposes, including paper and rope. Eventually, it entered American pharmacopeia as cannabis and became a tool for advancing conservative agendas. Today, more than half the country has some form of regulated cannabis, and a majority of states allow the sale and transportation of hemp-derived products.

            Next I explored the science of cannabis. I had friends who’d been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS and knew that this was their medicine, but I didn’t understand why or how. I dove deep into the research and discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS).2

            The ECS is a network of neurotransmitters and receptors that work round-the-clock to help keep the body in homeostasis. Found throughout the bodies of mammals and other vertebrates, the ECS responds to the presence or deficiency of cannabinoids, which can be endogenous (produced within the organism) or exogenous (produced externally).

            Endocannabinoids are produced internally and regulate the function of just about every physiological system within the body. Phytocannabinoids are endocannabinoids derived from plants, including but not limited to cannabis.

            Naturally, I went to my physician and began asking about the ECS. To my surprise, she knew little about it. I shared some links from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)3 and other research bodies4 about current clinical trials and research.

            My biggest recommendation: When you explore cannabis, be safe. The cannabis industry is in its infancy; with recent reports of cannabis-induced health concerns, it’s imperative to purchase from a licensed, regulated producer. You should be able to view the lab test results of any product you buy, so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. There are lots of options everywhere, including websites like Amazon, so be mindful! And if possible, test what you’re using.

            Finally, make sure you’re aware of the laws and regulations in your area. This is essential as more and more states regulate.

            I’m fortunate to live in a state with regulated cannabis, which means I have access to clean, tested cannabis products—a privilege I don’t take lightly. I have the opportunity to explore other cannabinoids, including THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivari) in conjunction with terpenes, aromatic plant essences found abundantly in cannabis that can provide therapeutic relief and enhance the efficacy of other compounds when combined (the “entourage effect”).

            For those who are new to cannabis or who live in unregulated areas, take this chance to educate yourself. Check out sites like Project CBD,5 GreenFlower Media,6

and Leafly,7 and dive into the data. Go to the NIH website8 and type “cannabis” along with your condition to review the research. The reality is that cannabis is personalized medicine, and the one-size approach won’t work for everyone.

            After years of taking opioids, I’m finally free. Cannabis can improve the quality of your life, too. Understand and explore the possibilities of cannabinoid therapies. Together we can fight the stigma and perception surrounding cannabis, save countless lives from opioid-related overdoses and deaths, and heal the harm from the war on drugs by voting for sensible drug policy.

Felicia Carbajal is a values-based community organizer, social entrepreneur, change-maker and innovator in the cannabis industry. Based in Los Angeles, the cannabis capital of the nation, Felicia has over two decades of experience in California’s cannabis market. Felicia has worked with world-renowned cannabis medical professionals, has consulted numerous cannabis brands, and is a trusted resource for multiple patient and consumer communities. Currently Felicia is executive director of the Social Impact Center: felicia@thesocialimpactcenter.org.

1. Drug Abuse Resistance Education 

2. www.uclahealth.org/cannabis/human-endocannabinoid-system 

3. nccih.nih.gov/health/marijuana  

4. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/cannabis-pdq  
5. www.projectcbd.org 

6. green-flower.com 

7. www.leafly.com  8. nih.gov

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