How Cannabis Helps ‘Spoonies’ Soothe the Symptoms of Chronic Illness
Medical cannabis is known for its ability to quell seizures, dull pain, and squash anxiety. It can also aid people with less well-known—but not uncommon—conditions, ones that often come with a life-long sentence. We call ourselves “spoonies.” In my case, fibromyalgia was the main force behind my conversion, but sadly there are a lot of ways to join the ranks.
The term was coined at a diner, when a lupus fighter named Christine Miserandino tried to explain the challenges of living life with the disease to a friend. Her friend knew the facts, but wanted to know what it felt like as an ongoing experience—as a lifestyle. Christine was a bit stunned: trying to sum up the limitations that affect every single aspect of your life is an overwhelming task.
Cannabis is a very common medical aid and ally to spoonies, offering soothing powers to all kinds of symptoms through the power of the body-wide endocannabinoid system.
She then grabbed a bunch of spoons from surrounding tables. She handed her friend the utensil bouquet, telling her that life with chronic illness is like only having so many spoons to get through the day—far fewer than the average person. If she borrows from tomorrow, she might be able to swing what she needs to get done today; but tomorrow has just as few spoons, so she’ll run a high risk of running out. And running out of spoons/overdoing it means big-time symptom flares and even less spoons. Maybe for weeks.
Christine asked her friend to go through her day, removing spoons appropriately as each activity demanded: getting up, showering, getting dressed, eating, etc. Half of her friend’s spoons were gone before she even left the house. Christine told her she had to decide what to miss out on in order to conserve spoons—run errands or make dinner? Wash the dishes or your hair? See a friend or catch up on work?
Her friend became sullen and asked how she possibly dealt with those limitations every day, forever.
A Best Friend to So Many Kinds of Spoonies
Christine answered her friend’s serious question with a serious answer, and told her that spending her precious spoons chilling together was always a wise expenditure. Personally, I would have added: “And there’s no effing way I could do it without cannabis.” Though it can’t give me desperately needed spoons, cannabis makes getting through a regular spoon-starved day a whole lot more palatable—and a full-blown flare less horrific.
Cannabis is a very common medical aid and ally to spoonies, offering soothing powers to all kinds of symptoms through the power of the body-wide endocannabinoid system. We’ll touch on five conditions that can turn someone into a spoonie, as well as how cannabis is said to help treat symptoms.
In the disease fought by Christine, the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissues, and organs. It affects many different systems, resulting in many different symptoms. These may include extreme fatigue, headaches, painful and swollen joints, fever, anemia, confusion and memory loss, swelling, pain in the chest with deep breathing, hair loss, light sensitivity, abnormal blood clotting, ulcers, and more—including very serious issues like organ failure.
Science is extremely behind the ball when it comes to studying how cannabis can assist chronic illnesses, and the lupus community has not been served in this effort. However, there has been promising results in regard to cannabis aiding other diseases that affect the immune system and inflammatory response. Lupus is nicknamed “The Great Imitator” due to sharing symptoms with other diseases, and science has proven that cannabis aids in many of these shared symptoms. The next disease is one such example.
This is the bugger getting me down. Many kinds of physical pain are involved with this disease, whose cause is unknown. I could write a whole essay on the different kinds of pain, but instead I’ll share that when I broke (nay, shattered/comminuted fracture) my foot a while back I walked on it for ten days because it hurt less than the rest of my body, so I figured it was fine. Oops. And then there’s the mental confusion of “fibro fog,” fatigue, insomnia, and other fun stuff like depression and IBS symptoms.
My dear friend cannabis helps ease the pain, turning cutting shards of glass in my body into warm melty goo. It aids in lifting my spirit, which helps me push through the exhaustion, then gets me to eat through nausea. When I can do no more—when I become spoon-less—cannabis helps me emotionally handle the extreme amount of rest dictated by this advanced stage of the disease. And science backs me up here, with one fibromyalgia study showing so much improvement using cannabis that half of the participants quit their other medications completely.
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)
Referred to by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, ME causes severe exhaustion, a debilitating symptom that’s often minimized by culture and, deplorably, even by the medical community. The cause is unknown. Rest and sleep don’t improve overwhelming ME fatigue, and it worsens with physical and mental activity. Sufferers also battle headaches, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, insomnia, and sore throat or glands.
Unfortunately, science has not studied ME much in general, and not at all in relation to cannabis, but it has been recorded as anecdotally helpful by scientists. Another fibromyalgia study also showed improvement in many overlapping symptoms. Because of the sedative effects of certain cannabis strains, it’s said that using an energizing strain during the day can be crucial factor in improving symptoms of ME. Modest dosing can also prevent feelings of sluggishness.
Crohn’s Disease and Colitis
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are the two primary forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They are both characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, though colitis is limited to the colon and Crohn’s can occur throughout the digestive system. Both diseases can result in abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fever, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, anorexia, and malnutrition.
Cannabis can lend a hand in living life with colitis or Crohn’s. It’s often a qualifier in medical cannabis states, with patients using it to fight the full range of symptoms. Cannabis is an effective IBD aid largely because of its ability to reduce inflammation. A small-but-promising study on Crohn’s disease found that participants needed less surgery and reduced bowel movements while using cannabis, as well as drastically reduced need for other medicines.
A woman’s uterus has endometrial tissue that builds up throughout her hormone cycle, then breaks down and sheds—a never-particularly-fun process called menstruation. In endometriosis, this tissue grows outside of the womb, spreading itself on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and other organs. When it’s time for the shedding of blood and other cells, they become painfully trapped in the body.
This problem can result in severe menstrual cramps, chronic lower-back, abdominal, and pelvic pain, painful intercourse, painful urination or bowel movements, IBS symptoms, and infertility. Traditional treatments (including risky surgeries) only try to keep the endometriosis from advancing, but cannabis has actually been shown to stop cell growth in mice as well as helping symptoms, especially pain.
We’re More Common Than Culture Regards
There’s many more ways to become a spoonie: Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, or Hashimoto’s—all four (and potentially many more) may be aided by cannabis via the body’s widespread endocannabinoid system. It’s frustrating that science doesn’t understand these illnesses quite yet, regardless of the stunning amount of promise it shows in improving the lives of spoonies.
When you total the numbers of Americans estimated to be suffering from the eight diseases mentioned in this article, and there’s many more, you get 91.5 million—that’s about 27% of Americans. Though there is comorbidity to be factored in (people who have more than one of these diseases), there’s also millions still searching for a diagnosis, as well as many conditions that weren’t mentioned.
We’re talking about a lot of people suffering from conditions that are barely regarded by society here. A whole lot. And they are generally invisible illnesses, which adds another dimension to feeling ignored. It’s like we’re drowning a world of problems that only we can see. Hug your spoonies (and maybe smoke ‘em out), because you probably know at least a couple—whether you’re aware of it or not.
DENVER – Cannabis consumers are changing their product preferences, moving from flower to smoke-free items like infused edibles, concentrates, pills, and other products.“The actual old-school smoking of cannabis is pretty much out the door,” Jered DeCamp, co-owner of the Herbal Remedies marijuana store in Salem, Oregon, told USA Today.Non-smokable forms of cannabis offer consumers healthier ways of ingestion. They are even more appealing for cannabis patients with serious medical conditions. For many patients, inhaling smoke is simply not an option.Another reason vape pens, edibles, and pills are increasing in popularity may have to do with discretion. Eating a cookie or using a vaporizer can attract far less attention than smoking a joint.The market changes are happening quickly. According to BDS Analytics, a cannabis industry research firm, when Colorado’s legalized recreational sales began in 2014, cannabis flower made up about 67 percent of all dispensary transactions. Today, cannabis flower represents only 44 percent of sales in Colorado. During the same time period, concentrate sales have doubled and now represent 31 percent of all sales in Colorado.The trend is occurring in other states, as well. In the past year, Oregon dispensaries reported a drop from 51 percent to 44 percent in cannabis flower sales. Flower sales have dropped 3 percent in California since the state legalized recreational use in January.U.S. Navy veteran Adrian Cromwell has been using cannabis to treat hip and spine injuries for about a decade. Although cannabis helps relieve his pain, he sought a form of ingestion that was healthier than smoking.“For, like, five weeks I was coughing up black wads so bad, it was horrible. It really woke me up to what was happening with my lungs,” Cromwell said.The drop in demand, as well as a saturation of growers, is driving down the price of cannabis flower. In Oregon, the price of flower dropped 41 percent in 15 months, hitting a a low of $5.77 per gram in February.Market analysts expect the trend of falling prices and demand for cannabis flower to continue. Cultivators and dispensary operators may have to consider stocking alternative products to meet the demands of the market.
Can Medical Marijuana Treat PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD, is a mental illness that occurs after a person has experienced a traumatic and scarring event. For instance, according to a VA report from 2012, 30% of veterans who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq suffer from PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks to the event that caused the disorder, anxiety and depression.Of course, there are people other than veterans who suffer from the illness. In fact, research shows that more than 5 million people battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. These are the people who experience abuse, assault, personal trauma, or accidents and natural disasters. PTSD is a serious mental illness that puts people at a high risk of suicide and should be treated.The usual methods of treatment are prescription medication and therapy, however, some studies suggest that cannabis could be very beneficial to patients suffering from PTSD. Cannabis has shown to reduce or even eliminate symptoms caused from PTSD. A recent study showed that patients who used marijuana as a way to treat their PTSD showed a 75% reduction i n their symptoms.A study, the results of which were published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, was conducted where scientists observed the effects cannabis could have on a brain suffering from PTSD. They administered synthetic cannabinoids to rats who have been exposed to traumatic events and they found that the cannabinoids had a positive effect. The chemicals managed to prevent physiological – as well as behavioral – symptoms caused by PTSD by targeting the brain cells which are responsible for forming and recalling traumatic memories and changing them.According to the researchers, this study “contributes to the understanding of the brain based on the positive effect cannabis has on PTSD.”However, these rats weren’t given cannabis, but rather a synthetic cannabinoid called WIN 55,212-2 which actually has a similar effect on the brain as THC. Cannabinoids found in marijuana, on the other hand, occur naturally in the plant. In this experiment, scientists took a closer look at how this synthetic cannabinoid managed to calm PTSD panic attacks caused by non-traumatic events or sounds. For instance, a simple car backfiring could trigger the traumatic events from a person who survived a shooting.The experiment went like this: The lab rats were exposed to a traumatic event in the form of an electric shock. Then the scientists injected some of the rats with the WIN 55,212-2 synthetic cannabinoid, while the others weren’t given any sort of treatment. After three and five days, the rats were given trauma reminders which were a callback to the electric shocks they experienced.The results of this experiment showed that those rats who were injected with the synthetic cannabinoids after the electric shocks didn’t have PTSD symptoms, such as increased startle response, or weakened extinction learning or changes in pain sensitivity when given a trauma reminder. In fact, these rats showed much better results than a control group of rats which were injected with a substance that’s usually used to treat PTSD, Zoloft.On the other hand, lab rats who didn’t receive synthetic cannabinoids treatment experienced all of these symptoms and reacted to the trauma reminders much more drastically.It’s important to understand what happened in these rats’ brains after they were exposed to the traumatic event. There are two brain receptors which are associated with emotional processing – the CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system and the GR receptors, also known as the glucocorticoid receptors. There was an increase in expression in these two receptors in the rats after the traumatic effect, meaning the parts of the brain responsible for saving and storing traumatic memories (the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex) were heightened. However, the synthetic cannabinoids injected in the rats actually prevented the increase in expression.Dr. Irit Akirav, who is one of the lead authors of this study, has this to say regarding his experiment:“The findings of our study suggest that the connectivity within the brain’s fear circuit changes following trauma, and the administration of cannabinoids prevents this change from happening.” He went on to say, “This study can lead to future trials in humans regarding possible ways to prevent the development of PTSD and anxiety disorders in response to a traumatic event.”Even though this research is only preliminary, the results are very promising and suggest that PTSD could be effectively treated with the use of medical cannabis. In fact, medical marijuana has shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms for many mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, and treating PTSD with cannabis might be the next medical breakthrough. There will undoubtedly be more research on this topic but, thus far, it seems that people who have suffered traumatic events could really benefit from the cannabis plant.
Benefits of CBD Oil
After sustained campaigns and fights for the legalization of marijuana, most governments have finally given in to the demands. Marijuana, especially medicinal marijuana, has been decriminalized in most states. The marijuana industry is booming with renowned companies now investing heavily in research targeting the medicinal benefits of this once feared substance.Cannabis sativa, the plant whose leaves, twigs and buds are harvested and processed, contains over 100 cannabinoids. Out of all these, CBD and THC have been well studied and documented. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects and the feeling of ‘high’ associated with marijuana use, whereas CBD is responsible for the medicinal properties of marijuana.Despite many hurdles, a rapidly growing body of research and clinical trials have yielded enough evidence supporting the biological benefits of CBD. This novel compound binds to CB2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system and in the process, it alters several physiological processes – including inflammation, pain sensation, and neurotransmission.Currently, CBD oil has been approved by the FDA for the management of several chronic ailments. Additionally, CBD oil is being used off-label to alleviate numerous conditions. Discussed below are a couple of CBD oil benefits:EpilepsyResearch studies have shown CBD oil to possess significant anti-seizure properties. In fact, this invaluable benefit first came to light when CNN ran a documentary of a child suffering from Dravet syndrome – a severe form of epilepsy – whose symptoms and frequency of epileptic attacks were significantly reduced by CBD oil.Since then, further research and trials have shown CBD to be effective in the treatment of many forms of seizures, some of which are resistant to conventional anticonvulsants. Furthermore, CBD oil lacks the adverse reactions and side effects associated with these anti-seizure drugs.Chronic PainBy binding to CB2 receptors, experimental studies have shown CBD can alter non-receptive responses. As a result, CBD possesses excellent analgesic properties which have been utilized in the management of chronic pain states, such as neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and inflammatory pain.There are several CBD oil preparations which can be administered either systemically or intrathecally in order to suppress pain. In Canada, some preparations containing carefully titrated doses of THC and CBD have been given the green light by the government to be used in pain management.Uniquely, CBD oil used for analgesia has an excellent side effect profile. Unlike NSAIDs, it does not cause ulcers. It is neither addictive nor does it create a state of dependence, a common feature of opioids analgesics. In fact, CBD oil is being used experimentally as a potential candidate for the treatment of opioid addiction.AnxietyStudies using animal models and human volunteers have shown that CBD has potential anxiolytic properties. In pets, such as dogs with anxiety problems, an addition of CBD oil into their meals greatly calms the animals. Similarly, in humans with social phobias and social anxiety disorder, administration of CBD oil alleviates anxiety symptoms and at the same time improves cognition and speech.DepressionThe use of CBD oil in the treatment of depression, especially refractory major depressive disorder, is like a double-edged sword. At lower doses, CBD has excellent anti-depressive effects; at higher doses, CBD has been shown to have sedative effects. Hence, the dosage used must be within the optimal range or better, and it should be individualized depending on the patient’s response.CBD’s antidepressant effects stem from its ability to interact with glutamate and serotonergic cortical pathways via type 1A serotonin receptors. Whereas the therapeutic effects of commonly used antidepressants may take up to two weeks to set in, those of CBD are fast – almost instantaneous.Chronic Inflammatory DiseasesActing via the CB2 receptors, CBD has been shown to modulate immune responses, such as inflammatory responses, leukocyte chemotaxis, inhibition of mast cell activation and inhibition of nitric oxide synthase activity. The overall effect is the inhibition of the inflammatory process.As a result, CBD has attracted huge attention as a potential drug to manage disease conditions arising from dysregulated immune responses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis. Apart from controlling the underlying inflammatory process, CBD has the advantage of treating the severe pain associated with these diseases.DiabetesThe potential use of CBD in the treatment of diabetes is still young, but it is worthwhile to mention that ongoing experiments and trials have yielded promising results. Animal models have shown that CBD reduces the incidence of diabetes significantly. In humans, CBD seems to slow down the progression of beta cell damage towards overt diabetes.Neurodegenerative DisordersCBD oil possesses neuroprotective properties. It is an excellent antioxidant that can protect the brain from the harmful effects of free reactive oxygen radicals which underlie the brain damage, amnesia, dementia, cognitive disturbances and cerebral ischemia associated with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.Management of Drug Addiction, Cigarette CessationWhile this may sound absurd and ironical, especially when one considers how THC – CBD’s sister compound – can be psychologically addictive, many studies have shown that CBD oil is effective in curbing nicotine addiction associated with cigarette smoking. It has also been found to be effective in the management of withdrawal symptoms associated with smoking cessation. With the roles of the endocannabinoid system being increasingly known, especially its roles in drug addiction and humans’ brain reward centres, CBD has the prime potential to treat many other forms of substance addiction, including opioids, cocaine and other psychostimulants.Cancer PreventionSeveral studies have pointed out the possibility of intrinsic anti-tumour effects of CBD. It is thought that CBD can inhibit the multiplication and spread of tumour cells throughout the body. It is postulated that CBD increases apoptosis of tumour cells.While the benefits of CBD seems numerous, much effort is needed to fully exploit its potential. The few mentioned benefits here represent just a tip of the iceberg. Also, as people embrace these benefits, we ought to exercise some caution to avoid being drawn to exaggerated and sensationalized benefits.Myths Associated with CBDAlso worth mentioning are the numerous myths about CBD. The most common being with regard to CBD’s psychoactive effects. This once common myth has since been debunked. It is now general knowledge that it is THC which is responsible for the psychoactive effects, and not CBD.On the street, there is this common myth that CBD products, such as creams, oils, and cookies, are illegal. In most U.S. states and many other countries where marijuana has been decriminalized, access and use of CBD is no longer prohibited. Even in places where marijuana is still a regulated substance, CBD oil for medicinal purposes is generally allowed.As we have seen, CBD oil has a lot of medicinal benefits, and their exploitation is long overdue. Many lives would have been saved and suffering reduced if the discovery has been made a bit earlier. As more research is done, we believe that more benefits of CBD oil will be uncovered.Disclaimer: This article is intended for information and educational purposes only and is not intended to reflect the views of the publication.