Seven Years of Studying and Using Cannabis For Chronic Pain: My Inside StoryJan 05, 2023
By Debi Wimberley Cannabis Educator and Founder of the Effective Cannabis Newsletter
This is a tribute to all who live in chronic pain. You are important, and you matter. It is also a celebration of all who have learned how to manage their pain with Cannabis.
Today I am sharing for the first time what being medically forced off opioids taught me and gave me. This narrative is vital to provide answers and help for those who suffer a lifestyle of chronic pain.
Living in constant, relentless pain robs you of life, and no one is ever prepared or taught to transition into a tortured existence.
Like millions of others, I found myself living on the inside of chronic pain and the opioid crisis (1), left with no treatment options and abandoned by doctors who feared arrest or losing their medical license. The level of my pain was 10...24-7.
The scientific debate over whether Cannabis can control pain or replace opioids should no longer be a question. The proper discussion is how we put quality, safe medical Cannabis in the hands of those who suffer in chronic pain to improve their daily living.
The Profound Mental and Physical Impact and Process
Being prescribed Fentanyl and OxyContin for over two decades for Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) (2) and abandoned by my doctors at the height of the opioid crisis brings me here to change our conversation about pain.
Learning to utilize Cannabis to manage my pain was not a simple and easy process. I hope what I have learned can, in some way, help others.
The State of Chronic Pain
Living a life of chronic pain is not a choice. Quality, safe treatments are needed if you look at the statistics of those who suffer.
The CDC updated a report in 2018 (3) that:
• More than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience chronic pain.
• Approximately 8% of adults have high-impact chronic pain.
• Most (84%) of high-impact chronic pain patients cannot work outside the home.
• Chronic pain is the No. 1 cause of disability globally.
The Canadian Task Force (4) reported nearly 8 million Canadians live with chronic pain in 2021.
• 1 in 5 people across their lifespan live with chronic pain.
A European review (5) reports that chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity occurs in 19% of adult Europeans, seriously affecting the quality of their social and work lives.
Finding Alternatives to Opioids
I was fortunate enough to live in a medical marijuana state, so I turned my attention to how to utilize Cannabis to control pain.
It was terrifying as my health was critically unstable. Forced off OxyContin, my body was going through intense withdrawals as I contracted MAC lung disease. Desperately I needed to learn how to apply Cannabis to manage my pain.
It was a very rocky struggle as no one knew how to tell me to start utilizing Cannabis beyond trying this, then this, and this. Hence, my education and study of Cannabis began unchartered.
Year One: Trial and Error Fight to Survive
Cannabis for my chronic pain began in the dispensary with a budtender who had no health history of me beyond my desire to fight to live. I was making decisions based on the recommendations of others with no medical background. I gathered knowledge of products and the different consumption methods available to me to manage pain with multiple lung diseases. I kept extensive notes of what strain worked and what didn’t. Halfway through the year, I learned about Cannabis dry flower vapes (6), opening the door to use for my lung disease. This came with its own learning curve, as there were few dry flower vapes on the market and little knowledge about the benefits.
I did not fundamentally understand why some things worked and others didn’t. Walking into a dispensary was like walking into a candy store as a kid. So many choices! The budtender behind the counter made each sound like it was just the right one. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. “Eat me” “Drink me!” as I went down the rabbit hole. I experienced good relief at times and could see that Cannabis might reduce my pain. I realized I needed to be making well-informed decisions around chemovars (7) if Cannabis would ever help me. There were no Cannabis coaches to speak of when I began to explore medical Cannabis. Today no one has to go it alone. A Cannabis coach helps reduce trial and error and saves you money.
Year 2: ECS and Cannabinoids
Through my ongoing research, I turned my attention to my internal Endocannabinoid System (ECS) (8), which plays a vital role in managing my pain. Reading books, reviewing research, and taking online courses on the ECS and the Cannabis plant’s medicinal use, gave me the foundation to engage my ECS for better results.
Through detailed monitoring and record keeping, I began to identify a combination of cannabinoids (9) THC and CBD whole flower that relieved my pain rather well. Then I began to hear about terpenes (10).
Understanding the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes and the correct burn temperature finally helped me establish the necessary combinations to manage my pain. That is when I began to notice a change in my lungs and labored breathing.
To say that my pain was managed and stable at a level of 3 and no longer a 10 had truly given me back my life. Trust me, I was afraid to tell anyone that I had improved my pain this much and my lungs felt better. Maybe it’s not real; it is just all in my head. Would it last?
Years 3 to 4: Engaging and Understanding My Endocannabinoid System (ECS)
Reducing my pain level was great, but I needed to understand how this was possible. No doctor could ever do this with six years of experimental treatments and two decades of prescribed high-dose opioid use that still left me in pain of 10 on most days.
Also, forgetting to take my breathing meds and not needing them was surprising with my poor lung health. Just maybe the ECS was at play here as well.
I recall my pain doctor explaining it was like my brain was short-circuited when a heavy coffee mug hit my foot, triggering CRPS to take over. He had no knowledge of the ECS at that time than I did.
That one recall led me to start piecing together how the Endocannabinoid System (ECS ) and its responsibility for keeping all body systems in harmony or homeostasis make sense. It was not my brain; it was my ECS!
Think of your body as a car, an intricate network of systems that keep you running at peak performance. Your ECS is on the lookout watching over all of them. Once it detects a problem, it also functions as your trusted mechanic, moving in to address the issue, but only when your ECS is maintained and working properly.
When that coffee mug hit my foot, my central nervous system fired electrical signals faster than my Endocannabinoid System could respond, leaving me in a state of sedentary living which is never good for lung health.
My system needed to be supplemented with cannabinoids. The introduction of the right chemovars of THC, CBD, and terpenes quieted down my pain signals and inflammation in my lungs allowing me to eliminate 23 prescribed pharmaceuticals with one natural plant called Cannabis.
Years 5 to 7: The Impact of Opioids on My Body and Health
Finally, with my pain under control and breathing better, I now needed to address the impact of over two decades of opioid use.
I was at 240 mgs a day of OxyContin when medically-forced tapering of my dose began. The first cutdown was 25% and extremely harsh on my body and respiratory system. I became unable to breathe for myself, fighting for my life. I was not mentally or physically prepared for withdrawal from a drug dependency, but then who is?
My last and final cutdown was the harshest of all. My internal body temperature became dysregulated, and I was constantly freezing. My gut health was unmanageable, and I couldn’t sleep.
I learned how to manage the withdrawal symptoms to ensure my body did not try to quit on me again. Here I was, opioid-free, with things occurring in my body that made no sense. My doctors had no answers.
This forced me to study the impact of the absence of opioids on the body after being consumed over a long period.
Through knowledge and work I have regained a life I enjoy waking up to every morning. If I had not been forced off opioids this never would have been possible. The anger I once had has turned into a mission and a promise to you to educate and advocate for medical Cannabis to be available to all with the knowledge necessary to improve quality of life.
Final Takeaway: Education at all levels about the body’s vital Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is critically absent. Putting an end to chronic pain and suffering is a choice. Clearly, we must learn about our ECS and fully engage it. Only then can we realize the benefits of a greatly improved quality of health.
1. Debi Wimberley, “Forced off opioids living inside the storm” Effectivecannabis.com, Published April 2019, Update January 2023
2. NINDS, "Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Fact Sheet", NINDS, Publication date January 2017
3. Dahlhamer J, Lucas J, Zelaya, C, et al. Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:1001–1006. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6736a2external icon
4. Health Canada, Canadian Pain Task Force Report:2021, Pain in Canada: A Public Health emergency in need of action, Cat.: H134-19/2021E-PDF, ISBN: 978-0-660-38498-6, Pub.: 210048
5. Breivik, Harald et al. “Survey of chronic pain in Europe: prevalence, impact on daily life, and treatment.” European journal of pain (London, England) vol. 10,4 (2006): 287-333. doi:10.1016/j.ejpain.2005.06.009
6. John, “Benefits of using a dry herb vaporizer”, ST News, https://myweb.fiu.edu/, Published August 31, 2022
7. Modern Canna Labs, “Cannabis Chemovar Classification”, https://www.moderncanna.com. No published date
8. Woodhams, S.G., Sagar, D.R., Burston, J.J., Chapman, V. (2015). The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Pain. In: Schaible, HG. (eds) Pain Control. Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, vol 227. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-46450-2_7
9. Mandal, Ananya. "What are Cannabinoids?". News-Medical. 05 January 2023. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Cannabinoids.aspx>.
10. Jon Johnson, “What to know about terpenes”, Medically reviewed by Eloise Theisen, RN, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, Medical News Today, March 6, 2020 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/
About Debi Wimberley:
Debi Wimberley is a staunch, tireless, and caring advocate for Medical Cannabis education and self-empowerment in healthy living. A survivor of decades of chronic, debilitating pain and lung disease, she never gave up hope, even when doctors bluntly declared there was nothing more they could do. Taking matters into her own hands, Debi drew on her background in medical technology, oncology, and hospitals as tools to learn, understand and thrive. Being adaptive and agile allowed her to obtain certifications in Medical Cannabis applications, Patient Care and become a certified professional communicator and content creator specializing in Cannabis. Debi is blazing new territory. Her mission is to centralize quality, accurate, fact-based education through collaborative work with other certified Cannabis educators, health coaches, and professionals.
Effective Cannabis Newsletter is a platform to educate on the vital role of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in one's health. The information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in or available through this newsletter is for general information purposes only. It is not medical advice; it is health awareness.
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