In my early teens I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, just like my mother, grandmother and, later, my sister.
It affects the joints, and started out with lots of dislocations as a teenager and progressed to quite a painful condition.
Then in my 40s, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which can cause pain in muscles all over the body, as well as fatigue.
My two conditions have led me to gradually become less mobile, although I’ve been fortunate to receive joint replacements in my hip, knee, big toes, shoulder, ankle and heel.
Over the years I’ve worked my way through whatever drugs were recommended at the time.
But eventually you run out of options and, if you’re in a lot of pain, you will end up taking opiates like morphine or something of that family.
Among them was tramadol, which I came to realise was good for short term use, for example after one of my surgeries. But it didn’t really help me in the long term.
In fact, after taking painkillers throughout my adult life, I realised four years ago that none of them was really helping my overall health.
I was 65 at the time and would take co-codamol before I’d even got out of bed and then tramadol plus anti-inflammatories as and when needed.
Both conditions have flare-ups caused by various often-unpredictable triggers, including changes in the temperature outside. So I needed strong painkillers at hand all the time.
Opiates can be addictive but also they can become less effective so you end up needing more and more.
This means when you really need them to work, if you’re having a particularly bad flare-up, they may not be as potent.
I was also taking anti-inflammatories that could cause stomach ulcers and therefore required an additional medicine to protect against their side-effects.
I would come rattling out of the pharmacist with a huge paper bag with my regular prescription. I wondered whether putting so much rubbish into my body could really be good.
A colleague in my career as a healthcare manager first introduced me to the potential of medical cannabis as an answer to my problems.
It’s not something I had ever considered and I was very uncertain about it.
I think this was a hangover from being around in the 1960s where, in our world in a convent grammar school, it wasn’t the all hippie dippie and drugs that’s for sure!
Cannabis had a bad rep and even now when I tell people I’m taking it they assume it’s something you buy on a street corner.
Despite my conservatism and doubts, I decided that I couldn’t criticise something I’d never tried. When you have chronic pain, you will literally give anything a shot if you think it will help.
I was hoping for something that would be more effective than pharmaceutical painkillers, especially after flare ups, and didn’t want to keep adjusting the doses of what I was on to try to cope.
After some online research I bought a CBD oil made in Holland and followed the often-repeated mantra of cannabis medicine: ‘Start low and go slow”.
This means taking a very small amount infrequently and gradually increasing it until you hit the spot that’s doing you the most good.
I was quite surprised at just how quickly it worked. Within three weeks of taking it, I was able to ditch all the opiate painkillers .
It seemed I had, therefore, escaped the endless drive in pain management to find evermore powerful painkillers.
Having said that, I did need to add a stronger, low-THC cannabis medicine into my daily routine a year ago.
This is only available legally in the UK via a prescription and so I initially discussed it with my NHS pain consultant. While she had no objections personally, however, her hospital trust like just about every other one in the country, had a policy not to prescribe it to treat my conditions.
A private prescription, then, was the only option.
I’m currently taking four 50 mg capsules of the original CBD oil per day, plus 10 mg of the THC product.
I’m fortunate to have a pension to cover the £800 to £1,000 per month this costs, and I know that many in my position can’t afford this. It’s not cheap, but for me it has been life-changing.
As well as managing the pain, I’ve been able to sleep much better, and I’ve got none of the side-effects that can come with painkillers, such as an upset stomach or irritable bowel syndrome.
I still take anti-inflammatories for my arthritis but the cannabis doesn’t interfere with them at all. Also, I’ve gone completely cold turkey on the opioids and haven’t looked back since.
Carol is a retired healthcare manager who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England. Her name has been changed as she wishes to remain anonymous.
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