Chrissie Butler is a palliative care support worker and medical cannabis patient in Australia. She tells Cannabis Health about her campaign to end the stigma of ‘stoner’ stereotypes.
“I think cannabis should be in everybody’s first aid kit,” says Chrissie Butler, 45.
The mum-of-three is a palliative care case worker, assistant nurse and a medical cannabis patient herself.
She suffers from multiple diagnoses, including chronic migraines and multiple cavernoma, in her brain (clusters of abnormal blood vessels cause a cocktail of neurological problems).
When she spoke to Cannabis Health from her home in Queensland, Australia, Chrissie was still recovering after recently undergoing a hysterectomy. This was a result of her adenomyosis – where the tissue that grows on the lining of the uterus is also present on the inside muscular wall of the uterus, causing extremely painful and heavy periods.
And the procedure confirmed long-suspected endometriosis, another gynealogical condition which can only be diagnosed by laparoscopic investigations.
When she was first offered pharmaceuticals to help manage her pain symptoms several years ago, Chrissie instead turned to sourcing cannabis on the black market.
“I saw a neurologist and within three minutes he had offered me pharmaceuticals with no other options,” she said.
“I didn’t want to go down that route because I know how it works…before you know it you’re down the rabbit hole. I tried the heavier pharmaceuticals years ago for chronic period pain and they either made me really nauseous or just a zombie.
She continued: “As a teenager I had smoked pot but all that stopped when I had kids.
“When I was given the only offer of pharmaceuticals to deal with chronic migraine for the rest of my life, I thought that’s not the way I want to go.”
Chrissie used cannabis for two years before she was given a legal prescription after going to her family doctor during a particularly bad flare.
“I had a full-blown nerve spasm. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t function, I ended up passing out from pain, it was just a nightmare,” she said.
“I told her that I was using cannabis and fortunately she was an advocate for it.
“Two weeks later she put in the referral to a cannabis doctor and within five days I had legal prescription cannabis.”
Depending on her symptoms, Chrissie will microdose cannabis throughout the day to allow her to function, or take a higher dosage to sleep off a chronic migraine.
“It depends on the level of the migraine that I have on any given day, but it definitely knocks the pain down a notch.
“More recently, I tried it to help with my adenomyosis and endometriosos symptoms and it was just phenomenal.”
But it’s not just physical symptoms that cannabis has eased. It’s helped Chrissie cope with stress and keep her mental health in check – particularly while she was working on the frontline at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a mental saviour for me in the work that I do and dealing with chronic health issues myself, as well as COVID,” she said.
“At the moment, the world is just in a huge amount of chaos and anxiety and mental health issues have gone through the roof.
“I’ve come home from crazy days at work and cannabis helps stop that endless mind chatter, I find I can process the day a bit better.”
In her role supporting people at the end of their life, Chrissie comes into contact with many cancer patients who are also using medical cannabis to relieve their pain.
However, she mostly keeps her own cannabis use private at work, from both patients and medical professionals.
“There’s only a few trusted people that I talk about it with, because there is quite a lot of stigma still,” she admitted.
“It is getting better, but it’s still prevalent.”
It was this stigma that inspired Chrissie to launch the Faces of Cannabis campaign on Instagram.
She has been sharing her own health journey with followers of her account since she got her legal prescription.
“I couldn’t really share too much beforehand because of the industry I’m in, but I didn’t want to hide in the shadows anymore. I wanted people to be able to talk about their cannabis use,” she said.
“I felt a sense of responsibility, when you find something that works for you and you think it might help others, you’ll share that experience.
“I know cannabis is not a cure all but it’s definitely helped me and a lot of people that I speak to in the chronic illness community.”
Chrissie is calling on people to share a short video of themselves, giving a brief summary of who they are and why they use medical cannabis, finishing with the line ‘do I look like a stoner to you?’
The aim is to tackle the stereotypes associated with cannabis and draw attention to the fact that it is used by people from all walks of life.
“There’s a lot of stigma out there, particularly in my generation,” she said.
“I remember my mum saying that the neighbours were drug addicts ‘smoking dope’ – that’s the kind of the conditioning I was brought up with.”
She continued: “I was just sitting one day thinking ‘what does a stoner look like?’
“We deal with patients at work from all walks of life – I’ve got 90-year-olds using cannabis – it’s a really broad spectrum of people. I wanted to see all the different faces and the different walks of life.
“There’s doctors, lawyers, housewives – there’s a lot of people who use cannabis that you have no idea about and who you would never suspect, I just wanted to showcase that.”
Medical cannabis was legalised in Australia in 2016, but despite this many doctors are still reluctant to prescribe and it is not available under the national Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning patients have to pay full price.
Chrissie, who has relied purely on cannabis during her hysterectomy recovery, believes it should be much more widely accessible for those who need it.
“Here in Australia, it depends on your doctor and your state,” she said.
“But when a doctor shuts someone down and makes that judgement it’s a moral one not a clinical one, so I always encourage people to go and find another doctor.”
Chrissie added: “Obviously cannabis isn’t for everyone, and you have to be a responsible user, but it should be more widely and easily accessible. It needs to be an option for people.”
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