In the run up to our women’s health webinar on Tuesday 3 August, we are sharing the stories of mothers who have found cannabis medicines helpful in the management of their health conditions – and how they’ve coped with stigma from the rest of society.
Dr Callie Seaman has been consuming cannabis since being diagnosed with epilepsy in her teens. For decades she hid it from health professionals and other parents out of shame but now her son is 17, she’s speaking out and empowering others to do the same.
“It was my father who introduced me to cannabis,” says 40-year-old mum-of-one, Callie Seaman.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
When Callie had her first seizure at school at the age of 15 and was prescribed the anti-epileptic drug clonazepam, her dad always made sure she had a supply so she wouldn’t be tempted to drink alcohol.
“My dad had always consumed cannabis, but we didn’t speak about it, it was just something he did,” she continues.
“This was back in 1995, before the words medical and cannabis had even been put together.
“It wasn’t until I stopped consuming to clear my mind while I was finishing off my PhD, that I realised that this was actually stopping the seizures or keeping them under control.”
On the advice of her father, Callie had continued to consume cannabis during her pregnancy with her son, Baden, now 17, and throughout his childhood.
But she never spoke about it with professionals out of fear of social services becoming involved.
“I felt a lot of shame,” she admits.
“I was always incredibly lucky that I had a father who was cultivating it for me so I didn’t have to go to dodgy dealers in car parks, but I felt like a criminal.
“I was living in fear of having my son taken away from me by social services, of having my home broken into by other criminals, of being judged by the parents at school.”
Callie adds: “At children’s parties when he was little, I would see mums open a second bottle of wine and that was not only acceptable, but almost encouraged.
“I didn’t dare get my vaporiser out because of the conversations you would hear about cannabis and so-called ‘wacky baccy’.”
But at home Callie has always been open and communicative with Baden about cannabis.
“I was lucky to have a fantastic husband who supported me. We never hid it from him, but we would never blatantly do it in front of him either,” she says.
“We talked openly about it and we talked about the effects and the differences between alcohol and cannabis.”
When he dared ask her to buy him a bottle of rum on New Year’s Eve, her response was to bake some brownies instead.
“I would prefer him to consume cannabis than to drink or take anything else that is on the street now,” says Callie.
“You can die from consuming too much alcohol, with cannabis the worst thing that’s going to happen is he’s going to go to sleep and wake up afterwards very well rested.”
And while he might have a few gripes with her leaving ominous-smelling plastic ware in the dishwasher when his girlfriend is coming round, Baden is otherwise supportive of her medicating.
“There is research out there now, it’s very different from when I was growing up and my dad and I had to go to specialist bookshops,” says Callie.
“I’ve been able to actually show him the science behind it and give him the tools and the ammunition to be able to support it.”
Callie is now an experienced cannabis scientist herself and a veteran of the hydroponics industry.
Having first studied for a degree in Biomedical Sciences, during her PhD she became a founding director of Aqualabs, a formulator and producer of specialist hydroponic nutrients.
“I do feel I was born into this, as though I was destined to go into this industry,” she says.
“My dad taught me so much, I feel unbelievably lucky in that he gave me the open-mindedness to look at this as a medicine as something that helps, not just to look at it as something recreational.”
When Baden turned 16, Callie started to speak out more about her own personal cannabis use.
She joined patient advocacy group United Patient Alliance to help educate others about cannabis and in 2019 spoke at the Centre for Medical Cannabis research synopsis, before becoming one of the scientific co-curators of a pilot program at Cambridge University, CANNTalks.
She is also helping other patients access this medicine through her advisory roles with Cannabis Patient Advocacy and Support Services (CPASS) and Medcan Support.
“I’ve felt ashamed for most of my life, but the last few years have been a real reprogramming for me,” says Callie.
“I remember seeing [cannabis campaigners] Cary Barton and Hannah Deacon speak at an event and they gave me the courage to stand up and say, ‘what am I ashamed of here?’”
Since getting a legal prescription for medical cannabis earlier this year, Callie has been sharing her journey, along with other educational resources on her social media channels, to help change attitudes towards cannabis.
“The reality is the next seizure I have I might not wake up from,” she says.
“I’m not afraid anymore and I want to empower other people not to hide in the shadows. We are not bad people, we are normal people and we are doing nothing wrong.”
Callie adds: “If they want to shame me they can, but I consume cannabis and I am not ashamed anymore. I am ready to stand up and fight this.”
Have you registered for our upcoming webinar, Women’s Health and Cannabis Medicines: Motherhood?
The second episode in this ground-breaking series, will focus on the complexities facing mothers who are both prescribed medical cannabis and those whose children require cannabis medicines to manage their conditions.
Join speakers Hannah Deacon, patient advocate and mum-of-six, Gillian Flood and clinicians Dr Sally Ghazaleh, pain management consultant at the Whittington Hospital and Women’s Health Consultant at Integro Clinics, and Sarah Higgins CNS, women’s health lead at CPASS to explore cannabis and motherhood on Tuesday 3 August at 7pm.
The webinar is free of charge, register here
Canadian study shows more women using cannabis for menopause symptoms
Researchers analysed responses from 1,500 women living across Alberta
A new study shows a large percentage of women have tried cannabis to manage their menopause symptoms.
The menopause study aimed to examine the rates and patterns of cannabis use and its perceived effectiveness in managing symptoms.
Researchers analysed responses from 1,500 women living across Alberta of which, 18 percent were in premenopausal, 33 percent were in peri-menopause and 35 percent were in post-menopause. There was also a small percentage that had either undergone a hysterectomy and or bilateral oophorectomy.
The NHS estimates that most people who experience menopause is between 45 and 55 years of age. This occurs when a person’s oestrogen levels decline. The average age for this to happen is 51. Around 1 in every 100 women enter into menopause early before 40 years old. This is referred to as premature menopause.
Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, anxiety, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping and reduced sex drive. The average length of time that women can experience menopause is up to four years.
Menopause study results
A study from the University of Alberta in Edmonton Canada shows that one in every three women near the menopause transition uses cannabis for symptom management.
Of the women studied, roughly 33 percent reported using cannabis within the past 30 days. Out of the 499 current cannabis users, 75 percent stated they used it for medical purposes. This included the most common reason, sleep issues at 65 percent, anxiety at 45 percent and joint pain or aches at 33 percent. A further 29 percent reported they use cannabis for irritability and 25 percent for depression. Three-quarters of the current users reported that they found cannabis helpful with their symptoms.
The most common way to take cannabis was edibles with 52 percent then oils with 47 percent. Just under half of those surveyed said they got their information from internet searches while 34 percent got their information from friends.
Researchers noted that women using cannabis were more likely than non-users to report sleep issues, mood issues including depression, mood swings, irritability and anxiety along with difficulty concentrating or painful intercourse.
Katherine Babyn from the University of Alberta and the first author of the study abstract said: “Our study confirmed that a large percentage of midlife women are using cannabis for symptoms that overlap with menopause, especially those women who reported more symptoms. In addition, many of these women are claiming to get relief for their symptoms through the use of cannabis.”
Dr Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director said: “While we continue to learn that more women are using cannabis to help manage their menopause symptoms, further research is required to assess the safety and efficacy of cannabis for menopause symptoms management.”
The results will be presented as part of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in Washington DC next week. The study was funded by an operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
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WEBINAR: Women’s health and cannabis medicines | 02 Motherhood
The second in a four-part series of expert webinars, exploring the role of medical cannabis in women’s health.
Despite being legally prescribed medicinal cannabis, many mothers and children experience shame and stigma when using it in their day to day life, mostly due to misinformation and misunderstanding.
In this episode we were joined by a panel of clinical experts, patients and patient advocates, to explore the experience of mothers who rely on medical cannabis for their own or their child’s condition.
Meet the panelists
Hannah Deacon is an award-winning campaigner on access to medical cannabis. She ran a
campaign in 2017/18 with the lobby group End Our Pain to fight for access to medical cannabis on the NHS for her son Alfie. The campaign was successful and resulted in her son’s doctors
receiving the first permanent schedule one license to prescribe medical cannabis on the NHS for him in June 2018. This campaign led to the law change in November 2018. Alfie received the first legal NHS prescription for medical cannabis and still benefits from this nearly three years later.
Hannah now continues to campaign for fair access to medical cannabis treatments on the NHS and is also the Executive Director of The Medical Cannabis Clinicians society and Director of Maple Tree Consultancy. Through this work she hopes to help create a patient-focused sector which will benefit patients like her son Alfie. She is also the co-founder and vice chair of the organisation of Medcan Support, helping to support parents and carers of children who require cannabis medicines to manage their conditions.
Gillian was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in her teen years, and then later in life with PTSD and fibromyalgia. Gillian used various different medications to combat her symptoms.
Over the years, she has tried numerous antidepressants and gabapentinoids in order to try and subdue high pain levels and various other symptoms that she has been suffering from. Since being prescribed medical cannabis in April 2020, Gillian’s life has changed and she is able to spend her time with her six children, five of whom have ASD, therefore needing a lot of support. Subsequently, the pressure has been taken off of Gillian’s husband, who previously was in charge of the family’s daily life.
Gillian is an avid patient advocate and a member of PLEA (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) Patient Working Group. She wants cannabis medicines to be available through the NHS for anyone who requires it and wants to see an end to the stigma surrounding parents who take cannabis medication.
Dr Sally Ghazaleh
Dr Ghazaleh is a Pain Management Consultant at the Whittington Hospital, and the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, London. She also prescribes cannabis-based medicines and is the Women’s Pain Expert at Integro Medical Clinics.
Sally specialises in managing patients with lower back pain, neck pain, neuropathic pain, abdominal pain, cancer pain, complex regional pain syndrome, post-stroke pain and fibromyalgia. She has a particular interest in bladder and abdominal pain in women, and women’s health in general. She is fluent in Arabic, English and Hungarian.
Sarah Higgins CNS
Sarah is a Clinical Nurse Specialist, with over 10 years’ experience working in the NHS. She developed an interest in medical cannabis and its application in women’s health following the implementation of routine screening for recreational drug use in sexual and reproductive health services. On exploring this further she identified a trend in which women were often
self-medicating with cannabis for hormone related difficulties.
Sarah is also the Women’s Health Lead at non-profit organisation CPASS Nurses Arm. The organisation’s nurse, midwife, and educator-led principal focus is on improving health, clinical outcomes and patient experience, through building nursing and midwifery leadership capacity to make significant improvements to the cannabinoid patient care environment.
Watch episode one in the series Women in Pain here
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