After a serious car accident which wasn’t her fault, Catherine* was left with debilitating chronic pain as a result of her injuries. Seven and a half years on, medical cannabis has finally given the quality of life to be a mum to her four-year-old daughter.
In December 2014, Catherine was a passenger in a vehicle which was involved in a high speed, multi-collision car accident.
Though it was no fault of her own, the injuries she suffered as a result would leave her struggling with debilitating chronic pain for years.
Within a couple of days of the accident, she had lost all movement in her neck and was experiencing pain all the way down her spine, but didn’t receive any physiotherapy treatment until two months later.
Catherine continued to hold down her job, as a practicing optician, while battling the side effects of opioid medications, including suffering painful stomach ulcers and paranoia from Tramadol.
Not receiving the support she needed from her husband, just 10 months after the accident she made the decision to leave her marriage.
“I just couldn’t go on anymore,” she says.
“I wasn’t getting any help with housework and because I worked away from home, I wasn’t getting back in time to pick up prescriptions and had no support from anyone who was willing to do that for me.”
Catherine fell pregnant with her daughter, now four, in 2017 and was forced to reduce all of her medication, relying only on over-the-counter co-codamol when things became unbearable.
“Throughout my pregnancy I had nothing to help with the pain and it was tough, I had to carry on working because I have to have money,” she says.
Despite planning to return to her career full time, six months after her daughter was born she suffered a severe flare up and was prescribed gabapentin.
“It was effective for the pain, but quite quickly you need more and more of it and as soon as I started increasing the dose, the side effects were too much,” says Catherine.
“I was literally a zombie, I put on half a stone in a week, I couldn’t look after my little girl and I wasn’t able to take care of the home properly.
“One of the reasons I felt I couldn’t return to my career was because of how impaired I felt by the drugs.”
After trigger point injections – a treatment route which she had pinned her hopes on – failed to help control the pain, Catherine began looking into medical cannabis.
Last year she saw a private consultant who prescribed her a CBD dominant oil and later, cannabis flower containing CBD and THC.
“For the first time ever someone acknowledged what was actually happening, for the first time I felt as if I was believed,” says Catherine.
“There were so many years of being fobbed off and having drugs thrown at me, it was just nice to have a doctor who did believe me.”
She adds: “After finding the right oil, for the first time in seven and a half years I’ve got some quality of life back.”
But Catherine has been more wary about the vaporiser, admitting she resisted using it – despite the fact it was more effective for the pain – due to the stigma attached to it.
“The vape has been the hardest thing for me to get my head around,” she says.
“I’m always conscious of the smell and worry what people’s assumptions will be of me if they see me vaping or smell cannabis.”
Catherine continues: “The vape can get me out of pain immediately, but I was still turning back to the prescription medications for a while because it’s easier to disguise the fact that you’ve popped a couple of pills.
“I feel like I have to tell people about it and explain what I’m taking, which is madness because I didn’t ever feel I had to justify taking Tramadol to anybody.
“I do say to friends, if you’re uncomfortable then I won’t do it in front of you. There is a part of me that is willing to keep myself in pain, because people might view it as not being okay.”
Catherine’s prescription currently costs her around £700 a month, an amount she will be unable to sustain in the long-term.
But she says she would rather run up debt than take the risk of accessing it illegally.
“I’m faced with the option of losing the prescription, or taking out some sort of loan to cover the costs and getting into debt,” she says.
“In the position I’m in now I don’t think that I could turn to the street, for me the debt option is better than turning to illicit ways.”
Although she hasn’t had any negative responses to her medication and is “fully supportive” of medical cannabis, she blames the stigma she feels from how she has been “conditioned” by society.
“I think it’s down to me and the fact that I view myself as a mum and there’s a certain responsibility attached to that,” she admits.
“In my eyes, someone who consumes illegal drugs is not a good parent, but then on the flip side, I can’t be a mum without medical cannabis. I can’t be a good mum without it anyway.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those in the story
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.
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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