For men’s mental health awareness month, Cannabis Health speaks to fathers, patients and carers about their experiences, with a focus on what needs to change.
In the second of our series, we meet medical cannabis patient, Lewis Morgan. Lewis has PTSD as well as chronic pain caused by injuries he sustained twelve years ago.
Read the first part of our men and mental health series here
Talking about mental health
Mental health can be a difficult topic for anyone to talk about. However, when it comes to reaching out for help, men seem to struggle more than most. The statistics for men’s health show that it does appear to be more difficult for men to open up about how they are feeling.
In a YouGov poll which surveyed 2111 adults in 2009 before comparing to figures from a survey taken again in 2019. The results revealed that two in five men report feeling low in an increase of 37 per cent since 2009. It also showed that men aged 45 to 49 have the highest age-specific suicide rate.
Men also struggle when accessing help. The same survey from YouGov revealed that 10 per cent of male participants said that they didn’t seek help as they feared being told they had a mental illness. The reasons for not seeking help may be complex such as believing in traditional masculine values such as remaining stoic or being dependable. They may also see discussing mental health issues as a ‘weakness.’
Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Lewis Morgan explains how he came to be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD). He originally experienced a bleed on the brain but an attack four years later, post-recovery, left him with brain injuries.
“When I was at university, I had a small bleed on my brain which took me a while to get over. It took a while for my concentration and reading to come back. I also had flickers in my vision intermittently. I managed to get through my degree but I did need a year out,” he said.
“I felt like I was starting to recover but then shortly after that, I went to work in a radio station one night then I woke up the next day in the hospital. I had been attacked on a night out where someone knocked me out then stood on my head several times. I had severe facial injuries too.”
Lewis feels that there were not many checks into how he was coping with the mental side of his injuries such as the potential for developing PTSD or depression. Six months later, he had begun to develop a lot of pain and was also diagnosed with PTSD.
“I got sent back to the hospital six months later and they determined then that I had a brain injury. I developed PTSD along with a lot of pain which was not in the injury sites but in locations where it shouldn’t have been. I was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).”
He explained: “Later on I started to experience chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and all sorts of seizures. I have a functional neurological disorder that basically causes seizures, pain, psychological problems. My brain translates emotion as physical symptoms which is a nightmare because there is nothing you can do about it.”
Lewis highlighted that his many different diagnoses mean that he doesn’t know what symptoms correlate with different conditions but that PTSD has been constant throughout.
Mental Health and PTSD
PTSD is a mental health condition caused by a traumatic experience. Those with PTSD can often relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability or guilt. They may also struggle with insomnia.
He said: “I get these sensations in my chest like spikes of adrenaline. I put the telly on to watch the news then I’m ranting at the telly like a madman. Then I realise I haven’t had any medicine today so I get on the medical cannabis and thankfully that brings me back to being a civilised human being.”
“It’s gone so long untreated and unmedicated that I’ve been keeping myself isolated to avoid making it someone else’s problem. It feels bad enough as it is without extra guilt or anything from erupting when I’m out. I tend to get spikes of rage which is fight or flight from adrenaline surging through my body.”
Lewis explained that the fight or flight mode is a permanent state for him. It helps him to avoid what he described as ‘pure misery’ afterwards.
Often people with PTSD, in particular veterans, find that their stress and anxiety levels are heightened. Over time, this can lead to problems with heart disease or blood pressure.
In a study on veterans, researchers took 14 patients with PTSD and 14 without to determine the effect that it had on the body. They discovered that the patients with PTSD had higher levels of adrenaline and less control over their heart rate due to blood pressure changes.
Lewis outlined how medical cannabis helps him to not just control his PTSD symptoms but to feel happiness.
He said: “Thankfully medical cannabis is helping. If I have it in time then it seems to prevent me from getting into a rut where everything is triggering me. As winters coming, I’m finding a lot of symptoms are getting worse and it’s more of a battle to get control with that.”
He added: “It seems to make me feel happy. Sometimes I get a little chuckle and it’s really sad. I realised the first time that this happened, I felt a sensation and realised this is what happiness feels like. It’s so alien to me even though I’ve been to places since my injuries where I’ve had fun. It dawned on me that I never actually had that feeling of happiness.”
Lewis stressed that there is not much support from a mental health perspective. He has been trying to get help for his PTSD but struggling to access services. He is grateful for the help he has had from cannabis.
“I don’t get much support and I don’t see many people. I’ve been trying to get help with PTSD and not really having any help whatsoever. The only thing I’ve had to turn to has been cannabis. I didn’t realise it would help so much. It’s helped my physical symptoms and the PTSD too,” he said.
“I was struggling not to have a seizure last night because it’s getting damp. I was rigid and spasm a lot but [cannabis] makes it bearable even in those times. It is a shame it has taken so long to access it.”
Cannabis and mental health
Lewis is thankful that Project Twenty21 has made it easier for patients to access cannabis due to subsidising the costs. Now that he has cannabis, he has begun to reduce the number of prescription drugs that he was given as he feels there are negative side effects to some of them.
When it comes to speaking to other male patients or groups, he has found it difficult to stay in touch over the 12 years since he has been injured.
“I’ve been cut off for a really long time because I’ve been ill so long. Even the people that you know quite well, not many of them last twelve years. When you are too ill to be proactive in staying in touch with people then you do lose touch eventually. Then when it comes to meeting new people, it’s hard because you are unable to work and you stay at home,” he said.
Lewis keeps himself entertained by learning the guitar. He is also learning to speak Spanish with the language app, Duolingo.
“If I have enough comfort from my medication then I can do Duolingo. I’ve managed to learn a lot of Spanish there which is surprising because of my injuries. My memory doesn’t really work but I can somehow learn music and play on instinct. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so sensitive and my nerves had been so horrifically activated.”
This time of year is difficult for Lewis as it’s near the anniversary of his injury. He finds that the autumn season can almost trigger an internal remainder of the event. He struggles with physical flashbacks, nightmares and finds that he becomes hyper-vigilant. He doesn’t have any mental health medication from his GP and relies solely on cannabis.
Lewis has recently adopted a dog which helps to keep him company. Biggie, a chihuahua is a rescue pet that Lewis took in to help a local shelter. Originally named Bruiser, he felt that Biggie was a better fit given the small dog’s attempts to fight larger dogs. He highlighted that they are both helping each other to get over their trauma.
“I got him a month ago as a rescue. I think he has got as much trauma as me and my symptoms but I’m trying to keep him calm and I take him out. I took him in to help the charity but I couldn’t let him go after that.”
Read the first part of our series on men’s mental health here
US Congresswoman speaks out about how cannabis helped her depression
Nancy Mace spoke out about using cannabis to help her depression after experiencing a traumatic event as a teenager
A Republican congresswoman who has proposed a federal bill to legalise cannabis has spoken out about her experience using cannabis to combat depression.
It also includes expungement for non-violent cannabis crimes and imposes a revenue tax that would support reinvestment into communities hurt by the war on drugs.
The bill titled the States Reform Act would federally legalise and tax cannabis has been proposed ahead of competing Democrat proposed bills. While the bill was originally proposed in July, Mace shared her story after officially filing the State Reform Act in November.
At the end of the discussion, host, Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery asked the congresswoman if she smoked cannabis.
Nancy replied: “When I was 16, I was raped. I was given prescription medication that made the feelings I had of depression worsen, and I stopped taking those prescription drugs and I turned to cannabis for a brief period of time in my life.”
She added that she believed her experience with cannabis made her more sympathetic to veterans who may use cannabis for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
— Kennedy (@KennedyNation) November 17, 2021
Bill protection for veterans
The congresswoman explained that the new bill is “particularity protective of veterans, ensuring they are protected, not discriminated against and that the US Department of Veteran Affairs can utilise cannabis for their PTSD.”
She added: “When I talk to vets and I see that pain, it hurts because I felt that pain before in my life. Veteran suicide, we see every single day.”
One other provision in the bill is that cannabis would be under the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA would have some involvement similar to its current control over the alcohol industry.
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Mace has already won an exception for rape and incest victims in a fatal fetal heartbeat bill. She mentioned her history when it came to proposing that bill in 2019.
She said: “I’ve had family that have overdosed from hardcore opiates and prescription drugs. And I’ve mentioned part of this in 2019, at the time I got the exception for rape and incest in the fetal-heartbeat bill I told my story about being raped when I was 16, but I’ve never said this part publicly before: I was prescribed antidepressants afterwards, and it made my feelings a lot worse. And so I started using cannabis for a brief moment, for a time in my life. It helped me. It cut down on my anxiety and helped me get through some dark periods.”
Study: States with full legal access show fewer registered medical cannabis patients
“If true, this could have implications for public health and policy,” say researchers.
Study shows U.S states where cannabis is legal for recreational purposes have experienced a decrease in patients registering for medical cannabis programmes.
The study on different US states, published in the International Drug Journal, revealed that numbers of registered and active medical cannabis consumers increased while it was not legal for recreational use.
Researchers in Arizona took data from the medical cannabis registry from two dozen states between 2013 and 2020. These are mandatory registries that record the number of medical cannabis patients. They analysed the data to see if there were any changes around the times that recreational legalisation was introduced.
There are currently 19 states in the US that have legalised recreational cannabis including New Jersey, Vermont, Arizona and New York. However, more states have medical cannabis programs although some are still not operational. Some states such as Colorado have had recreational access since 2012, the year before the study was started.
Medical cannabis patients
The results confirmed that medical cannabis cardholders increased during times when recreational use was not legal. It then subsequently decreased when it became legal.
It also revealed an increase of 380 patients per 100,000 people per year when just medical cannabis was legal. This corresponded to a decrease of 100 patients per 100,000 after recreational cannabis was allowed. The researchers noted that active registered active male patients decreased faster than women. In states where only medical cannabis was legal, the older age groups (35 or older), increased faster.
They also found that in three states with medical-only use, the results showed significant increases in enrollment from 2016 to 2020 across white, African-American and Hispanic patients.
The researchers wrote: “There is speculation that enrollment in U.S. state medical cannabis programs differs depending on whether adult recreational cannabis use is legal. If true, this could have implications for public health and policy.”
“Findings suggest that recreational cannabis legalisation is associated with decreasing enrollment in medical cannabis programs, particularly for males.”
Fibromyalgia and medical cannabis: “I find my pain is completely gone”
Natalie began experiencing fibromyalgia pain when she was a teenager but wasn’t diagnosed until her 20s.
Natalie talks to Cannabis Health about living with fibromyalgia and how cannabis has helped her with pain relief.
Fibromyalgia can be a debilitating condition leaving patients with chronic pain, fatigue and increased sensitivity. Other side effects can include poor sleep, cognitive issues and headaches. It is thought to affect around 1.5-2 million people in the UK.
Natalie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when she was in her first year of teaching. She had been experiencing some of the symptoms since she was in her early teens but doctors told her it was growing pains.
“Since I was about 12, I had a lot of pain that came and went with a lot of fatigue,” she explains.
“The doctor’s put it down to growing pains. When I was I was in my first year of teaching, one day I woke up and couldn’t do anything. I was incredibly tired and in so much pain.
“I felt that way for months and I was really struggling. I got my formal diagnosis from a rheumatologist. I had a lot of blood and strength tests to make sure I didn’t have arthritis or lupus because of the similar symptoms.”
Life with fibromyalgia
Once Natalie had her diagnosis, her life began to change. She quit her teaching job as it became too much to cope with when her symptoms were bad. She took on jobs where she could choose her own hours or work part-time.
“I ended up working as a children’s entertainer because it was good money,” she says.
“I could do it over a few days a week and make an acceptable amount of money to cover my bills. I did retail work alongside it.”
When it came to socialising, to stop herself from feeling isolated, Natalie turned to online communities to meet people and make friends.
“I’m not amazing at socialising, so I’ve always found it a struggle. I didn’t stay in touch with a lot of people from university or school because I also have mental health problems that held me back. This isolated me a lot so I did turn to online communities where I met a few people who I’m still friends with now,” says Natalie.
It wasn’t until she joined online fibromyalgia communities that someone suggested that cannabis may have benefits.
“I never really knew about its benefits, although I knew it would relax you,” she admits.
“People in my fibromyalgia groups said they used medical cannabis and found it helpful. It’s only really been the last few years where I’ve used it properly as a medicine.”
Cannabis may help with the pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients. A recent study on patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia and other inflammatory rheumatic diseases reported a reduction in pain levels following medical cannabis use. The study surveyed 319 patients about their use of medical cannabis products. Those with fibromyalgia reported a mean pain level reduction of 77 per cent while 78 per cent also reported sleep quality improvement.
Although Natalie has family members who use medical cannabis in legal states in the US, she hadn’t considered using it herself. Despite being open to the idea of a prescription, she says there was very little mentioned to her about pursuing it by her doctors.
“It’s weird because it’s almost like a whisper network. I would never have known about the private medical thing because it’s not really mentioned and the health sector doesn’t talk about it. They don’t actively tell you about prescriptions,” she says.
Natalie has found that cannabis helps her most with the pain.
“A lot of the time, I get shoulder or lower back pain. If other people knew my pain level, they would have a different idea of what pain is, but I guess I’m used to it,” she says.
““Due to the way I work, I don’t use it until the evening. At the end of the day, I’ll use cannabis and I find my pain is completely gone. Sometimes, if I’m struggling then I’ll have a nice bath, have my cannabis and that’s the perfect combination.”
Natalie is guarded about her cannabis use because of the stigma but also due to her job. She is open with some of her friends but not her family. She chose to use only her first name to avoid being identified.
“My parents are from a different generation and they are quite conservative too. It’s very different for them so they don’t understand how it would help. My clients obviously don’t know, as some wouldn’t like it. [But] I have clients in the Netherlands who don’t drink but will go for a joint but it’s different for me,” she says.
“People still struggle to admit to taking medication because of the attitude. I’ve tried Tramadol, Xanax and all sorts of things that have more impact on how you feel, physically and mentally compared to cannabis. But that’s acceptable because it’s prescribed by a big pharmaceutical company.”
Natalie feels that there is a lot to be changed in terms of education, so that people know the benefit of cannabis when it comes to conditions like fibromyalgia. She also highlighted that there should be more awareness of the options out there when it comes to accessing a prescription.
“More people should be aware of the benefits of what it can do, rather than it being a niche internet topic or having a weird stigma around it,” she adds.
“Medical professionals need to be more aware of how it can help and the different avenues that people can go down to get prescriptions.”
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