Cannabis activist, Green Tea, speaks to Cannabis Health about caring for her husband during the pandemic and why the Irish system needs to change.
Covid-19 has had an effect on all of us. However, one group feeling the effects of lockdowns and restrictions the most, are carers.
Studies have shown that there has been an increase in stress and isolation among carers since the start of the pandemic.
Not having carers to visit their home has had a huge impact on Irish cannabis activist – who goes by the pseudonym of Green Tea – and her husband, who has multiple sclerosis (MS).
When lockdown in Ireland was announced, facilities were closed and hospital admissions were reduced or delayed. Although restrictions have been lifted since the introduction of the vaccine roll-out, services have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
For most of the pandemic, Green Tea has been her husband’s only carer.
Although, she was aware of his diagnosis before they got married, but following his retirement, the illness progressed quickly.
“The illness took over about three years after we got married,” she said.
“The way MS progressed for him was a sudden, sharp decline before a plateau. He retired because the relapses were coming faster and then he had a really big decline.
“We had one relapse in the summer but he used to be able to go for a few years without one. I got three years of a happy marriage before I became a carer.”
MS is a long term condition that can affect a person’s brain and spinal cord. It causes a range of symptoms, including issues with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. Symptoms can be mild or cause serious disabilities that require care. It is normally diagnosed in a person’s 2os or 30s.
MS Ireland estimates that there are more than 9,000 people living with multiple sclerosis in the country.
Green Tea highlighted the effect that caring alone has had on her.
“I was in a depression for a long time. I gave up my job because I can’t go to work. It affected my friendships because I can’t go anywhere. I barely leave the room half of the time. There is a self-esteem issue that takes hold here.
“We are all raised with the idea of earning good money and having that determine your worth, so if you are on welfare then something is morally wrong. I had to get rid of that because I was internalising it and feeling completely worthless.”
She added: “I’ve had to do the hoisting and moving on my own. It’s supposed to be two people, so I’ve actually hurt my own back. I feel like we have been abandoned and left to figure this out on my own. That’s where cannabis came in.”
Caring and cannabis
During a trip to America, pre-pandemic, the couple got the idea to try cannabis for MS. They travelled to Colorado where cannabis is legal, and the effects became obvious as they made their way back to Ireland.
“We took a holiday to Denver after he retired. I was able to arrange to get us to a dispensary to get him what he needed and a desktop vaporiser that he could use in the hotel room,” she said.
“When he was getting off the plane, he was so bad that he couldn’t walk but after the cannabis, on the way back, he walked onto the plane.”
Green Tea’s husband exhausted all of the options that the doctors had offered him including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and intravenous steroids daily. She felt the only thing that was able to help him was cannabis.
Ireland offers two separate systems for medical cannabis access. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) was introduced in 2019 but has only begun this year. There is so far only one high CBD product available through the programme, which is offered to patients with just three conditions: MS, epilepsy and cancer treatment nausea.
There are more products due to be announced in 2022, but so far this leaves patients outside of these three conditions and those dependent on THC-dominant products without.
The ministerial license is another option, however until recently, the prescription fees were not refunded immediately, leaving families having to pay hundreds for medication.
The changes to the system now mean that Green Tea can begin to look at applying for the ministerial license as CBD-dominant products won’t work for her husband. In the meantime, she took the unusual move to start growing her own medication out of desperation which leaves her vulnerable to arrest.
She said: “Unless there are high THC products then it’s of no value for him. It’s specifically the THC he uses it for and it’s also no good if it can’t lift his mood as well. It’s why I grow the strains that I do, because they don’t just treat the physical symptoms but they help with his depression.”
“It leaves me very stuck because I feel awful that I can’t afford the prescription for him. I feel like I’m not doing my job as a wife if I can’t provide for him to make sure he is healthy.”
Green Tea has channelled her energy into cannabis activism in Ireland, helping to change the laws and highlight those patients, such as her husband, who fall through the cracks in the laws.
“I’m absolutely broken. I am quite tough when it comes down to it, but my mental health has suffered,” she said.
“I started consuming cannabis that had the terpene limonene in it. Limonene is a big anti-depressant and helps with anxiety. I didn’t know that beforehand but I was so different afterwards. I was able to focus more on myself.
“I could organise my thoughts and it gave me a mental uplift. I felt like I could do what I needed to that day.”
When it comes to her husband’s doctors, Green Tea said they are aware of what he takes despite the legalities. One doctor even suggested that he applies for the MCAP.
“There is no consistency when you approach the doctors, even though he has told them all that he consumes it,” she said.
“It’s the most frustrating part because if carers came into my house to help or hoist him, then they would know he takes it because they can smell it. If he doesn’t have it, then he is too tired to even eat and swallowing can become a problem.”
“There are so many knock-on effects for him of not having it. They can come and arrest me if they want. Unless they come here with a cure for MS, then there is nothing really they can say to me.”
Staying positive in a pandemic
Staying positive as a sole carer can be a struggle.
The Mental Health Foundation estimated that 71 per cent of carers have poor physical or mental health. It can be difficult to take time out to take care of yourself when you are looking after a severely disabled person. Although Green Tea has struggled with her mental health, she still has a sense of humour.
“You have to have a sense of humour, otherwise you wouldn’t get through this stuff,” she said.
“My husband can joke about stuff, he still has days where he is in good form and likes a joke, but those days are getting fewer.”
Green Tea is well known on the cannabis scene in Ireland. She is hopeful for change in Ireland but believes the whole healthcare system needs an overhaul.
“It needs to be free. If you are sick and you need medicine then you will pay or do anything to keep yourself healthy. This issue of the only really decent stuff being for people who can afford it has to stop,” she said.
“Cannabis is a small part of what is happening. If you want a hospital bed then you need health insurance to get one quickly.”
Green Tea added: “[Politician’s] need to stop listening to lobbyists and start speaking to people who know what they are talking about. If they want to win an election, they need to start supporting this.
“You will never get a doctor to prescribe cannabis for mental health in this country because they are heavily influenced by the stigma. They believe it will wreck your mental health, when it is the only thing that has been keeping me together.”
CBD guides: Could CBD help with women’s intimate healthcare?
The endocannabinoid system can play a huge role in helping women’s health issues.
As the number of intimate care CBD products on the market continues to increase, we examine how CBD could help.
CBD has been associated with women’s health issues such as period pain relief, menopause insomnia and even hormonal acne. But as CBD is also thought to help us achieve homeostasis (balance) in the body, could it help to maintain vaginal health?
Women’s health and the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is thought to regulate different functions in the body such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory and fertility. It is made up of receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoid that are found naturally all over the body. There are two major receptors called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is usually found in the central nervous system, while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to help with different problems such as pain.
The vagina, bladder and urinary tract also have endocannabinoid receptors.
CBD, unlike THC, does not bind the receptors. CBD may supplement the endocannabinoid system helping to regulate your system. The cannabinoids travel the receptor that has been stimulated and needs extra help to achieve a balance.
Depending on the dose and which receptor it is, CBD is thought to help anxiety, sleep problems, inflammation and pain.
This could be especially useful for those struggling with conditions such as endometriosis, painful periods or anxiety around sex.
When it comes to vaginal health and women’s health concerns in general, how could CBD help?
CBD may help with painful periods due to its anti-inflammatory properties. During a period, the uterus contracts to shed its lining while releasing hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. These substances are involved in inflammation and pain while triggering muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins may mean more painful menstrual cramps.
One study from 2019 revealed that women with endometriosis self-rated cannabis or CBD as most effective for soothing pain. This was compared with other practises such as yoga and stretching.
Another study, which was focused on arthritis in rats, found that CBD gel applied to the area may help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Endometriosis is an extremely painful condition that can be debilitating. The tissue from the uterus can become attach itself to other organs in the body such as fallopian tubes, ovaries or pelvis.
Studies have shown that women are increasingly turning to CBD for help alleviating the pain of endometriosis. There are on-going studies into how exactly CBD suppositories or tampons may help endometriosis but there are no results as of yet.
A study into fibromyalgia and pelvic pain for women from 2021 revealed that over one-third of the women surveyed were current CBD users with 81 per cent of this group stating the use had ‘improved their pain.’ A further 76 per cent of users said they were able to substitute CBD for other medications including opioids, NSAIDS, gabapentinoids and benzodiazapams.
There are many different reasons for vaginal dryness including menopause, medication and even particular times of a menstrual cycle.
CBD may help to soothe any redness or irritation caused by vaginal dryness. If the skin is more sensitive as a result the anti-inflammatory properties may reduce any swelling or issues of eczema or dermatitis.
CBD is thought to be potentially anti-fungal which may help with yeast infections.
However, its important to note, before you grab your CBD oil, that there are no direct studies for yeast infection. CBD may be able to boost the effects of caryophyllene oxide or beta-caryophyllene. Both of these are terpenes that are found in the cannabis plant. An older study from 1999 highlighted caryophyllene as a potential help for fungal infections in nails and the skin.
CBD may also offer some relief for irritated or itchy skin as a result of fungal infections such as candida. This is due to its potential anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce redness or swelling.
What is the best CBD to use internally?
While it may be tempting to use our existing CBD products in our intimate areas, it’s best not to.
CBD products for intimate areas are formulated to be used internally which means they are safe. Oils or topicals may contain ingredients or perfumes that can cause infections. The vagina contains a type of bacteria, a Lactobacillus. It produces lactic acid and helps to lower the pH of the vagina, but any form of imbalance can result in infections or thrush.
How to use CBD internally
The most common ways to use CBD vaginally are lubricants and suppositories.
While suppositories may seem scary, they can be one of the easiest ways to take CBD. They are made from from oils such as coconut, that can melt at body temperature. The CBD can take a few minutes to be absorbed by the body once it has melted the oil. It is worth noting that it can be a bit messy when the oil melts, so using something like a sanitary pad can place a barrier between your clothing and the oil.
Sex and women’s health
Latex and safety
Another way that oil-based products may cause a problem, is with latex. Oil can erode latex condoms or glide dams causing them to break or split. If CBD products are being used during sex, always make sure that the CBD being used is water-soluble.
Some people can feel really anxious around sex, due to past experiences, pain or being intimate with a new partner.
A lot of the studies conducted on anxiety and sexual anxiety appear to be focused on men. However, more general anxiety and CBD studies do have a more mixed-gender ratio.
A review from 2020 suggested that CBD could help with anxiety disorders. In reducing anxiety, a person’s libido may increase helping them to feel like sex more.
When the vagina is aroused, the mucous membranes in the vulva and vagina begin to produce a natural lubricant. This is also referred to as vasodilation, the natural process of our bodies expanding our blood vessels to allow more oxygen into certain tissues.
Some studies show that CBD may help with this process by increasing sensitivity and blood flow around the body. CBD is absorbed through the mucous membranes in the vagina and straight into the blood vessels. It is one of the quickest ways to absorb a dose of CBD as it doesn’t have to pass through the digestive system.
CBD suppositories and lubricants are designed to be used internally.
Does the endocannabinoid system have an effect on exercise euphoria?
What causes a runner’s high? Is it CBD, endorphins or our endocannabinoid systems?
The euphoric feeling after exercise, often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, is associated with a reduction in pain, stress and anxiety.
Research now links the runner’s high to our endocannabinoid system, suggesting that the exercise-induced endorphin release it was always attributed to, is not solely responsible.
But what is our endocannabinoid system? And how does it work?
We examine endocannabinoids, endorphins and how CBD plays a part in balancing the body and exercise
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is thought to regulate different functions in the body such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory and fertility. It is made up of receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found naturally all over the body. There are two major receptors called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is usually found in the central nervous system, while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to help with different problems such as pain. It is not fully understood how cannabinoids bind with receptors.
Endocannabinoids are actually naturally produced molecules that are similar to cannabinoids. So far, researchers have identified two key endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
Enzymes break down the endocannabinoids once they are no longer needed. The two major enzymes are fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG.
What is the difference between endocannabinoids and endorphins?
Endorphins are chemicals released by the body in response to pain or exercise. They were traditionally associated with the euphoria felt after a run. However, endorphins cannot cross into the brain through the blood-brain barrier which exists to protect the brain from toxins and pathogens.
How does CBD feature in all of this?
CBD interferes with the receptors found in the endocannabinoid system to help them balance the body. However, it is not fully understood how this happens.
CBD, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabinoid found in the plant, does not bind the receptors. CBD may supplement the endocannabinoid system helping to regulate your system. The cannabinoids travel the receptor that has been stimulated and needs extra help to achieve a balance. Depending on the dose and which receptor it is, CBD is thought to help anxiety, sleep problems, inflammation and pain.
This is why a lot of runners or athletes depend on CBD as part of their recovery routine after a strenuous workout. It may help to alleviate some of the muscle pain they endure during a run.
How this US brand is helping veterans access free CBD
“U.S. military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals so we thought the project would be a perfect fit.”
US vaping supply brand, CCELL, has partnered with the Veteran’s Walk and Talk project to provide free access to CBD.
CCELL will be partnering with the Veterans Walk and Talk (VWAT) to gift its members with limited edition CBD vapes that highlight their military service.
Veterans Walk and Talk is a community project based in the US, offering support, psychedelic therapy and cannabis.
It was founded in 2016 by Colin Wells, who served in the US Army, as a way for veterans in Southern California, Sacramento and Oklahoma, to take control of their health journey.
The project now holds regular community outreach events that provide veterans with a one-on-one psychedelic or cannabis walk and talk therapy or group hikes. They also hold trail and beach clean-ups where the community come together to give back to nature along with book clubs and comedy nights.
To mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, the CCELL team decided to join forces with VWAT.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joe Strain, vice president of CCELL said: “VWAT started with veterans in mind. Founder Colin Wells, who served in the US Army and experienced withdrawal traumas, began posting on social media to see if anybody wanted to join him on his hikes as a means to relieve stress.
“On these hikes, he’d provide free cannabis, education and a safe space for people to talk. These hikes inspired him to start VWAT as a way to give back to his community, with the main goal of reducing the suicide epidemic among veterans. Now, VWAT has 12 chapters across the country, all carrying the same mission.”
Joe added: “US military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals, so we thought they would be a perfect fit. We heard about what VWAT is doing for veterans and decided to support the organisation on its mission to help improve the lives and health of veterans by providing them with CBD vaporisers. The alignment was undeniable, and we’re honoured to be a part of helping them further their mission.”
Mental health and veterans
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common among veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating causing flashbacks, nightmares or physical effects such as nausea or pain.
A study from 2017 highlighted the difference in PTSD between veterans and civilians. In the study of 5,826 veterans, researchers recorded a rate of 13 per cent with PTSD. This is almost double the seven per cent of the US population with a PTSD diagnosis.
Studies show CBD may help PTSD by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body.
Joe explained: “It’s known that many veterans deal with PTSD after they have served. Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This can potentially afford members the opportunity to manage their symptoms without excessive pharmaceutical drugs, which often cause side effects.”
He added: “CCELL has produced limited edition CBD vapes which will signify that the users of the vapes are members of Veteran’s Walk and Talk. Not only is this great for the members, but it is also significant for this non-profit organisation as it helps to spread awareness about the great work that VWAT does and will help encourage more people in need to join.”
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