Fibromyalgia patient, Fearn, has agreed to share her journey as she explores accessing a legal prescription for medical cannabis in the UK, in a new column – The Cannabis Diaries.
Fearn Vaughn* has lived with fibromyalgia and chronic pain for much of her adult life. She starts by telling us about her journey so far.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” the doctor says.
“The tests are negative, and there’s no reason you should be feeling pain.”
I slump down a little in my seat, the frustration that yet another test revealed nothing evident on my face. I respond: “But I’m in pain, and I’m sick all the time. There’s got to be something that’s causing it.”
The doctor sits forward, pulling out a piece of paper with some questions on it.
“Let’s take a look at this,” he says.
“Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems?”
It’s the dreaded Patient Health Questionnaire – designed to work out if you’re depressed or not. I can repeat the questions by heart, I’ve been asked them so many times. Yes, I struggle to sleep. Yes, I am stressed and anxious. Yes, I am sad.
I am in pain. I am exhausted. I feel like I have the flu all the time, and yet everyone keeps telling me there’s nothing wrong. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been referred for therapy. It’s the reason why, 10 years later, even after I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I still find myself ‘testing’ whether I really am in pain or just a hypochondriac.
It’s also the reason I gave up the traditional medical route, and started to look elsewhere.
It turns out I’m not alone. Women have been turning their backs on the medical profession in their droves, seeking out alternative remedies and treatments in an effort for someone – anyone – to take them seriously.
A recent study found that whilst in most countries men face greater health challenges, the UK has the largest female health gap in the G20 and the twelfth largest globally.
Women are being let down by the medical system from start to finish, from not being included in medical trials thanks to our ‘wandering wombs’, ‘confusing’ periods, and that terrifying thing we do called ‘being pregnant’, to being left languishing in pain in A&E waiting rooms up and down the country as our pain is minimised and ignored.
I will never forget being asked to self-administer an anti-inflammatory suppository in an A&E toilet, when I was in so much nerve pain that I couldn’t walk.
I was left in a wheelchair in the waiting room for hours, then discharged at 4am on a Sunday because they didn’t believe me that it hadn’t worked. I crawled out of that hospital, cried in the back of the cab all the way home, and promptly took out my cannabis.
For me, in combination with pilates, acupuncture, reflexology and mindfulness, cannabis is the only thing that works.
I have spent years on and off various medications. At 15, prescribed ibuprofen for unexplained pain in my lower back, at 21 moved onto diclofenac and naproxen after a car accident made it worse, until finally at 23 I was given a cocktail of opioids and diazepam after a horse threw me into a fence and broke my back.
It wasn’t until eight months later when I ran out and forgot to fill my prescription, that I realised something wasn’t right.
That night, as I sat in A&E itching all over, my legs kicking uncontrollably, my breathing all over the place and in so much pain I felt like I was dying, I learned that you could become addicted to prescription medication. And that somehow, even though no-one told me and I had never taken more than my daily prescribed dose, I was a drug addict and it was my fault.
That stigma stays with you, and it’s why I never told my GP how I had managed to come off all the drugs he had been prescribing me.
Today, even though the UK is the largest exporter of medical cannabis in the world, NICE still refuses to recommend medical cannabis for chronic pain, and so far only three prescriptions have been issued on the NHS – all for children with epilepsy. The only option is to go private, so that is what I’m going to do.
In 2021 I attended a webinar hosted by Cannabis Health, exploring how cannabis can help women specifically. I heard women talk openly about the trauma inflicted by the male dominated medical system; how they had been gaslit and disbelieved, and how they had come to cannabis via various ways and found it to work when nothing else had.
Here were nurses and doctors agreeing with patients and understanding the extremely sexist nature of how these women were treated. It was breathtaking and a perfect example of what happens when women come together to share their stories.
This column is my way to bring that feeling to you, whoever you are and wherever you are reading this.
I will try and make sense of what can be an incredibly confusing subject: What is the difference between indica and sativa, vapes and oils? Why can’t pharmacists give advice on CBD? How do I begin to work out which private clinic to use? And which doctor will understand what I’ve been through without adding to my trauma? How do I get my GP on board? Will I get arrested if I go out with my prescription products and use them in public? And most importantly, how much is this going to cost?
As I journey into the world of medical cannabis, I will explore how slowly but surely women are making the medical industry pay attention to just how much it can help us, even with our ‘mysterious’ reproductive systems.
The revelation that we have cannabinoid receptors in our womb, uterus, and throughout our reproductive tract has led many to explore cannabis for a wide range of female specific health issues such as endometriosis and menopause, but the stigma around even prescribed cannabis is still a barrier to access.
Hopefully I can help reduce the stigma, share much needed knowledge, and get some real data on how specifically cannabis can help women like you and me.
*Fearn’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.
Read her next instalment in the upcoming issue of Cannabis Health, as she explores which clinic is right for her.
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