Medical Marijuana Manages My Chronic Illness (And Makes Me A Better Mom)

by Paula Fitzgibbons
Originally Published: 
Marijuana falling out of a medication bottle on a prescription paper.
UrosPoteko / iStock

I started using weed to control the chronic pain from my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) after the night I scared the living hell out of my kids.

“Sprinkle Butt!” I repeatedly called out to my youngest daughter, my lips puckered in exaggeration. “Come here and give Mommy a big kiss, Sprinkle Butt!” I’m told I also screamed obscenities at the cat and accused my family of tampering with my computer.

My youngest can be heard on the recording they made of the night (“For posterity?” I later asked) crying, “Mamma, are you okay? Mamma, is this really happening?” Everyone was distraught by my behavior.

I’d had a particularly painful flare that caused piercing, electric blows to the cartilage between my ribs — the results of a condition that often accompanies RA, called costochondritis. It feels like a million major heart attacks when it strikes. I was completely, legally high on the hydrocodone the ER doctor had given me for it earlier in the day.

Besides horrifying my family, the prescription drug did little besides masking my pain with paranoia.

Enter marijuana.

I’d smoked pot recreationally all of three times during my mid-20s, each time with unremarkable results, leaving me uninterested in pot at best. Now in my late 40s, for a variety of reasons, I don’t drink alcohol either. Were there a contest, I’d be voted “least likely to imbibe in any fun substances ever.” Medical marijuana wasn’t even on my radar until my friend suggested I research its effects on inflammation. RA, after all, is a disease of inflammation.

I started with a simple cream containing CBD oil. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. Rubbed on my affected joints, CBD cream reduces my pain from a level 9/10 intensity to about a level 4. I also experience visible relief from swelling. The cream does not, however, eliminate the root of the inflammation.

RA is a systemic disease. My body is essentially attacking itself, and no amount of cream will halt that process. What does work is a foul-tasting combination of CBD juice, rendered from juicing the leaves of the marijuana plant, and edibles, made from the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in the flowers of the plant.

The THC often causes a temporary high. Since I take it as needed before bed, as I had done with the hydrocodone, it just gives me a lovely, pleasant night of sleep. Gone are any fears my family might harbor of me attacking them in the night with puckery name calling.

The 20-something clerk at our local pot shop who introduced me to this combination told me it is his best-selling remedy and people like me, middle-aged and older patients suffering from painful diseases caused by inflammation, are his most frequent customers.

Medical marijuana pulls me out of serious flares so that I can complete the physical therapy that keeps me mobile. It is nothing short of miraculous.

Along the way, it has also allowed me to wean completely off of my prescription anti-anxiety medication. I asked my doctor about this. She shrugged and said she was not really authorized to comment on the use of medical marijuana. “There aren’t enough studies,” she confessed.

“There would be,” I retorted, not too politely, “if people would stop demonizing a simple plant.”

She laughed. We like each other, my doctor and I. “I will tell you what I tell all my patients: When you find something that works for you, stick with it.”

In the two years since introducing medical marijuana into my medicine cabinet, I have eliminated all other forms of medication. I no longer suck down NSAIDS until my stomach screams for mercy. I haven’t refilled my prescription for Xanax. My rheumatologist sees no need to place me on stronger medications for my RA. This relieves me of what was once a vicious stream of cortisone shots, steroids, and nausea-inducing medications that made me want to curl up into a ball and suck my thumb. I’ve been strong enough to build up the muscles supporting my joints and clear-headed enough to successfully follow an anti-inflammatory diet.

As a child of the first generation D.A.R.E. program, whose scare-tactics left me terrified of all alternative substances, there was a time when I was hesitant to share my use of medical marijuana. I was ashamed. There is no reason to feel shame though. Unlike the potential dangers of taking opioids like hydrocodone, I feel no particular pull to use the marijuana beyond medicinally. Honestly, even if I did want to use it recreationally, I do not fear the possibility of addiction. It would likely serve me the same way a glass of wine here and there serves other adults.

For me, an almost-50-year-old mother of three teens, medical marijuana is simply an herb that has helped to restore my mobility and smooth out my anxiety. It has given my children their mother — with all her energy — back and eliminated further terrifying, hydrocodone-fueled reenactments of scenes from Breaking Bad before bed.

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