Updated: Oct 1, 2019
You’ve probably heard a lot about using marijuana or CBD during treatment. Most of The States that have legalized recreational marijuana use began by legalizing it medicinally, especially for cancer patients. Drop the “C card and get a weed card.”
So, what’s the big deal? I used marijuana and CBD for basically every issue and side effect I had from cancer and from the chemo and radiation treatment. When I first started treatment, I followed the doctors orders. When a friend asked him about alternative methods of treatment, such as acupuncture, fasting, holistic medicine, et cetera, he pointed at me and said, “IF YOU DO THAT YOU WILL DIE.” A touch of the dramatic perhaps, but it was enough to get me to listen. I obviously had no idea what I was talking about and had never thought about cancer before. I decided to follow exactly as my oncologist recommended and I strengthened my relationship with pharmaceuticals. I didn’t even want to look for any other options.
I was on so many medications at first. It seemed like there was a pill for every single symptom. None of them actually fixed the problem. They just made it all more comfortable. There were pills for pain, nausea, muscle tightness, mood stabilizers, depression, anxiety, pills to sleep, and pills to make me more alert. This, on top of the effects of chemo and radiation, left my body completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know what was pulling the strings. Was it the chemo, a single prescription, or multiple prescriptions reacting with each other that were giving me these issues? The pills never seemed to help. instead, they only distracted me from what I was feeling. All the pain, sickness, and fears were still there just I was in lala land and couldn’t focus on them.
I went through the first 28 rounds of chemo and radiation following what the doctor recommended to a T. I finished what was supposed to be my last treatment and waited 6 weeks before I was to have surgeries to resection my colon, remove all the lymph nodes in that area, and get a temporary ostomy bag. I spent 6 days in the hospital and even had a surprise heart surgery because my heart rate went to 220 bpm for an hour from A-fib. I was about to be released and I even had on my street clothes, when I got a wave of pain and nausea that was so intense I could barely breathe. I went ghostly white, doubled over, and had trouble even sitting up. The doctors brought in morphine and were already planning on admitting me for another day to watch me.
They couldn’t explain what caused this intense pain and I didn’t feel like taking synthetic heroin for it. That’s when I asked if I could go outside to smoke weed. The nurse said she couldn’t recommend that, as it was illegal in Texas, but what she could say was that it was a nice day to go for a walk and, if I was going to go for a walk, there was an area where I could have some space to myself. I got the message. I went outside with a friend and with only 2 puffs my pain and nausea became manageable. The color came back in my face and I went back in the room, ate a bowl of soup and walked out. I knew at that moment that things needed to change.
At the time, I was taking 10-12 prescriptions daily. Some were on a regimen, others were symptom-based but, without fail, I was taking a big handful of pills every day. I had started to lose an understanding of what was being taken for what. My body felt so weak and beaten up that I wasn’t even sure what side effects I was feeling at that time. The chemo fog was at its peak less than halfway through my treatment. I would be standing at the fridge and ask if anyone wanted water, they would say yes, and I would close the door and walk into the other room. Completely forgetting I had even asked them if they wanted water just moments before.
Whenever I would bring up an issue to the doctor they would just add another prescription to the list for whatever side effect I was feeling. It almost felt like they were just waiting for trigger words to add another pill to the list. Blah, blah, blah, anxiety, blah, blah. Ok, here’s some Xanax. Blah, blah, pain, blah blah. Ok, here is hydrocodone. There was never once a time where the doctors asked about lifestyle, diet, or stress management. It was simply take the chemo and the pills that go with it. There were no other options.
I want to make it clear here - I am not anti drug, anti doctor, anti chemo, or anything else. I just believe that we should look at all aspects of health and wellness and use every tool we have at our disposal.
Going through cancer treatment gave me a good look at the medical system from the inside. What I discovered did not inspire a lot of confidence. Every day that I was in the oncologist office I would see people coming in wearing suits, carrying briefcases and waiting to see a doctor, only they didn’t look sick like the rest of us. I learned that these were pharmaceutical reps that were coming in to offer to take doctors to a fancy lunch so they would get the opportunity to get to tell them about a drug they were trying to sell. That seemed like an odd way to teach doctors about new medicines. Then I learned that doctors make money writing prescriptions. The more prescriptions you take, the more they make. That seemed like a bit of a conflict of interest. As I stopped taking prescriptions I would begin to get phone calls from my pharmacy: “Hey, you haven’t picked up any prescriptions in a while. Your insurance is great and it would only be $5 or $10 and you will get 90 xanax, 90 hydrocodone, 90”…click! I would hang up on them. They would call 2-4 times a week.
I knew the pills were not helping me in the long term. Of course, there were certain moments when things were just too intense and I would need to take some drug. But, from here on out, the days were done where I was relying on prescriptions solely for my own comfort.
As time went on I just felt weaker and I knew I was growing an addiction to the prescriptions. I worked with doctors (as much as they would assist) in getting me off my prescriptions, even though it went against their recommendation. A lot of these drugs were very strong. Some I had been on before my treatment started, and would have intense side effects if I did not slowly reduce the amount I took. I already felt so sick and in so much pain that a little bit more didn’t make much of a difference to me. Over the course of 6-8 weeks I removed all pills except when I felt they were absolutely necessary. This isn’t to say I just toughed it out either. In come the benefits of THC and CBD. I won’t get into the science behind these and how they are interacting with the body since I’m not a doctor or a scientist. I will only tell you how it felt for me.
Chemo felt like I was having my soul pulled out of me. It felt like I was meeting the devil. I became very aware that my body was functioning at a limited capacity. I felt completely disconnected while simultaneously hyper-alert of my body.
On treatment days I could feel everything becoming weaker. I could feel my skin was 10% away from dying, I could feel it in my teeth; I could feel it everywhere. Typically, this was the point when I would start taking pills. Pain pills so I could rest, nausea pills so I could eat, and a Xanax so I could calm down. This time around, all of that was replaced with marijuana.
I started off light. I would smoke a joint or two throughout the day and take some CBD drops in the morning and at night. As time went on, this amount increased pretty dramatically. I was never a big smoker to begin with. I was always drug tested for my jobs so, I would only get a couple days on the beginning of my time off where I could smoke and still allow myself enough time to clear out in order to pass a drug test when I returned. This meant that I smoked around 3 days every 2 months.
When I started up again during my cancer treatment, I noticed that smoking didn’t have the same effect as before. When I was doing it before treatment, I considered myself a lightweight. I would get high and lay around and watch movies or play video games and eat a bunch of junk food. I was a lazy smoker. It’s different when you are on treatment. I never really felt like I got high, just got to a new normal. I would smoke and my mood would get better because I wasn’t in pain. I would have a sense of humor again. My stress levels would drop. The nausea and lack of appetite were almost completely gone. I would even feel good enough to get out of the house.
As time went on and the side effects got worse, I began using more and more. I was now cooking with marijuana. I would cook weed with coconut oil in the crock-pot and use that coconut oil in everything. I would add it to tea and coffee, I’d put it in my oatmeal in the morning, I’d add it to smoothies, sometimes I would just go in and eat a spoonful of it plain. I was taking CBD drops in higher doses, too. The feeling I got was that this plant was battling whatever was going on inside me. As things got worse inside of me, I needed more weed to keep it under control. I started to get concerned. I was smoking constantly and taking a very high dose through edibles. I didn’t think smoking could be good for me.
I started to back off of it. I would try and go as long as I could without marijuana. I’d think it would be good for me to take a day or two off. I would become irritable. My mood would be back down in the dumps. I would lose motivation. I would get so frustrated with everything around me. Finally I would say screw it, I’m just going to get high! I’d fill up a pre-rolled cone to the tip and smoke the entire thing.
High isn’t what I felt when I was using CBD and marijuana. I felt human again. I was returned back to my normal self. There were times that I would get so frustrated with my caretaker or dealing with insurance or stressing about the construction on my garage that I would make myself sick. Immediately after smoking they would become manageable issues again and I could even laugh at how I had been feeling just 10 minutes before. Marijuana didn’t just cover up the symptoms I was feeling with something stronger, it felt like it was making them less intense.
Getting off of prescriptions also changed my interactions with my oncologist. As time went on and certain symptoms got worse, I would call the doctor asking for advice. He would say, “well, you won’t take anything I prescribe anyways so why even ask?” They even told my insurance company - 1 month after doing 40 rounds of chemo - that I was 100% back to normal and ready to return to work. I would give him a giant list of side effects, symptoms, and issues I was having and he still said I was perfectly fine to return to work. My doctor recommended to the insurance company that I have my benefits dropped because my white blood cell count was rising. I was told when I went in for my CT scan after finishing treatment to not get too excited because, as the nurse said, they would own me for a while. They said that there was no way I would be able to leave to go to Thailand because they expected me to be back in the hospital with issues for a long time to come. It was at this point that I began to realize how my actions had taken a lot of money out of their pockets.
Again, I don’t want to sound anti drug, anti doctor, anti chemo, et cetera. But, I want people to see and understand the whole picture. To know that there are other options and to make an informed decision on what kind of treatment they want to receive. To try things, within reason, and honestly go after what works best for them. Just because someone is a doctor or a holistic practitioner or any other position doesn’t mean that they are giving you the absolute best advice. You have to be rational and make clear decisions for yourself. You have to separate yourself from what you are feeling or what you would like to feel and focus on the present reality. It may be as simple as just smoking a joint.