Voices: Lupus Brought Me Back to Weed
And we may never part ways again.
On a rainy Kentucky morning in the summer of 2008, I was splayed across the cool marble floor of my bathroom, face-down with my head in my arms. Just moments before, my head had been in my toilet. I’d been violently puking for the better part of an hour. Nausea and vomiting were only one bullet among hundreds in the lists of side effects. The 15 or so medications I was taking daily to stay alive were little by little killing me.
There’s an assortment of words in the English language whose literal definitions we take for granted. One of those terms is practice, as in a physician’s place of business. The more complex your issues become, the more your health begins to resemble a crapshoot. Doctors can “practice” all they want, but no one can be sure it’ll pay off.
An X-ray eliminated the possibility of cancer. A blood test ruled out mono. It wasn’t until a near-fatal visit to the ER that a specialist figured it out. The chronic autoimmune disorder lupus was coursing through my blood.
From 2008 to 2012, I spent inordinate amounts of time in the Louisville, Kentucky, hospital system. Lupus can range from mild to severe and affects each of its victims differently. Mine was wreaking havoc on my kidneys, heart, and lungs. No procedures, no treatments, no meds seemed to be helping.
Image via Caity Birmingham
Before falling ill, my view on recreational drug use was anything but blinkered. But my lupus diagnosis confused me. It came out of nowhere, and I didn’t know what had caused it. Could drugs have been the culprit? Will using them make my problems worse? The logical move was to give them up. But there was one substance I should not have quit.
My “life-saving” prescription drugs had rendered me 86 pounds, unable to sleep, and depressed, among other things. The pharmaceutical industry profits from using one drug to treat the side effects of another. Consider blood-pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes medications, for instance. They’re not designed to cure disease, just to “maintain” it. Why would I want to maintain the thing fucking up my life?
Marijuana’s side effects include euphoria, pain relief, hunger, drowsiness—all things I could’ve used more of after lupus struck, turning my life upside down at the tender age of 21. But I lived in Kentucky, a Bible Belt state, where pot was considered the devil’s plant. I’d been out of the weed game for some time. Securing it proved difficult.
A friend ended up donating a jar of the state’s finest, which was pretty shitty. Without legal dispensaries, there’s no saying whether you’ll get sativa or indica, or what quality it will be; so it’s harder to treat specific issues. Nevertheless, the shitty ambiguous weed accomplished what it is sold to do: Get me high.
Antidepressants, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines, and narcotics. Notice a common denominator? All of these are more addictive and dangerous than weed.
Food tasted mad good again. Netflix became the land of endless possibility. My apathy faded. Life fell into place. Suddenly, I wanted to live, like actually live. Before I knew it, I was out of my bed and back in school chasing after my dreams.
I’m a sincere believer in pot’s healing potential; however, I would be exaggerating if I were to say it’s the sole reason why I recovered. What weed did do was improve my outlook. When you’re very sick, your attitude can be what determines whether you pull through or not. Positive thinking can be a challenge when you’re suffering, but countless studies have confirmed its link to health.
Thanks to marijuana, I was able to refuse the panoply of drugs my doctors were trying to prescribe me: Antidepressants, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines, and narcotics. Notice a common denominator? All of these are more addictive and dangerous than weed.
Doctors habitually dole out prescriptions like they’re fliers, and doing so has come with consequences. The heroin epidemic currently plaguing the U.S. was largely a product of doctors overprescribing opiates, which now kill more Americans than any illegal drug.
Image via Laurenmorrell/VSCO
Cannabis can be used to treat countless conditions, including HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, and chronic pain, according to CNN. You might even call it a panacea. It's wrong that only patients from the 23 states where medical pot is legal are able to reap its benefits.
Granted, like with any drug, users can react negatively to weed. WebMD says it can increase the heart rate by as much as two times, increase bleeding, affect blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure. In general practice, however, paranoia and cottonmouth are the worst-case scenarios.
My bathroom seemed different. I wasn’t reeling from the thought of spending the day on the floor, vomiting and in pain.
Some choice encounters with the medical establishment have led me to suspect that it is not on my side, or yours for that matter. We’re all going to die. The point of medicine is to make our quality of life better while we’re here. If weed does that, we should be able to use it with the security that comes with regulation.
Marijuana can’t seem to shake its reputation as a motivation- and brain cell-killer. The media perpetuate the image of stoners glued to their couches, passively watching whatever’s beamed into the TV, eating everything in sight. Perhaps it’s time to replace that image with a cancer patient who’s able to play with her kids even while on chemotherapy, thanks to marijuana easing her nausea. Or the child with epilepsy who went from having several seizures a day to almost none. Or the teen with multiple sclerosis who’s able to go to school with the help of three drops of cannabidiol under his tongue every morning. Or just think of me.
On a lazy afternoon, I revived my weed habit to see if it could help my health issues. My bathroom seemed different. I wasn’t reeling from the thought of spending the day on the floor, vomiting and in pain. I smoked a joint out my window, cranked up my music, closed my eyes, and escaped in a liberating moment, an out-of-body experience. My body had been held hostage by my illness for so long; finally I had something to loosen the restraints.