SMOKES-MARIJUANAIn my past few blogs I have written of various steps I have taken to wend my way through the sometimes confusing world of RA, from traversing the crisis to acceptance to finding a team and selecting a protocol. It is my deepest desire that my words may be of some comfort and support to someone in a dark place, and I have striven to select my words and topics carefully to that end. I take the responsibility of ‘content provider’ very seriously—such is the power we have to inhabit and change mindscapes and potentially powerfully affect the future. Given the nature of inflammatory auto-immune disease it is all too easy to focus on the negative aspects, because some days finding a silver lining takes some imagination and creativity and sometimes even a whopping slather of self-applied silver paint. And so I have found it helpful to direct my attention in ways that don’t feed my illness and it behooves me to share that honestly in case it might help another. I came out of the closet about being depressed, and it relieved a huge burden I felt. Here’s to healing that which we can…

Truth is, folks, that one of my primary tools in coping with RA is cannabis. Yes, I smoke what in my childhood was known as the evil weed “dagga”, which was then known to devastate minds and lives and was associated with the vilest indigent and indolent stratum of society. Every level of authority in every social hierarchy preached hellfire and damnation against it, and consequences for transgression were steep.

I was trained.

Nonetheless, growing up I had the opportunity to try it in stereotyped, furtive teenage fashion, amid giggle attacks and dumb sound effects and the feeling of pulling one over on “the Man”. It was a welcome relief from the anxious times after the declaration of the “armed struggle” in the South African revolution against Apartheid. In spite of the easy space it offered, I only dabbled occasionally for fear of getting caught, vilified, stigmatized, punished and shunned. Good deterrents, all.

It was not until after my two years of conscripted service in the military during the agonal breaths of colonialism in Africa that I fell into the comforts of this strange plant. Back in 1986 in South Africa, there was no such thing as a “veterans organization” or the quaint notion of PTSD, and hollow-eyed young men routinely came back from “active service” to blow their families and themselves away in booze-fueled rages that splashed luridly on the pages of the Sunday Times. In the face of that I smoked up a storm. It was a sharp betrayal to realize that I had been lied to by so many people about the effects of ingesting this plant; the deception was institutional and taken for truth wholesale by us, the narrative consuming public. What I experienced was a deep physical relief with an accompanying sense of calm. My cognitive functions remained fairly unimpaired (to my chagrin, at the time) and I was able to function well academically and in society. I had found my medicine.

Over the years it has served me well as a calming influence, and I have learned much about manipulating my intake according to how the cannabis affected me and my desired results. When my RA symptoms first showed up, I tinkered with my intake to discover its effect on my new life mate. The guilt in me was convinced that this indulgence in sin was what brought on all the pain (thank you, Calvinist grandma…) when thousands of years of human use would indicate that might not be so. Abstaining for long periods had no effect on my inflammation at all, and left me bereft of a powerful tool in my arsenal of coping skills.

In time I got a MMJ license to avoid potential legal unpleasantness but found that the medicine remained just the same, with or without government sanction. The removal of the element of criminality certainly alleviated the only unpleasant side-effect I ever felt from cannabis.

Smoking during a flare up helped in that it put me at a distance from the immediacy of the pain in my body, and it helped me forget. The pain I could get around with judicious use of my pain medication, but the forgetting was a sleeper gift. The morning after a severe night I am unable to recall with any real substance the horror I have endured. It is a vague, dissociated blur of unpleasantness that I prefer not to examine too closely. It is with this tool that I can feel the familiar telltale signals of a flare up coming down the line and not freak the hell out. Cannabis has become one of the ways I can ward off the abject misery that life can be at times. A familiar place that is consistent even in wildly changing circumstances. I have risked so much to be able to take something that helps me in so many ways and I am continuing to risk in telling you this. There is still much stigma and shame around this topic, but someone has to start being honest so that this medicine can be freely available to all.

I am writing this all with a huge caveat: Current hybrid strains of cannabis are extremely potent and deservedly have a restricted status as an intoxicant. Effects of ingestion varies between users and cultivars, long-term use differs from short term use and it will flat-out not be agreeable for some people. Just like pharmaceuticals. I AM NOT ENDORSING OR ADVOCATING CANNABIS USE FOR TREATING RA OR ANY OTHER AFFLICTION! IF YOU THINK THAT IT MAY BENEFIT YOU, CONSULT A HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL IN A STATE WHERE IT IS LEGAL.

Editor’s Note:

Medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Three states have pending legislation. For more information about medical marijuana use in your state go to:

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