End420Shame: Chronic Pain Sufferers Find Hope In Cannabis
Chronic pain is an epidemic sweeping the United States and, since 1999, the CDC reveals that it has claimed 165,000 people due to overdoses from prescription opioids. So, what is being done to mitigate this massive prescription problem?
People are turning to cannabis. According to a 2010 McGill University study, those who smoke cannabis can significantly improve their measure of pain, sleep quality and anxiety over conventional methods. And that’s exactly what Alfredo “Freddy” Astorga did.
In his early twenties, Freddy was working construction. “Everything began with a back injury,” he shared. “One day, I accidentally slipped off a roof with all my gear strapped to my waist. I was young and figured I would be able to just walk it off, but after several weeks I noticed that my pain was getting worse. Eventually, it got to the point I could barely walk and I had to visit the doctor.”
That was the moment when Freddy’s life headed downhill. He was prescribed opiates, sedatives and tranquilizers to manage his pain and the inevitable insomnia that came along with it. It wasn’t long before he could no longer work construction, but a desk job wasn’t going to solve his problems either.
Freddy’s cocktail of medications made him feel and act as though he was intoxicated. “I was then referred to behavioral health services and placed on psychotic medication to control my stress and anxiety,” Freddy remembered. “By this time I was so medicated, I could not work or function normally, and my symptoms continued to get worse.”
The drugs that were supposed to help Freddy live a pain-free life caused far more problems than they solved. His life was on a spiral of self-destruction. The medications even caused him to develop post-traumatic epilepsy, which required more medications to treat.
Before long, he could barely recognize his life. He lost his health and so much more.
“I foreclosed on a home and cars,” Freddy revealed. “And, most painfully, I separated from my wife. The drugs created a chain reaction that extended further than I could have imagined. I was young and gullible. I thought that following the doctor’s instructions was the only way to get well. I never took the time to research the drugs’ interactions, long-term use, side effects, potential addictions or anything else.”
It wasn’t until Freddy had lost almost everything important in his life that he finally looked for an alternative to the pharmaceuticals that controlled his life. That was when he found medical cannabis.
He’d tried weed in high school, but this time, he wasn’t looking to get high, he wanted to experience a higher quality of life. And that’s what he found.
“After consuming cannabis, I was able to taper off and eventually discontinue the use of all other pharmaceuticals,” Freddy said. “With time, I’ve regained control of my health and my life. I’ve been two years seizure-free, and while I still have some symptoms, it’s not like it was before. My life, for the most part, is normal. My pain is tolerable. And I’m able to accomplish most of the activities I once enjoyed.”
Unfortunately, while cannabis has been a miracle drug for Freddy, not everyone sees it that way. “I’m still faced with employment discrimination,” Freddy shared. “And my ex-wife and family consider me an unfit parent and a bad influence.”
Cannabis may have given Freddy his life back, but it hasn’t come without cost. He has minimal communication with his children, and has to deal with regular judgment and criticism from people who don’t understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain or the relief that cannabis provides. That’s eventually what led Freddy to get involved in cannabis advocacy.
He wants anyone living with an illness to understand that they are not alone. “My heart goes out to you, and I want to encourage you that gaining control is possible,” Freddy said. “The first and probably the hardest step is accepting your medical condition. Acknowledge that you have an illness so that you can take control of the disease instead of allowing the disease to control you. Accept your illness as a new challenge in your life that can make you stronger and wiser than you would have been otherwise.”
As for why Freddy reached out to us and asked to join our #End420Shame campaign, he did it because he wanted to share his story and open a dialogue about using cannabis for pain relief.
“I believe that clear, honest communication is necessary to strengthen relationships, strengthen communities, and to help build a solid foundation for social, mental and emotional health,” he shared. “I also strongly believe that it is the patient’s right to manage and control their illness with whatever they find is most effective.”
For Freddy, cannabis was the most effective treatment for his chronic pain, while others might find relief with something different. The key is to keep an open mind and to be supportive of alternative medication.
One in five Americans suffers from chronic pain. Long-term use of conventional pain relievers has been associated with stroke, erectile dysfunction, heart attack, hepatoxicity and accidental overdose. Worse, in most cases, opiates and NSAIDS are ineffective at relieving neuropathic pain. That’s where cannabis can help. Cannabis has been shown to reduce neuropathy in patients with HIV by more than 30 percent, according to a study by the FDA. And in 2015, The Clinical Journal of Pain reported that, “[C]annabinoids are safe [and] demonstrate a modest analgesic effect, and provide a reasonable treatment option for treatment of chronic non-cancer pain.”