Medical marijuana vs Endone for pain relief

When people who are about to start chemotherapy ask me what helped me through cancer, I give them a list. Weed is at the top of it.

It’s not something I’ve written about while chronicling my treatment, but with the federal government moving to loosen restrictions on imported medical marijuana, now is a good time to have a rational discussion about its benefits.

There are groups that will cry foul at this and rage about the insidious nature of the drug, that as a nation we are all going to become addicts, but chances are if they saw someone they loved convulsing from the pain, they’d hand over that spliff.

Medical marijuana is not about getting stoned or feeling high. It’s about natural pain relief with minimal side effects.

Modern medicine is wonderful and I thank it for keeping me alive, but everything comes at a price. The Hippocratic oath may be ‘First, do no harm’ but chemotherapy is the exception that proves the rule. It’s a brutal treatment that wreaks havoc on your whole system, breaking your body in order to cure it.

The accepted way to deal with it is to prescribe opioids such as Endone or OxyContin, otherwise known as hillbilly heroin.

My pharmacist was so concerned when I went to fill out my prescription that he sat me down and talked through how to take it. This was the man that had been supplying me with all my chemo meds, but he was more worried about Endone than anything else. Two footballers had just overdosed on Oxycodone and he wanted to make sure the same thing didn’t happen to me.

Endone is prescribed to chemo patients as pain relief because it works. It’s strong enough to stand up to all the other drugs floating through your body. But it comes with nasty side effects, including potential psychotic episodes, difficulty breathing and hypotension. Did I mention the psychotic episodes?

Addiction is easy, because it kicks in almost instantaneously. Like a pillowy bed that you gently sink into, it takes the aches out of your body so that you feel like you’re floating. It’s the medical version of a lullaby, soothing you to sleep. When you wake, often in agony, it’s all too easy to grab another and repeat the process.

I stopped taking Endone when the side effects became too much to bear.

I switched to marijuana because it also offers pain relief, causes drowsiness which is blissful when the steroids I was taking for chemo gave me insomnia and as an added bonus, it stimulated my non-existent appetite.

I talked to all my doctors about it before taking it and there were no contra indications so I went ahead. It gave me all the benefits of Endone without the side effects.

If medical marijuana had been legal, it would have been easier to find, I would have known exactly what I was getting and my oncologist would have had a viable pain-management alternative to offer me.

The biggest arguments against marijuana as pain relief are that it’s illegal and potentially addictive.

If the government approves medical marijuana it will be legal. And, as someone who has taken both forms of pain relief, I can tell you that it is a lot less addictive than legal heroin.

 

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Chemo is kicking my ass this week

I suppose I should be grateful that it took four sessions for chemo’s full-force to hit.

All those pointless positivity cards would tell me to look on the bright side, that at least I made it through halfway relatively unscathed.

But it is hard to find any gratitude when you’re in so much pain.

For the first three chemo cycles I was on FEC and I dealt with it better than I could have hoped. The steroids and copious amounts of ginger tea, did I mention I don’t like ginger?, kept nausea to a minimum, regular cat naps meant I could stay awake most of the day and I knew that I had to crawl to a snail’s pace when walking up hills if I stood any chance of making it to the top.

So far, so bearable.

Before starting chemo I had a few people tell me it wouldn’t be as bad as I was expecting it to be. Of course, they had to be lying. A little white lie to allay some of the terror of what was ahead.

But then waddayaknow, it turns out it was bearable. Not pleasant, but bearable. There was no throwing up in a bucket, collapsing at the supermarket or weeping mouth ulcers. I would cross my fingers when someone asked me how I was doing and reply, “surprisingly ok.” Just in case I ran out of luck.

I felt guilty, like I had cheated chemo. If all these side effects hit others so hard, then how did I escape them?

Then on Friday I switched to Docetaxel and my luck ran out.

I knew about the potential bone and joint pain, but the side effect I was most scared of was losing my nails. Right now though, I would gladly give up all my nailbeds to get my body back.

I feel like an old woman.

On Monday I could barely make it from the bed to the couch, on Tuesday I physically couldn’t get out of bed.

It felt as if my limbs were leaden and I was attempting to drag them through thick, gloopy honey. I knew what I had to do to make them move, but going through with it was just too hard. The trek from the couch to the bed was so arduous I slept for an hour to get over it.

My biggest achievement yesterday was summoning the strength to shower at 3pm. Even then, I had to sit down halfway through.

I was so sore, so heavy that I was genuinely surprised to look down and see that my skin was still smooth and white. I expected to discover big, blotchy bruises all over. How could my insides be screaming at me while my outsides were just fine?

Today I’ve managed to stand in the shower and I’ve even left the house, my legs wobbling down the stairs as if this was a new activity they were doing it for the first time.

And I have The Boy to thank for that. My painkillers weren’t touching the sides, so he suggested I call the chemo nurse, who faxed a prescription for Endone to my pharmacist.

Genius. If only I had thought about that yesterday. Guess I can add chemo brain to my new list of side effects.