Marijuana for Endometriosis
I am not your stereotypical pothead. With great success I have been able to develop responsible and trustworthy roles in life as an employee, manager, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, best-friend, girlfriend, confidant, and doting pet owner. Even my credit card company sends me birthday cards. But that doesn’t mean my life is without great pain.
My battle with endometriosis began long before I even knew there was a name for what I had. For too long of a time I just shrugged at the shitty hand I was dealt in life and medicated myself with pain relievers, at my doctor’s advisory – some days overmedicating myself to the point of vomiting, albeit not at my doctor’s advisory. Very few people could truly understand, and because of that I didn’t get many free-passes, let alone much sympathy. I still had to get through school; I still had to go to work; I still had to go about life without any excuses, whining complaints or very much help. Inadvertently, the effect this had on me was profound. It toughened the hell out of me.
By the time I turned 32, the disease was wreaking havoc within my body. Pain was no longer associated with just my period – it was now on a daily basis. The once-a-month bad dream that began in my teenage years had now metamorphosed into a daily living nightmare. Some days I had very little energy and felt near narcoleptic. No exaggeration. Most days I would experience on-and-off cramps ripping through my abdomen, as if I swallowed a cup of sewing needles and they were working their way through my intestine. The excruciating stabbing pains that would sometimes last for hours, I equated to the searing sensation of an epee sword thrusting through my abdomen. A good whack from a baseball bat could be likened to having caused the severe tension across my lower back; and the aches that seized up the muscles through the tops of my thighs felt much like the burn from running a 5k, only I wasn’t running anywhere. This was my daily grind.
Yet I still had to get myself to and from work, navigate through the senior citizens at the grocery store, walk and feed the dog, make dinner, do the laundry, attend weddings and parties, meet deadlines, and basically function. I was popping pain relievers like they were tic-tacs.
I couldn’t ignore, or let alone treat what I was dealing with by swallowing prescription strength ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and meclofenamate throughout the day any longer. Nor could I ignore the effect this would have on my kidneys and liver. I had to do something; so again, after seeking my doctor’s counsel for the thousandth time I finally went under the knife for laparoscopic surgery to assess exactly what was going on inside my body.
As advanced as medicine is today, it isn’t perfect. CT-Scans, sonograms, ultrasounds, etc, cannot identify endometrial tissue growing outside of the uterus and latching onto organs and intestines, like little malignant vines cutting off valuable nutrient and blood supply. The only way to positively diagnose endometriosis is through a laparoscopic procedure, in which a small incision is made under the belly button so a small investigative scope can be sent in, like Jacque Cousteau in search of the elusive giant squid.
In my case, two more incisions were made right under the bikini-line so the flourishing weed-like endometrial growths, along with a fibroid the size of a chicken’s egg could be removed.
All was well, or so I thought. Several months passed and with the occasional check-up by my gynecologist, I seemed to be doing better. More importantly, I was finally feeling better. Albeit, the caveat here is that medicine is not perfect. Doctors are not perfect. Moreover, life, as we all know by our 30’s, is far from perfect.
It took a little less than a year for the endometrial tissue to regenerate and begin its vengeful torture on my body once again. Only this time it would be near crippling; emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
When the heavy periods started again, along with the cramps, I told myself, “Okay, I’ve been here before. I can deal with this. It’s not as bad as it used to be.” But then it got worse. When the daily pains started in again, I told myself, “Not again. I can’t go through this again.” Channeling Samuel L. Jackson, I went back to the gynecologist, who is a board certified, decorated, and revered surgeon in this field, and said, “That mother-fucking shit is back. Now what?”
That’s when I was told that most women, about 80%, who undergo a laparoscopic procedure for the treatment of endometriosis successfully go on with their lives without any resurgence of the tissue or continued problems. The other 20% aren’t so lucky, and experience repeat growths. What’s more, chronic sufferers run the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Ironically, the culprit in all of this is the one thing that makes a woman, a woman – estrogen. Or rather, too much of it.
My choices were gut churning. I could go under the knife again, but there were no guarantees; plus, it didn’t mean I would avoid further future procedures. It could become as cyclic as a dog chasing its tale – how many surgeries would be enough?
Another option was menopause, via one of two ways – surgical or induced chemically. If I chose surgical, that meant a hysterectomy and it certainly wasn’t the answer. After a hysterectomy a woman is put on a hormone treatment to synthetically supply the body of what has been permanently been cut-off – estrogen. That would put me back at square one, not to mention that pursuing this option would never allow me the experience of child-bearing.
A chemically induced state of menopause seemed like a more favorable choice, until I read about the side effects. Depression and anxiety are two, (among a long list, including lowered blood pressure and heart palpitations), so to combat this, additional prescriptions are given for anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills. I started to weigh the pain I was experiencing against the new sense of fresh hell I was considering entering. Everything on the list of side effects was honestly depressing, but mostly treatable, including hirsutism. Look it up and you will read what I read: Hirsutism is a condition where women have excess facial and body hair that is dark and coarse. The abnormal hair growth usually happens on the body where men typically grow hair – on the chest, face and back.
Basically, I would turn into a werewolf. A depressed and anxious werewolf, who most likely would be single, childless, broke from electrolysis and living in seclusion where Fresh Direct, Amazon and liquor stores deliver. Good luck to my girlfriends who would try to get me “all dolled up” for a night on the town. I think I saw an X-files episode about that, but I digress.
The other course of action was to do nothing. To wait and see – maybe my body would regulate itself. Maybe my body would heal itself. Maybe I would hit menopause and everything would be okay in about 20 or so years. Maybe I would also win lotto and become a millionaire. Twenty or so years is a long time to wait.
Saying that I felt like someone just gave me a massive wedgie is an understatement. I felt powerless and just dumb in the sense that there was no real or “good” answer. It felt like I couldn’t get rid of this shitty hand, and I surely wasn’t prepared for the next card endometriosis would play.
For most, sex is a joyous event. Even if you don’t achieve climax, maybe you have burned a few calories and can chalk it up to a good cardio session. Ideally, unless you are into twisted encounters, sex should not be a painful experience. It should not rob you of joy, or pleasure, or even the blissfully fragile state and vulnerable intimacy of sharing yourself, flesh, desires and all with a loved one. Nor should it make you weep, or plead to an unrelenting tormentor to stop the pain. That’s more of something you would associate with a horror movie, rather than a porn flick (a typical one anyhow).
I don’t exactly remember the first instance I experienced pain sexually, but the pain in itself is vivid enough to recall with great detail. Sometimes the pain will start during sex, sometimes it strikes after, but either way, the pain is piercingly cruel and is capable of dropping me to my knees. There is great humility in confessing the sobbing mess I’ve become while curled up in a ball wondering, “why am I being punished?” The pain is unimaginable and immeasurable, and has been so intense at times I’ve vomited.
The only way to paint a picture of what is transpiring during these awful moments is to take the examples of all the pain I described earlier, add rocket-fuel and then set it on fire, launching it out of the stratosphere.
If you have ever experienced unexpected and excruciating pain, you know the panicked search that sets in to find comfort and relief. But you also know that the search is futile. You have to ride out the pain until it subsides. For me, my search is for cold surfaces to lay my naked body on, like tiled floors and cast iron bath tubs. The pain is crippling. A bus careening off the road and smashing through my front window would not be able to move me – I would have welcomed death many of those instances, and I’m not suicidal. Ice on my bare abdomen has become my only reprieve, but it’s not absolute, nor a fast acting remedy. The insufferable minutes sometimes seem like days, and if the pain lasts an hour or more, I am beyond inconsolable.
At first it didn’t happen every time I had sex; it just seemed to happen every so often, but then the frequency picked up until it was happening 90% of the time. It got to the point that I didn’t want to have sex anymore. I honestly became scared of sex because I just couldn’t take the pain anymore. It was making a whimpering coward out of me and I was slowly turning into a shell of myself. I didn’t feel like a woman anymore. I didn’t feel sexy, or sexual, let alone sensual or seductive. You know, all the good “s” words. I didn’t want to be touched or wanted, in fear of where that may lead and the agony that would ensue. I wanted to hide under a heavy woolen burka and just not be a woman anymore. There were times I couldn’t hold back the self-pitying tears, and there were times I wanted to punch gaping holes in the walls out of sheer frustration and anger. Essentially, this was ruining my relationship. It was ruining my confidence. It was ruining me.
Not only were the days soiled by touches of pain and cramps, I couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t share myself at night with my beloved partner, who also felt helpless through this entire ordeal. We didn’t travel anywhere without an arsenal of pain relievers and ice packs. We tried so many different positions that promised to put less pressure and stress on my pelvis to no avail. Our sex life became something we both longed to reclaim. I needed and wanted hope, and the idea of losing myself and my partner sparked a search for a remedy that directed me to the most unlikely source.
Before I hail pot as a cure-all here, I must say that I have done my due diligence. I have seen various doctors (some who I question if they went to medical school or found their degree in a cereal box), done hundreds of hours of research and have endlessly searched for information, hope and help. Currently I am taking various supplements to help stabilize my estrogen production, increase estrogen metabolism, boost my immune system as well as treat and reduce tissue inflammation.
Another measure I took was drastically changing my diet. There are yummy but nefarious foods out there that can do two things: 1. Produce an acidic environment within the body, which encourages internal inflammation and pain, and 2. Increase prostaglandins, which in turn stimulate estrogen production. This meant limiting and/or avoiding sugar (gasp!), wheat, soy products, caffeine (double gasp!), alcohol (say it aint so!), dairy products (you’re killing me now), red meat, saturated fats and oils, refined carbs, and the super badies: additives and preservatives. Yes, there is life after a severe diet modification such as this one. It just takes some getting used to.
All of these things thankfully helped, but didn’t solve my problem. Plus, I do like my cup of coffee with milk and sugar in the morning. I also happen to love chocolate and to live without it forever is honestly impossible. Willpower be dammed – if enjoyment can be found in the nib of something as divine as chocolate, I will partake. Nonetheless, supplements and diet restrictions didn’t eradicate the pain. It still spikes up and knocks me on my ass from time to time.
I sought out more medical counsel and was recommended a hormonal implant option, one that was not recommended to me before. It only releases progesterone, and in theory, would even out the uneven balance of hormones within my body. I was desperate at this point and opted to have the implant inserted. That fateful day would go down in the history of my life as one of my worst days on this planet.
Only given a topical anesthetic, (I must stress t-o-p-i-c-a-l), along with a pill that was supposed to relax my cervix, the (expletive) doctor inserted this inch and a half long device shaped like a T, (look at the letter and just think about it), into my vagina and up into my cervix. It felt like a back alley abortion. I was written a script for 500mg of Tylenol and sent home to spend the next five hours begging my partner to either drug me or kill me.
Nearly a year later, I still experience pain on a regular basis, although much more mildly.
So now I am here, back to my original point and message. At no point on my journey did any doctor or practitioner ever recommend marijuana. Its medical uses are vast, from the treatment of glaucoma, to helping cancer, and AIDS patients. It helps relax the muscles, reduce inflammation and pain, reduce nausea and even stimulate the appetite.
I sought out marijuana as a hopeful option for these reasons… and it works. If I’m cramping, it helps soothe the muscles and reduce the inflamed tissue, and I’m able to get through what would normally be an unbearable ordeal. During my period, it is my best friend helping me through a couple of hellish days. As for sex, marijuana relaxes everything from my muscles to my nerves to the point that I can have sex like a normal woman, without any consequence. To even type that phrase, “normal woman,” brings tears to my eyes – it reminds me that for so long I haven’t been one.
When everything is okay in life, you take that state of being for granted. It’s not until something is taken away, do you then realize its true value. To be able to wake up, enjoy the day, enjoy your partner, and just enjoy being alive is a virtue – one that we all should be afforded. So if on my quest in life I find myself unable to procure marijuana from a male-minded western school of medicine, I will take the risk of seeking it out from a trustworthy source. Being pain free and feeling like a woman is worth that risk. Does this make me a drug addict? Does this make me a pothead? Does this make me a criminal?
After reading my story, do you really think I give a shit?
It’s a shame though that a medical connection has not been made between the benefits of marijuana and treating ALL of the plights in life women must face. If I were to list all of the drugs, from pain relievers to treatments that I have been prescribed and recommended, and then list all of their side effects, you would see a scary list of pharmaceuticals capable of destroying my body one cellular function at a time. Nothing is without consequence, not even marijuana, but its benefits far outweigh its side effects in my book. Until my doctor can write me prescription for marijuana, instead of Tylenol (laughable), only my dealer and I know how valuable that green jewel really is.
As an update I would like to add that I have recently read another blog written by another endo sufferer. She posted that marijuana use did not help her, but rather exacerbated her pain. She also cited that she was told that marijuana use elevates estrogen levels. With this in mind, please read my post as an opinion piece, or rather a confession of an extremely personal experience; not as a recommended method everyone should follow. Marijuana has fortunately been a help to me, along with a strict diet change and use of supplements – body chemistry is unique to the individual so what may work for one, may not, nor will not work for all.
Best wishes and good luck to other sufferers out there – my heart goes out to you all!