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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 4 March 2021

"For people in pain like me, medicinal cannabis could be a matter of life and death"

An anonymous person writes about the stress of chronic pain – and how they hope that medicinal cannabis could help.

Image: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

FOR SO LONG I believed pain was a good thing.

As a young child, when the pain in my stomach grew so bad that I couldn’t walk, it made realise I should probably call a parent. A few hours later and what was left of my appendix was removed.

As a clumsy teenager, pain taught me the difference between a sprained wrist and a broken arm after yet another fall off my bicycle.

Then as an adult, one brief dalliance with a stomach condition aside, I didn’t really experience much in the way of physical pain, at least nothing more than the usual bumps and bruises.

But then I developed a chronic pain condition — which I don’t want to name because I agreed to write this anonymously and only about a small number of people in Ireland suffer from it — and I realised how bad pain could be.

Someone once described pain to me as being like a smoke alarm, deliberately pitched at a decibel to wake you from even the deepest sleep if your home is on fire.

Now imagine a smoke alarm going off 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. That’s what life with chronic pain is like and, even on my best days, the pain sits at a feisty three or four out of 10.

On my worst… well, have you ever stood on a plug in your bare feet? Now imagine you’ve fallen on that plug from a great height and the prongs of the plug are made from lightning.

That goes some way towards describing how bad it can get.

And that pain could be on your body, your face, your arms, depending on where this condition affects you.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve been on a combination of medication all designed to ease my pain. Some of it was effective. So effective that it didn’t just stop me feeling pain, it stopped me feeling everything.

Chronic pain attack: meh. Sprained ankle: meh. Funniest movie you’ve ever seen: meh. Death of a loved one: meh.

For a number of reasons, I went back to my GP — who has been fantastic throughout all of this — and we changed my medication. Additionally, I started to see a professional about different, holistic I guess, ways of dealing with pain such as breathing exercises and meditation.

Zen and shit.

However, I still overwhelmingly rely on medication to get me through most days. The tablets I’m currently on are not 100% effective. To be honest, they’re barely even 80% effective, but they do take the edge off and allow me to be a functioning human being.

New hope

But things may be about to change for me and for the thousands of other Irish people who suffer from chronic pain as, last Thursday, the Dáil passed the medicinal cannabis bill proposed by AAA-PBP TDs Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett.

The evidence for the benefits of medicinal cannabis  ( and we’re talking about specially-produced oils, edibles, patches, lozenges or sprays here, or even synthetic cannabinoids; not getting baked and listening to The Doors )  are widespread and anything that might help with the pain and still leaves the sufferer as a functioning member of society has to be welcomed.

I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the benefits and the findings are almost universal. Cannabis is an extremely safe and effective medication and, in stark contrast to opioids or other available pain medications, cannabis is relatively non-addicting.

Importantly, it also has one of the best safety records of any known pain medication.

In one double-blind study — one in which neither the participants nor the experimenters know who is receiving a particular treatment — it was found that low dose vaporised cannabis “significantly reduces” neuropathic pain, which is kind of pain I suffer from.

There has been some opposition, of course, with the fear among the pearl-clutching-think-of-the-children classes that medicinal cannabis will open the door to recreational use.

However, anyone who has ever suffered from, or lived with someone who suffers from chronic pain will see that the benefits of this legislation will far outweigh any potential unintended consequences.

It could, quite literally, be a matter of life and death.

Two weeks ago, after lying in bed unable to sleep because of the pain, I had enough of staring at the shadows on the ceiling — those dancing demons anyone with chronic pain is all to familiar with — and crept into the sitting room hoping not to wake my family.

Sitting on my couch that night, for the first time in my life, I wondered was the pain worth it. This is, after all, not just a lifelong condition but one that actually gets worse over time.

The thought was fleeting, but it was there and it terrified me. I quickly decided that it was worth it, however, and took my current medication and eventually went back asleep.

If there’s a way to reduce my suffering, but more importantly to reduce the suffering of anyone who has to listen to me talking, again, about being in pain, that has to be a positive.

If medicinal cannabis is the source of that relief, why not welcome it with open arms?

The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.

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