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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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Opinion At a cannabis dispensary in Colorado I found the only thing that offered relief for my chronic pain

I was prescribed fentanyl, a dangerous, highly addictive, synthetic opiate with horrible side effects – while a relatively harmless plant remains banned, writes Clare McAfee.

“I HAVE CHRONIC pain and I’d like some cannabis, please”.

Those are words I uttered to a ‘budtender’ at a cannabis dispensary in Colorado back in 2017 when I was being treated for interstitial cystitis.

It’s a terrible chronic pain condition, I can only compare it to living with shards of glass in your bladder at all times, making it impossible to function normally. If you have ever had a urinary tract infection it’s like having one consistently. 

My case was down to a hormone imbalance and like most other cases of interstitial cystitis, it didn’t respond well to pain killers.

I tried lots of types of painkillers ranging from paracetamol and tramadol to dangerous synthetic opioids like fentanyl patches as well as Lyrica which is typically used for epilepsy. 

They offered little relief from the pain  and came with horrible side effects. I’m talking headaches, nausea, dizziness, weight gain and uncontrollable fatigue. 

Medical marijuana was legalised in Colorado 19 years ago. The conditions it is used for include cancer, PTSD, persistent muscle spasms, epilepsy, nausea, MS, glaucoma, HIV /AIDS and of course chronic pain.

Sufferers of any approved illness are allowed to possess up to 57g of marijuana prescribed for medical purposes. They can also grow up to six plants at home, with no more than half flowering at any one time.

Recreational use also became legal in 2012, allowing tourists and visitors to purchase and use marijuana within the state. As a visitor, all you need to attend an emporium of cannabis in Colorado is your passport.

Once you enter the dispensary, it can only be described as a chronic pain patient’s dream

There are topicals which include lotions and balms for muscular aches and pains, transdermal patches, bud of all types for smoking, vape pens, edibles such as chews, sweets and brownies.

There are a plethora of CBD oils to choose from with varying ratios of THC content.

It’s eye-opening and also a bit confusing to have so much choice, but thankfully there are always ‘budtenders’ on hand to advise you on what’s best for your needs.

I was happy to try out an indica strain for smoking, THC transdermal patches and some cannabis-based sweets. 

I tried the sweets first and felt less anxiety, but not much effect on the pain. Smoking the indica resulted in a noticeable reduction in pain and the anxiety that accompanies it.

I sat and read a book in abject peace, something that I hadn’t been able to do for ages. 

The next day I stuck the THC patch on and that provided an even greater reduction in pain and so I went out shopping. I got to temporarily step back into the body of the ‘old Clare’ the one that was able to happily browse in shops 

Given the level of pain relief I experienced, the temptation to pack the THC patches in my suitcase to bring home was very strong.

I did, however, wish to remain a law-abiding citizen once I stepped back on Irish soil.

I want to call on our minister for health Simon Harris to visit a dispensary in Colorado and talk directly to patients with chronic pain.

I’m delighted that he has moved towards permitting medical cannabis for patients with MS,  cancer patients suffering from nausea due to chemotherapy and epilepsy patients who are not responding to drug therapy.

But why has he not made it available for all cancer patients, all epilepsy patients and all chronic pain patients?

If pharmaceutical medications worked, we’d take them. If pharmaceutical medications didn’t come with some terrible side effects, we’d take them.

Surely it is obvious that the side effects of cannabis are less than the side effects of opiate drugs like fentanyl that are legally allowed. Is it not also obvious that the risks of addiction are much lower?

So why is this government forcing people to obtain this relatively safe treatment on the black market?

We see constant news stories about garda seizures of cannabis. As a chronic pain patient, all I can think is ‘what a waste’.

I’d go further than suggesting decriminalisation, not only should we legislate for medicinal marijuana we should move into producing it in Ireland too.

In 2018 sales of cannabis in the state of Colorado totalled $1.5bn resulting in licence fees and tax take for the Colorado Department of Revenue of $266m

Perhaps it is time that the Irish government made use of our excellent agricultural skills, as well as our good land and weather conditions – in order to move into cannabis production. 

Why not start producing cannabis for medicinal purposes and then re-investing the revenues into our cash-strapped public health system?

Clare McAfee blogs at She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter @imoffthecouch

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