For my first article writing about cannabis, I want to reflect on my own poignant and personal testimony demonstrating how this amazing plant can be a healing medicine.
My mother moved to Northern California to settle down and begin her golden years in a place of beauty, and to be near her daughter (that’d be me). She and dad found a place, and jobs, and were getting excited about summer hikes and adventures when, six months into the new chapter of our lives, mom was diagnosed with stage four anal cancer. A very rare cancer that is usually removed via surgery when found, but mom’s cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and it was too late for surgery. (Side note of relevance: the reason for this is that she was living in a state that, at the time, did not have health care and therefore she could not afford and get the recommended colonoscopy screenings. So, hey people over 50 – get your colonoscopy, it can save your life!)
I cannot express to you in words what it feels like to witness a loved one go through the suffering, pain, and fear that mom went through. Memories flood my brain as I recall the countless hospital days and nights, the chemo and radiation treatments which made her so sick and frail, the piles of pills she had to take every day, the time her feather light blonde hair all fell out except a few clumps which dad had to shave off, the time she held my hand praying to die, the regular vomiting and nausea, and, eventually, IV dripped morphine and only a skeleton of mom lying for weeks in bed, only waking to use to the bathroom and to whisper “I love you.” She died in May of 2014, screaming and writhing in pain and morphine-induced dementia. Yes, horrible beyond belief; unfair, traumatic, unreal, and completely fucked up.
I can, however, express to you the gratitude and joy I have for the cannabis plant. It was a positive ray of light – hope – that we cherished throughout mom’s cancer journey.
Mom was never much of a pot smoker. Nonetheless, before she moved to Humboldt, I had visions of us smoking big doobies together walking through the redwoods contemplating life, deep mother and daughter type stuff. She would roll her eyes if she read that. That really wasn’t my mom’s style and it never actually happened. However, after mom became sick I began to advocate cannabis use to (1) combat her symptoms and (2) encourage healing. While at first she was skeptical of her stoney daughters advise, after researching it and talking to her doctor, she was recommended a 215 and was encouraged to experiment with cannabis. I got her a cute little pipe and then we took a field trip to our wonderful local dispensary, the Humboldt Patient Resource Center (the HPRC) where she was hooked up with some amazing free product thanks to their compassionate cancer patient program. This amazing program gives medicine for free, pending supplies, to seriously ill patients. REALLY AWESOME! If you would like more information about this program please go to: http://www.HPRCArcata.com. The collective is currently accepting new 215 patients and are also taking direct referrals from hospice and palliative care providers.
The most helpful of the products mom tried was the Rick Simpson Oil (other wise known as RSO). This is a cannabis concentrate that comes out as thick paste-like oil that is given to you in a plastic syringe. You push a teeny amount out at a time (like the size of a half grain to a grain of rice) and then eat it, somehow (you can also smoke it). The first time mom tried it, she just put it in her mouth but it tasted awful, plus it coated her teeth (imagine smearing resin on your teeth – super hilarious for a daughter to watch happen, not so funny for the person with the coated teeth!). Dissolving the RSO in coffee or tea seemed to work reasonably well, but by far the best way we found to get mom to ingest her medicine was to put the grain-of-rice amount of RSO into a small vegetarian capsule (you can purchase them at any health food store in town). Mom would just down it like any other pill and within forty minutes or so she would feel it. It would help alleviate her pain and anxiety. According to two scientific journals, when used in conjunction with opiates, cannabinoids can lead to greater pain relief, possibly reducing dependency on opiates, and reducing opiate-related side effects (Lucas 2012; Gustafson, 2013).
Equally important, RSO would spur on an appetite; mom was down to 80 pounds and had less and less of an appetite as time went on. Often she was so nauseous she couldn’t eat or would vomit what she had eaten. The cannabis (mostly in the form of RSO but sometimes in the form of smoking herb) would alleviate her nausea and increase her appetite, fighting the problem on both fronts. I remember getting so happy when she asked me, out of the blue, for a grilled cheese sandwich after getting medicated one of the first times.
Another trick we discovered was to wake her up an hour or two before she was actually going to get up, and give her the RSO capsule then. That way, when she really awoke, she would already have an appetite and could eat some breakfast. It really was a miracle!
For more information about Rick Simpson Oil check out www.phoenixtears.ca
Note that smoking pot helped mom in similar ways but to a lesser degree, primarily because mom was not accustomed to feeling “stoned” and therefore did not like it and didn’t feel comfortable smoking much, especially during the day. The RSO really was the primary cannabis medicine for her. I think every person needs to find the form of cannabis that jives best with their mind and body, and with the particular moment they are medicating.
Mom also experienced some skin cancer marks, which I treated with a cannabis salve made with olive oil and beeswax. Basically I marinated mom in cannabis inside and out! Using cannabis salve and other herbal salves can help to keep skin cancer away and can also help heal what is or has been there. (Stay tuned for a future article with recipes and more information about salves!)
When mom was first diagnosed with stage four cancer she was given six months to live. She lived over two years, and had a higher quality of life than expected, up until the last several months. While extremely weak and debilitated, I could even get mom to do some gentle yoga and walking, and she was able to go to support groups and friend outings on occasion. The doctors were amazed by how she persevered and beat the odds. While a huge part of this was that my mom was a tough woman who was a fighter, and of course Western medicine and what it had to offer, but we believe that the magical ingredient was cannabis. I know from first hand experience that cannabis helped her get through the day and if it wasn’t for the RSO increasing her appetite, she very well may not have lived much more than 6 months. In this respect, cannabis was a life enhancer and a lifesaver, even in the shadow of death.
I want all people to know about the healing properties of the cannabis plant, and how it can be a medicine for many people, including and perhaps especially, those who are suffering from illness. Let’s share our experiences, equip ourselves with knowledge, and move forward with hope and inspiration. We are very lucky to have such a healing plant for our use, and it should be available and accessible to all people, everywhere.
Puff on. Peace.
Rebecca is a new contributor to the Humboldt Underground. She is finishing up her thesis work at Humboldt State University (and writing for us and you). We are proud to have such a strong and amazing women on our team. Look for a bio and future articles from her!
Articles of Reference:
Gustafson, Craig. 2013. “Donald Abrams, MD: Evidence-Based Efficacy of Medical Use of Cannabis.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 12(5):24–27 4p.
Lucas, Philippe. 2012. “Cannabis as an Adjunct to or Substitute for Opiates in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 44(2):125–33.
Anon. n.d. “Cannabis Ingredient Can Help Cancer Patients Regain Their Appetites And Sense of Taste – ScienceNewsline.”