What D.A.R.E. Didn’t Teach Me: How Cannabis Saved My Life
by Lisa Conine
When I was in grade school I was unusually small for my age. I did not grow as rapidly as the other children which led me to be low on the growth chart and eventually fell off completely. Sure, this saved my parents some money on clothes and it was always something I liked about myself so no one was concerned. At a very young age, I already had it engrained in my mind that being “small” or “tiny” was an admirable trait (which is an issue for another time), but throughout my childhood I had no idea I was actually malnourished and had a disease living dormant in my body.
By the time I reached the age of 10 and experienced some traumatic, stressful events, the symptoms started showing their forceful influence on my body. I was suddenly living with intense, sharp, and persistent stomach pains. This moved into irregular bowel movements, and at some points reaching up to two weeks without getting rid of my body’s toxins. I experienced fevers and chills when I was finally able to go to the bathroom, and then the process would repeat- all while having consistent pain.
For months, doctors ran many medical tests to try and determine the cause of these symptoms. Finally, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 10. Crohn’s Disease is defined as a chronic inflammatory condition that attacks the entire digestive tract which causes the body to constantly fight itself. Even though that sounds troubling, I remember being so relieved to just know what it was that I barely cared about having a disease. I was immediately prescribed multiple medications and told by the doctor that I could go back to my normal life, including eating a high-carb diet full of processed junk. At 10 years old, this seemed like a pretty good deal to me.
As I got older, I began to realize that my “treatment” plan was not working the way I had hoped. I did not feel myself getting better and at a young age it was hard to remember to take all of my medications every day, at different times, etc. I was also embarrassed of my disease; no middle school child wants teachers or classmates to know that she has an inflamed bowel. This made treating my disease difficult because I just wanted to be “normal”, so I rejected my body’s messages instead of tuning into them.
Let’s jump ahead to my life at 15 years old when I was experiencing many symptoms that were not strictly related to my digestive health. Since a large portion of our immune system is in the digestive tract, I would catch every virus and sickness that came around and it would last much longer than it was intended to, causing frequent antibiotic prescriptions. Being chronically sick and in pain naturally led to depression and insomnia. As a result of this, sleep medications and anti-depressant pills enter the story.
I was on more medications than I could keep track of, my physical and emotional health was declining rapidly, and my symptoms were still present in my daily life. That was, until I tried Cannabis.
I was told, like most kids who endured the D.A.R.E. program, that marijuana is very bad and even more illegal. All of those ideas went away when I realized the instant relief my stomach experienced once I tried Cannabis. I began self-medicating, and as you can guess, it was not seen as a positive choice. I experienced extreme resistance from my parents which eventually led to being put in an outpatient drug treatment program at the age of 15.
I agreed with everything I was being told about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, except for what they said about Cannabis. I believe drug treatment programs are important and the counseling aspect helped me work through other issues (which ultimately led to my choice in pursuing a career in human service) but at the end of the day it was clear that I was not an addict. The professionals there saw that and my “treatment” consisted of watching Miss Congeniality, eating popcorn, and talking about other difficulties I faced during adolescence. I even made a friend of unlikely sorts, a gang member selling and using heroin, who was also confused by my presence at the facility.
A couple years later I moved on to college and started weaning myself off of my prescribed medication and was feeling improvements. I soon learned of the Medical Marijuana Program in Michigan and that Crohn’s Disease was a qualifying condition. That day I went home and broke down with tears of joy because I finally received the validation that I was not alone.
The next step was informing my parents of my plan to officially change my course of treatment. They were reluctant at first; it was a process to show them how I have improved. We had many discussions and reviewed the facts together. What solidified my decision for them was when I spent six weeks studying abroad in Europe and I did not experience any withdrawal symptoms from Cannabis but my Crohn’s symptoms did return. All of this deepened my gratitude for having parents that are willing to support me in making a controversial choice to improve my health.
I am now 21 years old and do not take any pharmaceutical medications to manage my Crohn’s Disease. My gastroenterologist told me, three years prior to telling anyone I was utilizing Cannabis that my symptoms were in “remission” and to “keep doing what you are doing”. I am now due for my check up this year and can’t wait to tell him why I am doing so well.
I have learned that in our country’s medical system, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be your own doctor. Do whatever you have to do to get in touch with your body and listen to what it is trying to tell you. I have consulted dozens of doctors and no one has given be a more accurate response than my own body.
I am now a college senior involved in many student groups, including activist groups supporting policy change regarding Cannabis. I am completing my academic courses successfully and am able to have a full social and family life. These are things I could not fully participate in for many years because I was always exhausted and in pain. Now I have integrated many holistic methods into my daily life to help heal my body. I have implemented a healthier diet focused on eliminating chemicals, rather than counting calories. I consume hemp seeds, hemp oil, and use cannabis in multiple forms to keep myself feeling symptom free and full of life.
The stories are out there, thousands of patients with dozens of conditions are finding relief from utilizing Cannabis.
In a society where large profits are made around the sick and dying, it is time to take back the control of our personal health care and make sure all options are accessible to all patients.
Lisa is a Senior at Central Michigan University and is passionate about humanitarian issues including, but not limited to, Medical Cannabis, Environmental Justice, Family Life Education, Holistic Health, and Supporting Survivors of Aggression.