I’ve wanted to write about the politics of pain for a while. As a sufferer of chronic pain, I find myself in a constant struggle with doctors and pharmacists who think they know what and how much pain meds I require. Even more difficult is the fight I have with myself on taking the meds. I’m stubborn and independent and I hate that I have to rely on something external to myself to get through the day. In that way I have internalized a core tenant of the War on Drugs: drugs are a crutch that people use to escape their lives. I'm not talking about heroine and cocaine, I’m talking about prescriptions (not just opiates) and medical marijuana.
Anyone who deals with chronic pain will tell you that there comes a point at which you just don’t want to hurt anymore. You deal with it day in and day out, some days better than others. The strength it takes someone in chronic pain to just get through an average day is astounding. The choice often comes down to whether I want to be able to think or be relieved of the pain. I take a host of medications to address the damage done to my nerves by diabetes: antidepressants, anticonvulsants, analgesics, and when I’m lucky opiates. I say lucky because I love me a good opiate. When I take them I know I’ll stop hurting. In fact I had a nice little Vicodin habit going on for a few years, but then my doctor suggested medical marijuana.
I had never tried marijuana before, and I was 34 when I first did. When I got my prescription for medical marijuana, I was so happy I cried. In addition to good old fashioned smoking, there are tinctures and oils that work like magic on my nerves, alleviating the pain in ways I hadn’t had in years. I was even able to move off of the Vicodin, for which my liver is eternally grateful. Pot helps in other ways as well. I have a pretty good case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD. I can be revved for days, feeling edgy and out of control, or I can smoke a bowl and it goes away. For me, weed is an important part of improving my quality of life. That said, I find myself fighting it with self-talk like “It’s a crutch” and “I don't want to get addicted.” But you see, I kind of am addicted in the way that I’m addicted to all my other medications. When a diabetic needs insulin, do we say that she is addicted to it? Of course not, but marijuana and pain medications in general are always greeted with the caveat of addiction.
I’m tired of running a gauntlet for pain and anxiety medications because there is so much fear that I will become addicted and “abuse” them. If by abuse them, you mean take them so I don’t go crazy from the pain or anxiety, then yah. I’ve been asked if I could have all the pain go away in exchange for giving up the meds, would I. The answer is yes. Okay maybe. Okay fine, I admit I like being stoned, but I would give that up to be pain free, to be able to walk a block without pain from the middle of my back to the soles of my feet, to be able to write without getting cramps and shooting pains in my hands.
In all this there is one thing I want everyone to remember about medical marijuana and opiates: When you take these drugs for pain management, you aren’t getting high and you're not an addict; you’re using them for their intended purpose, to feel better.