Ellen Lenox Smith is Co-Director of Medical Cannabis for U.S. Pain and a U.S. Pain Board Member. She lives with two rare conditions: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and sarcoidosis. After years of struggling to find pain relief without side effects or adverse reactions, she discovered medical cannabis.
A retired school teacher, Ellen is now a renowned patient advocate and works tirelessly to encourage safe, fair access to all treatment options, particularly medical cannabis. She has spoken at numerous conferences on cannabis access and been featured widely in the media on the topic. She is also the author of two books: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain—And Have A Good Life Anyway and My Life as a Service Dog.
Below, she clears up common myths surrounding medical cannabis for pain.
Myth #1: All people who use cannabis must be “stoned” or “high.”
Truth: this only happens if you use too much medication. People living with pain get pain relief; people using it socially and not in pain, get high! In addition, medical cannabis is made of two components: THC, which causes the mental effects associated with feeling high, and CBD, which produces bodily effects. Various strains of cannabis have different ratios of THC and CBD, which means that not all strains create as much of a “high” feeling.
Myth #2: Everyone who uses the same strain experiences the same result to using it.
Truth: Each body can have a different reaction to each strain, even if you have the same medical condition. Patience is needed. Don’t give up on your first try–each person must find the strain that best works for their bodies.
Myth #3: All types of cannabis have a lot of THC in them and will make me feel stoned.
Truth: There are many strains of the plants to choose from. Some have a higher ratio of THC than others and others have much lower THC and higher CBD. So take time to do your research before deciding which strain might be best for you! The professionals at your local medical dispensary are also a good resource.
Myth #4: There are no risks with using medical cannabis.
Truth: While medical cannabis is widely considered to be much safer than many medications, it does come with risks. Be especially careful for when you ingest cannabis, as it will not activate immediately and can take up to even hours before you feel the effect. So if you take a bite of that cookie and think you feel nothing, don’t eat the rest or you risk ingesting too much and being very high, which can cause a bad reaction, like anxiety.
Myth #5: When I ingest cannabis, it will leave my system quickly.
Truth: ingesting your medication means it not only takes longer to activate but also takes longer before it leaves your system. This is a good reason to take it in small doses to get to your right dose for pain relief and not cause yourself to feel high. If you take too much, don’t panic. It will wear off. but it can take hours.
Myth #6: Using medical cannabis will just make me feel tired.
Truth: There are two main categories of medical cannabis strains. The indica strains have higher CBD and lower THC counts. They can help with increased mental and muscle relaxation; decreased nausea and acute pain; and increased appetite and dopamine. Indica is typically preferred for night-time use. Meanwhile, the sativa strains have lower CBD and higher THC counts. They can help with anxiety and depression; chronic pain, and increased focus and serotonin, Sativa is usually preferred for daytime use.
Myth #7: I would have to smoke medical cannabis if I used it for pain.
Truth: Many do not smoke cannabis for their medicine. You can, for example choose to vaporize, take pills, tinctures, topicals, patches, oil, edibles and even use drinks.
Myth #8: My doctor will write me a prescription to use medical cannabis.
Truth: In most states, a doctor would need to sign a from identifying and confirming you have a qualifying condition, not a prescription. Typically, you would then use this documentation to apply for a medical cannabis card from your state.
Myth #9: No matter what state I travel to, all laws are equal for medical cannabis use.
Truth: Each state presently has their own laws, some only allowing CBD from the hemp plant, three with no laws at all, and the rest with some form of a medical cannabis program established. Educate yourself on your state’s specific laws and be cautious when traveling between states.
Myth #10: I will need to go to the pharmacy and order my medical cannabis.
Truth: In some states, you are allowed to grow your own or have a caregiver grow for you. For others, you go to the dispensary to purchase your medication.
Myth #11: I will have my medical cannabis covered by insurance.
Truth: Only the country of Germany presently covers the cost of cannabis. For the rest of us, it is not covered–yet. Only once the federal government gets cannabis out of Schedule I and all states allow a medical cannabis program, will insurance coverage for medical cannabis be possible.
Myth #12: I am sure I will be able to qualify since I live with pain.
Truth: Many states have very specific lists of conditions that qualify for medical cannabis use. If your specific condition is not listed as a “qualifying condition” and your state does not include the wording of “chronic pain,” you may have difficulty being allowed into the program. However, some states are beginning to allow the doctor to decide what patient should be using cannabis, which helps many get into the program.
To learn more about medical cannabis for pain and start advocating for access in your state, visit https://uspainfoundation.org/medicalcannabis/. To learn more about Ellen and her work, visit http://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/.