6 Things I Could Have Never Experienced Without Weed
Some people don't think of weed as medicine. I didn't used to either...until I had no other choice.
Hi there! My name is Lara and for about as long as I can remember now, I've experienced some sort of discomfort in my body. It started when I was a teenager and quickly grew to something more intense; I ended up in the emergency room on more than one occasion after passing out due to extreme pain. Finally, in 2012, I was officially diagnosed with endometriosis and probable adenomyosis. In the years that have since followed, I've added several more diagnoses to my list — like vaginismus and painful bladder syndrome — all of which contributed to daily chronic pain. But I also discovered a new way to fight back — I discovered weed.
1. The Periods Sent Directly From Hell:
I am 24 years old and I am laying on my boyfriend’s queen-sized IKEA bed in his studio apartment in Koreatown, heating pad strapped to my abdomen. I tore the fabric covering off the heating pad I bought from Target to keep at my boyfriend’s sometime during the night and can feel as the hot plastic starts to burn my skin. But I don’t release any pressure from my left hand that still has the heating pad placed firmly on my lower abdomen. I prefer the burning. Anything to distract myself from the other pain I feel. I started my period early this morning around 4 a.m. and have been delirious with pain ever since. This is how my periods usually go. I do my best to tell myself I will get through it and try to bite my lip when the pain gets too bad to keep from screaming.
I’ve already taken more than the allotted amount of ibuprofen and it has done nothing to touch my pain. My boyfriend is in the kitchen smoking weed and editing a video on his computer. He sees me writhing in pain yet again, and asks if I think I’ll be able to make it to the Dodgers game that we have tickets to later this evening. I want to tell him that I’m not sure I’ll even survive this pain much longer, let alone make it to watch a fucking baseball game, but no words come out. His pipe is next to him, filled with freshly ground cannabis flower. He asks me if I want to try any. I have never smoked weed before. But I am desperate for relief and have nothing to lose. He guides me through using the pipe for the first time and I take my first hit.
Within minutes it is as if I am being sprinkled, ever so slowly, with a dusting of pain-free sparkles. I am aware that I am bleeding profusely, that my abdomen is swollen and screaming, that my lower back feels like I’ve been stabbed with seven knives. But I am also aware that none of that matters as much anymore. I am aware that I am now floating on a cloud in the sky, and that the pain that I know is there somewhere just isn’t as painful anymore. After a while, my body starts to feel odd. I feel heavy, a drooping sensation. I start to panic until I realize that it is the sensation of my muscles relaxing. I had forgotten what it felt like. I take another hit of the pipe and drift off into a deep three-hour sleep. When I wake up the knives have been removed from my back, and the barbed wire is no longer wrapped so tightly around my abdomen. I make it to the Dodgers game. And I don’t realize it at the time, but I just discovered the medicine that would change my life.
2. The Trip to Italy:
I am 25 years old and I am sitting in the window seat of a huge Delta airplane on my way to Europe for the first time since I studied abroad in Greece during college six years prior. It was one of the best times of my life. It was also before I got this sick. In 2011 my pain wasn’t what it is now. I could at least eat food and find an appetite most days in 2011; I wasn’t in daily pain, I only experienced spurts of it. Nothing like the constant pain I feel these days due to my endometriosis and related illnesses. I had wanted to travel more. I was accepted into a graduate program in London. I had chosen my coursework. I had looked at housing. I had it all planned out. But again...that was before I got this sick. That trip to Greece before it all, and the discovery of my wanderlust...it feels like a dream most days. As if I watched it happen in someone else’s life.
But regardless, I am here now, on this plane to Italy, sitting cross-legged because it causes me less pelvic pain to sit this way, and wondering if I’ll be able to make it through the last three hours of this nine-hour flight without developing a pain flare that would send my body into a state of panic. I think of the bottle full of CBD capsules and the bag of Haribo gummy bears that I snuck a few cannabis-infused gummy bears into that is resting inside my suitcase, somewhere under the plane. I think about the ache I feel in my lower back and hips and how much worse it would be feeling right now without the cannabis I had already ingested before the flight. I think about where I might be right now, instead, if I hadn’t discovered weed. The thought makes me unbearably sad.
I feel an ache in my chest, and my nausea increases. I can feel myself start to spiral, sinking slowly into the ocean of despair that is living with a chronic illness that has no cure. I refuse to do this now, I think. So instead of diving further in, I take the one remaining gummy bear out of my coat pocket stash and pop it into my mouth. Fuck the past. Fuck the pain. None of it matters now. Because I did discover cannabis. And it is with cannabis now that I am able to make my way to Italy for the first time in my life. It is with cannabis that I am able to eat pasta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. It is with cannabis that I take my first bite of real gelato as I walk the streets surrounding the Duomo di Milano. I stare up at the sky, the power of the building hovering over me, and I laugh with joy until I cry.
3. The First Trip to Disneyland:
I am 26 and I have never been to Disneyland before. But here I am, standing in the security line outside of Disneyland, ready to go inside the park and see what it’s like. I’ve never really been someone who is into rides — I get motion sickness — but I’ve wanted to try Dole Whip since I moved to Los Angeles from a tiny town in Indiana back in January 2014. Small town Indiana didn’t have Dole Whip. And maybe girls who have endometriosis and related severe pelvic pain conditions don’t either. At least maybe not without the help of cannabis. Because without the help of cannabis I can rarely eat at all.
As the line slowly moves and my boyfriend and I inch closer to the bag check, I feel my pulse start to quicken. All of the times in my life when I was out in a public place, far from the comfort of my home, and was suddenly hit with a pain flare flash before my eyes. I can feel the panic start to rise in my chest as I think about the fact that I am now over an hour away from my heating pad and my bed. If I get sick right now, I have no safe haven to escape to. I have no place to hide away until it lessens. I try to calm myself down. I take three long deep breaths and think of the vape pen I have in my purse. I tell myself that everything is going to be ok as long as I have my cannabis. If I get hit with a pain flare out of nowhere, at least I will be able to delay the severity of the pain with weed. I look up again and realize that we are now at the front of the line and the security guard is waiting for me to open my bag so that he can peek inside. I do. I try to act casual, and not like someone who is praying to every single higher power that this security guard doesn’t take away her one lifeline from pain. He looks around inside my bag for 30 seconds or so and then tells me I am good to go. I feel my body relax a little. I made it. I am going to be okay.
It is now after 2 p.m. and I am ravenous, thanks to the strain of Gelato I had been vaping on and off all day to keep my pain at bay. I have been on my feet for just over five hours now and I am aware of the dull pain radiating throughout my body. But it feels far away...as if it is a fly buzzing outside my bedroom window. I can see it, I can even hear it. I know that it is there. But it’s pretty easy to ignore if I just turn my music up. My vape pen is my music today. Anytime the fly comes back and the buzzing gets louder, I just pull it out and turn the music back up again. I stop walking as my destination finally comes into view: the Dole Whip stand. The line is long, wrapping itself around the sidewalk into a snake-like curve, but I don’t care. I’ve been waiting years for this. Maybe longer. I never imagined that one day my world could become so small when it used to feel so big. How could I go from traveling the world to being afraid to go to Target? Everything is so much harder with a chronic illness. But nothing has ever felt as easy as it does when I finally reach the front of the line and order the largest Dole Whip available. I sit on the ground in the sun and take my first bite. It tastes so good — like a burst of Hawaiian beaches, summer romances, and a sun-kissed breeze — in my mouth. Suddenly everything around me feels vibrant — the trees are a bit more green, the sun a bit more bright, the breeze a little more sweet. I’ve waited a long time to try this Dole Whip. But I waited even longer to get to a place where I felt safe leaving my apartment again. I got there. All because of this vape pen.
4. The Orgasm:
I am 27 years old and the pelvic pain and various other symptoms from my endometriosis has gotten much, much worse since my original diagnosis in 2012 six years ago. I have been in pelvic floor physical therapy on and off for years. I have inserted so many dilators in my vagina and yet still cannot manage to feel aroused without a shooting pain in my pelvis. And as for penetration? As a straight woman, it's what I have been taught is straight people's M.O. when it comes to sex, and I definitely can't do that. I am in a relationship now, after years of wondering if I would ever be able to find a partner who'd stay with someone who can't have pain-free sex and is in pain most of the time. I think I am in love, and I want to express those feelings through intimacy. I want to do this so badly I can almost taste it. Sometimes I do it anyway, despite the pain. Despite my body screaming at me to stop. Sometimes I push past it and try to get to climax anyway. Not because it feels good, but because I need some sense of control over my own body. I always pay for it later, but what don't I pay for with this chronic illness of mine? Sometimes it feels as if I am being punished. Every time I seek pleasure, I am met with pain. Again and again I am met with pain, but the desire to have autonomy over this part of my body doesn't lessen.
One day, while at work at this very job, I get an email from a PR rep telling me about a new cannabis-infused lube. I have never heard of this before and I am intrigued. Cannabis has helped me in so many other areas of my life, perhaps it could help me with this one as well. I reply within minutes and ask for a sample. If this works for me, I tell myself, I will make sure I shout it from the rooftops. That following weekend I am having an OK pain day, which more or less means that I am at least able to get out of bed. I decide to try out this new cannabis-infused lube to see what it's like. I have nothing to lose. I can't actually use it for penetration, so I apply a generous amount directly to my vulva and wait a few minutes. Several minutes later I have my first orgasm in months. It is painful and I pay for it the rest of the day. But I do not care. Because I was finally able to orgasm. Somewhere, in the midst of all this pain, I found a little bit of pleasure.
5. Being Able To Swim Next to Fish in Hawaii:
I am 28 years old and five hours from now, I am supposed to be on a flight to Hawaii for the very first time. My friend and I bought tickets on a whim months ago when the price dropped to a rate we absolutely could not ignore. The months flew by and now we are here, the day of the trip. We are also here, the first day of my period. I am seven days late. My period was supposed to have come and gone by now so that I could go to Hawaii with one less worry. But naturally, it appeared last night out of nowhere laughing in my face as I watched my dreams of a Hawaii trip disappear. I wonder how I will make it on this flight. I wonder how I will even make it out of bed at all. I have my heating pad pressed to my abdomen and I can feel some of my Valium suppository leaking out of my vagina. I have done absolutely everything I can think of to make my pain manageable so that I can make it on this flight; I have been taking Chinese herbs for my period pain for months, I have my TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit, and I have loaded up on CBD and anti-inflammatories. But I still don't know if it will be enough. I have wanted to go to Hawaii for as long as I can remember. It seems so magical, or maybe as close to magic as I'll be able to get, but as the agony in my lower back and abdomen shows no sign of slowing down I prepare myself to mourn yet another thing my chronic illness has forced me to miss out on.
The next thing I know, I am on the plane en route to Oahu from LAX. I am stoned out of my gourd, I am terrified, but I am also thrilled. Once again, cannabis has gotten me out of bed when nothing else managed to. I spend four days in Hawaii. They are four of the best days of my life. On the third day my friend and I go to Waimea Bay and jump off a cliff. As my feet hit the cool blue water I feel myself start to laugh uncontrollably. I go snorkeling and explore the coral reef. I feel the sun's rays break through the surface of the water and warm my back as I swim next to fish. And when I am exhausted and have no energy left to swim any longer, I make my way to shore. As I lie in the warm afternoon sun on a beach in Hawaii, I feel free, as if I've finally shed the weight of my chronic illness and can breathe again.
6. The Recovery From Yet Another Surgery:
I am 28 years old and have just woken up in my own bed after having excision surgery to remove endometriosis as well as an appendectomy. It is my second surgery in an attempt to treat my endometriosis, but it is in no way guaranteed to be my last. My surgery was 10 hours ago, just this morning, but feels like a lifetime ago. It lasted four hours and my surgeon removed over 22 pieces of tissue as well as a cyst that had endometriosis inside of it. I am also now without an appendix. I try to remember what happened this morning and am met with flashes of memory: me lying in the hospital bed, a nurse handing me a Valium, seeing my parents sitting next to me, feeling my surgeon's hand on my leg telling me that I am going to be okay, and looking into the eyes of my anesthesiologist before it all fades to black. All of it seems so far away now. I try to move my body and immediately become aware of the throbbing sensation I now feel in every single part of my body. And then, as if my brain is struggling to catch up, I am met with the pure agony that is the sensation in my abdomen. It feels as if someone sliced me apart and cut pieces of me out. And, well, that's literally exactly what happened.
Before I went under for my surgery, my pain specialist prescribed me 325mg hydrocodone-acetaminophen tablets. Before I went under for my surgery, I thought I would end up needing to take them. And let me be clear about something; there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that. Something that living with chronic pain has taught me is that the less pain you can give your body, the better. There is no use in suffering, or trying to put on a brave face. The only person who pays for this is, well, you. It's why I no longer care what people think when I smoke weed (which is far easier to not care about as a thin, white woman) and why I would call for my mom to bring me one of these pain pills in five minutes if I couldn't find any relief from cannabis. My Puffco Peak dabbing device is next to me, ready to go, filled with Face Off OG hash from 710 labs, my favorite for really bad pain days. I reach for it but find that I literally cannot lift myself up. I briefly wonder what the fuck I would do if my parents weren't able to be here and take care of me for a bit while I recover. I call for my dad to help lift me out of bed. My pain is spiking and I wonder if I might throw up. I get the Puffco in front of me and feel the familiar vibration as it signals it's ready for me to inhale. I take a long, deep hit and breathe it in. I wait, wondering if it will be able to help me with this pain. And then I feel that familiar sensation start to work its way through my body. I feel a blanket of silk being gingerly placed around my body. I feel the ache in my abdomen slowly melt away like an Otter Pop on a hot summer day. And before I know it, I am fast asleep.
As we talk about cannabis, it's important to recognize that there are still thousands of people in jail for nonviolent marijuana charges. This is unacceptable. You can get more involved in cannabis criminal justice reform and the fight to release prisoners in jail on non-violent marijuana charges by visiting the Last Prisoner Project.
Lara Parker, the author of this post and also the person typing this, has a book! My debut collection of essays — Vagina Problems: essays about endometriosis, painful sex, and other taboo topics goes on sale Oct. 6, 2020. But you can pre-order it now!