So Much For Medical Cannabis… I’m Done With THC

I gave it a go for a little over 2 years.  I had to try it to know I’d done what I could to avoid staying on opiates, but I can’t take the increasing pain of the progressive sensory neuropathy, degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease, fibromyalgia, and now gout, with THC.  I’ll still take the CBD as a supplement, as it helped me to get off of one anticonvulsant completely (I’ve got a seizure disorder), and %40 of another- along with the meds to deal with the side effects.  This week, I went back to the pain management doc that I’ve seen on and off for over a decade, and got pain meds (patch), as well as an injection in my neck. I kind of feel like I failed right now, even though intellectually I know that’s not accurate.  I have to be practical, and safe.  My quality of life and ability to get anything done around the house isn’t possible with the pain. My legs shake, and I become unsteady.  There are no brownie points for needless suffering. I don’t use the word ‘suffer’ lightly, as it feels like another way to play the victim. But it’s been bad.

Something else that made trying THC something to consider is the emphasis on those who use opiates as inevitable future junkies. It’s actually far from inevitable. Studies have shown for decades that those who use prescription pain meds as ordered are very unlikely to become addicted to them. The terms tolerance and dependence aren’t explained, and everybody gets lumped together.  People who use medications AS PRESCRIBED will likely develop dependence and tolerance if they take them for a while (ever had a caffeine-withdrawl headache? Same concept.)  Those terms are not the same as addiction. Addiction is driven by emotional issues, and the individual trying to relieve emotional pain with medication for physical pain. No amount of the wrong medication for any problem will ever relieve the real issue. This explains that addiction is a combination of behaviors and substances (that can be drugs, alcohol, food, the ‘high’ from gambling, and other things that trigger positive responses in the pleasure center in the brain).

https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/

There are now so many restrictions on who can prescribe what meds in medical groups, that the writing was on the wall- pain medication was the new ‘evil’.  Never ask a doctor for something for pain, no matter how many documented diagnoses there are.  I felt I needed an option if the restrictions got worse. I’d like to see the statistics for the increase in heroin users after hydrocodone was made a Schedule II drug (in the class with morphine, hydromorphone, and other very strong opiates). The ‘rules’ are always made because of the behavior of rule breakers. That ‘logic’ escapes me… it’s not like the rule breakers will suddenly jump on the straight and narrow. They’ll find a new way to break rules.   The rules don’t take into account those who do what they’ve been instructed to do. Should there be good follow-up with those on prescription pain medications ?  Absolutely.  But there is no reason to make anybody “live” with pain that limits their life to the point of decreased mobility to avoid more pain even within their own home.   This article has some good explanations about the differences between tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Distinguishing Between Pain-Related Dependence and Addiction

Some of the issues I’ve had with the THC include the following  (I realize some folks have had good results with THC- this is MY experience):

–  I can’t know if the same strain is in each bottle of the stuff I got, as  no strain of cannabis is listed on the tablets/capsules/edibles containers that I’ve used (I don’t smoke the stuff- the stench is not welcome in my house. Dry herb vaping- no solvents at all- just the dry cannabis that vaporizes, not combusts- was also not going to work because of the coughing). There are literally hundreds of strains of cannabis.  Third-party testing is on the container (required by law), but not the strain, aside from a general sativa, indica, or hybrid.   I don’t know if it’s strain-consistent from batch to batch– just the number of milligrams of ‘whatever’.  Different strains are good for different things. And some have more likelihood to cause specific side effects- can’t know what might be causing what if no strain is listed.

I live alone. Some of the effects of THC are not safe on a mobility level.  My balance goes wonky if a strain is stronger than what I’m used to, and I’m already one fall away from needing help with more than just the lawn, snow removal, and grocery delivery.  I can’t risk that. My joints are already trash. It wouldn’t take much to finish off  my shoulders, hips, or knees. Or end up with compression fractures in my spine. That means my independence is at risk, and that is something I won’t even consider. If I can’t be at home with my dog, it’s over.

–  the dryness of my eyes was horrible. I was either dripping with tears (that burned) as my body tried to protect my eyes, or using artificial tears to not feel like I’d had cotton shoved into my eyeballs. That also caused blurred vision to the point of not being able to read anything without a 10x – 30x lighted magnifying glass (some print is tiny on a good day anyway… I couldn’t see individual words. Watching TV was lousy, and the computer (my lifeline) was nearly useless. A blue light filter helped a little- but not enough.

the ‘thought stealing’ sensation was too weird.  I could be thinking about something, then it would just be gone, and it was going too fast to get back.  That is unsettling, especially because the awareness of it was acute. Even harder to carry on a conversation with another actual human being.

there isn’t a consistent time when it takes effect.  I used it mostly to help ease the pain so I could sleep. If I waited too long to turn the lights out and drift off, I got a literal body ‘buzzing’ sensation (hence the term buzzed), or floating, or like I couldn’t move.  There was a sensation in my head that something wasn’t right – not necessarily bad- but not OK.  There’s a term called ‘couch lock’- and that’s what it feels like- being locked to the furniture, almost being part of it.  There was nothing about those sensations that will ever be desirable to me.

it’s useless for acute pain.  I broke my ankle a few months after getting my medical cannabis card.  I iced it, and had it wrapped (before getting an x-ray a week later- thought it might be a sprain similar to what I’d seen with adolescent patients who landed wrong while playing basketball).  I felt guilty using some Norco from 2014.  I used 3 full doses and 3 1/2 doses in 6 weeks.  And I hurt a lot more than was necessary.  I was diagnosed with gout a couple of weeks ago after a nasty flare that was a kind of pain I hadn’t felt before- tiny crystals in the joint felt like someone was sitting on a chair into the bone on top of my foot.  One urgent care a couple of months earlier, with milder but definitely ‘not right’ pain, thought it could be a blood clot (minus warmth, redness, swelling, or any other symptoms of a clot). The second urgent care a few weeks ago had a very astute nurse practitioner who knew to check my uric acid level, which came back very high.  I was on prednisone for 5 days, which jacked my blood sugars badly, but the prednisone did the trick to help that first flare. I’d already decided not to use the THC over a month ago, so was using my trusty ice packs, and the vintage Norco in 1/2 doses x 4 over a week.

Part of another disorder I have (dysautonomia) causes some similar symptoms to the side effects of THC, and I pay good money for the meds needed to help NOT to feel those symptoms. Why would I make it worse on purpose?   That is so bizarre and counter-intuitive. I don’t want to feel even a tiny bit stoned. I took microdoses after getting the CBD dose figured out (more on that in a minute), and still had side effects that are not acceptable to me.

I can see where it could be useful for severe PTSD, where escape is the only way to get any sort of relief from memories and flashbacks. I guess it could help with anxiety IF someone finds a strain that is consistent (those who smoke cannabis can get strains consistently, or those who want to make their own edibles and don’t care about consistent dosing). But for folks who are using that type of quantity, I’d hope they were housebound, and had access to someone to drive them anywhere they needed to go.  I never took a dose if I had to drive to an appointment.  I’d just have to hurt, and take a dose after getting home.  Once I did take a dose, there was never any desire to leave home.

There are people who have had positive experiences– and initially, my psoriasis was completely cleared up. Then came the hyperemesis cannabinoid syndrome, with months of nausea and eventual vomiting. I’m not a puker- that’s what put it together for me.  During 20 months of daily chemo for leukemia, I barfed once on day 8.   Because I didn’t have accurate info from a very well known CBD producer about the specific amount of CBD (not the total cannabinoid dose), I didn’t have the THC dose right- CBD helps counteract side-effects of THC. I also had a gallstone that was acting up, and that blended into the symptoms of the build up of THC because of using it daily, and I was SICK.  (The half-life of THC is very long, with some still showing up in drug tests more than 4 weeks after the last use, and with dietary changes that alter body fat percentages, more can be released months after the last dose- used to freak out the detox patients I took care of years ago).  I went through ultrasounds, CT scans, lab work, surgical consults, a bitch of a GI nurse practitioner, etc because it was thought that there was something going on besides the gallstone. I had THC continuing to build up, and  I didn’t know the accurate dose on that one brand’s product (if you use CBD, you want to see the exact amount of CBD per specific quantity of product- and third party testing). Everybody and their wombat is on the hemp bandwagon, and  saying how wonderful hemp oil  is, but non-CBD hemp oil (like on Amazon)  has no CBD, and is good for salad dressing- and you can get plain hemp oil for about $20 for a quart; the “therapeutic” hemp oil can be $50 an OUNCE- for essentially nothing). Hemp oil does have Omega 3 fatty acids, and hemp hearts (I like the ones without the little shells) taste a lot like pine nuts, but much smaller. Those are just flat out food- nothing specifically “magical” about it. Just another healthy fat source.

I’m a disabled RN; I’ve been an RN for 35 years, disabled for 15 years, where I’ve been my own full-time job.  Anything used to relieve symptoms MUST be consistent.  And I can’t get that with commercial medical cannabis products.  Some of the CBD companies out there are isolating other cannabinoids (CBG and CBN are two I’ve tried, and CBN has been good for sleep, though I only take it if I’ve been having trouble sleeping for a few days. Some brands of full-spectrum are out there- just don’t generally get the amount of each cannabinoid, so I’m not a fan of those). I don’t need a state-issued card for CBD. I get it online. Just like any herbal supplement.

And that’s what they are.  THC and CBD are not medication- which left me confused when talking to my pain doc during my visit. When I got home, I realized he hadn’t seen the way I’d printed out my list of medications and supplements, putting the CBD in the same area with vitamins and Co-Q 10, under a line of *****, separating the medications from the supplements.  The person who filled out their form with the list I’d typed up didn’t need to keep the typed one- so I agree with my doc, but I was scratching my head for a few minutes, as it seemed like he felt I considered THC and CBD to be actual medications. I agree with him on the characterizing THC and CBD as supplements. They are not medications. People use them like medications, but there are no studies proving efficacy, side effects, contraindcations, doses, longterm impact,  etc- and that’s what those of us who have used medical cannabis signed up for.  We knew it was an experiment, but desperation will lead people to anything that could be a source of hope.

I needed to try it. I wanted the hope of something different. And now I know.  For me, THC is unpleasant, and ineffective for what I needed it for.

Being a Nurse Family Member…

Most nurses know that the worst family members of patients are doctors, lawyers, and other nurses!  We know what to look for. We know what is standard operating procedure. We know what is correct technique. We know what the alarms and numbers mean. We know how things are supposed to be done…and we don’t want crap care for our families.  When my dad had surgery recently, I saw some things that I wasn’t happy about- but not close enough to see what was going on at the time, or had taken a break to go take care of my dog, so not there at all.  I’d hear when I got back to the hospital.

Dad returned from surgery to spend 24 hours in ICU for observation since the surgery was on his neck, with a lot of real estate in there that needed to be closely monitored. One of his blood vessels had to be cut in order to remove a mass, and then sutured shut, and it was critical that he be monitored for any signs of that vessel leaking.  It could be fatal- or life-altering- if it ‘blew’.  I had to wait until he got settled until I could see him in ICU- very understandable that they had to get him hooked up and an initial assessment done. Seems his nurse forgot about his family and close friend in the waiting room for nearly an hour and a half.  I finally asked if it was OK to see him, only to see his nurse sitting at the desk at the end of the hall. She said , “Oh, yeah, come on back”, as if we had just shown up.  We’d been in the hall when he was brought into the unit, and told they’d come and get us.  That nurse was there.

I initially stayed in the ICU room for only a few minutes, since dad was still sleeping most of the time, and the numbers on the monitor were stable.  I stepped out into the waiting room again with his friend, and we talked.  I needed to run home and give my dog her medicine, and then came back up to the hospital.  When I got there, dad’s IV fluids had been turned off. He hadn’t peed yet, and wasn’t taking enough fluids to compensate.  When he got some IV nausea meds (preventing vomiting was very important to protect that sutured blood vessel), he said it hurt.  There was no saline flush first- just straight to the nausea meds.  He was told that meds sometimes hurt (which is true- BUT, the site and patency of the site must be checked).  Basically, he was blown off. Then, after the medication, the saline flush was the bare minimum to maybe clear the extension tubing (5-6 inch tubing that makes it easier to reconnect IV antibiotics and give IV meds).  The nurses were ALL very nice. That wasn’t an issue. But youth and the inexperience that goes with it (simply because there isn’t the time yet to  gain the experience) aren’t always useful.  It’s not always because someone is ‘still out of it’ from anesthesia.  They still feel pain in IVs- and dad was plenty aware when the meds were given.  More than one nurse did this. When he got to a room (more on that later) the first thing the ‘old timer’ RN did was assess the IV site when he flinched a bit, and said that isn’t right; she changed the site, and dad had no more problems with the nausea meds or the antibiotics that had been leaking into his hand.

When dad was transferred to a room, I was again taking care of the dog’s meds (took me about an hour in the afternoon/early evening to do this) during the actual transfer. I knew he was going to a room, and was fine with that- he was ready.  He had been up in the chair and done well, and walked one time to the end of the ICU hall (about 6 rooms) and back. When I got back, and found his new room, I was told that the nurse loaded up his stuff to carry, his friend had carried some stuff, and dad was left to walk with no support (or WHEELCHAIR) to a room on another part of the same floor.  It was a considerable distance away from his ICU bed. It was the second time he walked at all, and a few hours after he’d even been out of bed at all.  His friend told him to hold on to her arm, at which time the nurse offered her arm- but if he had started to lose  his balance,  nobody (the NURSE) would have had any sort of grip on him. His elderly friend certainly wasn’t responsible for his safety.  I was mad when I heard that. He could walk when he got to the other room- NOT as a means to transfer him there. That is incredibly stupid from a safety standpoint.

Dad had eaten a bowl of soup a while before ‘tranferring’ himself to the new room.  That was the first food in 36 hours besides sips of diet soda.  Since his IV fluids had been axed before he was taking adequate fluids, he was ‘low’ on fluids. His heart rate was OK, and his blood pressure was actually a bit up for him (the dinging and gongs in ICU drove him nuts- he is VERY sensitive to auditory stim….gum chewers in the same area will actually drive his BP up to stroke level)…so I guess from looking at the numbers alone (and not the actual patient), he may have looked hemodynamically stable….but people still need fluids !!  Orthostatic changes don’t always happen in the first minute; he could have easily dropped his pressure en route to the new room from being ‘dry’.

The nurses on the regular ‘floor’ were outstanding.  Both of the ones he had were personable and very attentive to the things that may not seem ‘worth’ the time of an ICU nurse- but can make a huge difference in how care is perceived.  I’ve been an RN for nearly 28 years.  Granted, I’ve been on disability for 8.5 years- but during that time I’ve been IN the hospital a LOT.  I still know the routine procedures and when an IV needs to be assessed more closely.   IV meds aren’t given without a saline flush (and assessment of the IV itself) first.  I’ve spent time around monitors and floated to several types of ICU (including NICU).  That’s only part of the picture.  Someone can have great ‘numbers’ but still have things wrong!

Nurses must listen to the patient, and if a patient is complaining about an IV site hurting when anything is pushed into them, they need to be changed (or at least addressed in some way besides some lame ‘oh, some meds do that’ comment- without looking at it). Sure- meds can be pushed through just about anything…doesn’t mean the vein and IV are intact.  Many of the patients in that ICU were on vents and not communicative- maybe the nurses just got used to dealing with overt, objective issues. Maybe the transferring of someone who could walk seemed OK since most of their patients don’t walk at all.  That goes back to inexperience (and some lack of common sense of youth- and known policies re: transfers).

An elderly patient one day after major surgery with no supportive fluids, or consistent food intake is not a candidate for walking throughout the hospital to a new room, or ignored when they say the IV site hurts. 

There are many good young nurses- but ALL nurses (no matter how many decades they have worked) must always be open to learning.  The young ones need mentors during their first several years- especially in a critical care setting.  IV fluids need to run until the patient is taking in enough oral fluids to equal the rate of the IV, and at LEAST until they pee (providing there aren’t any issues with fluid overload or kidney function; my dad had neither of those).  As a patient myself, I saw why it’s no wonder these younger nurses aren’t doing the basics. As students, they weren’t allowed to do anything but follow an experienced (sometimes still relatively new) nurse during clinicals.  When I graduated, if we didn’t DO the skills, we didn’t graduate (never got to take boards). Period.  There is a huge gap between book knowledge and practical knowledge that is only getting worse.

All of the nurses dad had were so very kind and sweet. That wasn’t a problem at all… but some of the decision making reminded me of my very first semester of nursing school, with trying to get the basic skills learned.  Press Ganey will hear about this.  But this hospital’s ER satisfaction is a ratty %83 per the hospital’s own information anyway. That’s up from the %65 from a few years ago.  The floor and ICU numbers were better, but in ICU I wonder if it’s because their patients often can’t reply or respond to satisfaction surveys and their family members don’t know what is responsible care in specific situations. ?   With healthcare becoming a concierge (hotel-like) industry with these stupid surveys, the nurses focus on the sweet and kind, and less on the technical prowess needed with the sicker patients.  Dad was relatively easy for ICU standards- but he could communicate with them. And they didn’t listen.

Dementia Wins By A Landslide !

I worked in various nursing homes during the years I worked as an RN, starting in 1985.  I worked as a ‘floor’ nurse, charge nurse, supervisor, and administrative (desk) nurse.  Nursing homes really are quite delightful places to work, and while nursing home nurses are often looked down upon by hospital nurses (I’ve done that kind of nursing too), the skill set required is extensive.  They have to have a bit of knowledge about all medical specialties (except obstetrics, though one gentleman did scream that he was giving birth to a calf in an emergent situation…my guess is that most people in a 3-4 block area knew of his distress; his doc felt that Haldol was a good ‘post-partum’ drug… I don’t like Haldol for the elderly; it was designed for schizophrenics- but it did quiet him down).  There are the medical issues that put people in nursing homes to begin with, and then there are those folks with dementia who can be so totally heartbreaking to watch…or a source of some humor. If we didn’t chuckle, we’d weep.  The following are from some decades ago… some of the rules were a bit ‘different’ back then, though nobody ever did anything to make the situation worse.

One woman I remember was very distinguished in her outward appearance. She was always ‘put together’ in how she dressed and in her appropriate greetings of people she met in the halls, but had no clue about hygiene or changing her clothes regularly.  Usually the certified nursing assistants (CNAs) could get almost every resident into the shower without too much hassle, but this lady was persistent in her refusal.  Nursing home residents have the right to be sloppy…when they are coherent enough to know the risk/benefit of their decisions.  When a green cloud follows them, and people fall like dominoes in their wake, something has to be done.  That’s when the administrative nurses have to jump in and figure something out.

The first thing to do was notify the family and get their permission to bathe Mrs. Cloud, even if she refused. They were the legal guardians since she couldn’t make decisions, so that wasn’t hard- they were thankful we were looking out for her (they were also out of town, so couldn’t be ‘hands-on’). The next thing to do was to figure out a plan.  The assistant director of nurses (ADON) and I were the ones who somehow got blessed with this task assignment, and thought we had a pretty good idea of how to get the job done. We got Mrs. Cloud into her private room, and carried on some generic, though tangential conversations as we got her overcoat off, and then talked about getting her clothes washed (that was usually less threatening than actually talking about showers up front).  OY.  We got the coat. We were doing pretty well with the dress, but getting down to her slip, and undies, we noticed that she had about 4 pairs of caked-on pantyhose. Each of those pantyhose required getting Mrs. Cloud back on her bed, ‘scootching’ the hose down, and then removing them…. x 4. Between each ‘scootch’, she’d bolt up and try to run off, so we’d have to get her seated again, then lying back on the bed so we could continue ‘scootching’.   The ADON and I were sweating by the time that was over.  The slip, bra, and undies were a piece of cake after the pantyhose circus.

So, we get Mrs. Cloud into her shower- after all, if we’re going to clean her clothes, why not get a nice warm shower (sounded like a good line)… she wasn’t happy, but went for it. We had the towels and washcloths ready. But…. oops. I forgot the body wash.  The  poor ADON was left wrangling Mrs. Cloud in the shower as I sped out of the room to find body wash.  I found what we needed, and we finished the shower from hell with no casualties.  A few minutes later, I saw Mrs. Cloud in the hallway, all fresh and sans cloud-o-funk, and she greeted me as if she’d never seen me before- very polite with a superficial smile. She remembered nothing. Crickets.

I also worked ‘the floor’ at night for a while.  One night, another confused little lady was wandering in a sort of frenzy, and was visibly tired. She had a sleeping pill ordered, so I offered her one. She wouldn’t take it.  I opened up the capsule, and mixed it with a tablespoon of orange juice in a one ounce plastic ‘shot glass’ medicine cup. I offered her a little nightcap, and she was so happy to take it.  I had poured some plain orange juice to get rid of any funky taste in her mouth, and she looked at me- dead serious- and said “Oh, Honey- I can only have one”.  She traipsed off to bed and finally got some sleep.

Another night, I was doing my routine work on the 11-7 shift, and one of the CNAs comes flying up the hallway off  one of the ‘pods’ (a grouping of rooms), calling my name as if she’d just witnessed Jack the Ripper field dressing a dozen deer in the back room.   I immediately went racing down to meet her, and follow her to the room in ‘distress’.  I stopped cold when I saw the elderly gentleman (also confused as all get out) sitting completely naked, bolt upright in his bed, grinning from ear to ear with his sheets and blankets all over the place. He was ‘splashing’ the gel from his gel mattress (as much as someone can splash something with the consistency of applesauce).  He had managed to puncture the mattress (used to protect skin), and had that gunk all over the place. It was hysterical.  I didn’t want to laugh at him, but it was hard to maintain anybody’s dignity at that moment. He was having a ball !  We got him cleaned up, and my only comment to the CNA was the need to differentiate between something that is life-threatening and something that is an inconvenience, but essentially harmless.  We didn’t need blood curdling screams in the middle of the night for a little  gunk on the floor (well, OK, it was a lot of gunk).

We also had a  hoarder.  The facility towels and washcloths, junk- didn’t matter. And she was possessive.  Anybody who went to clear out the stuff for laundry to rewash had to have someone else ‘stand lookout’, or the poor ‘lone’ retriever would be yelled at for a good 3-5 mintues, until the hoarder forgot why she was mad. One afternoon, one of the activity aides found a family of mice (mama and babies….LOTS of babies) living in a leftover popcorn bag (from movie and popcorn day), and a cake in a plastic bakery container that was so old that nobody could figure out the original flavor and/or color.

One of my favorite little ladies was superficially appropriate, but 2-3 minutes into a conversation there was no doubt that some bulbs were dimming. She was generally cheerful, and had a buddy she hung out with. She also was not fond of showers or combing her hair (think Einstein plugged in to a household outlet), but would let me check her skin weekly (per required protocols everyone got weekly skin checks- head to toe). The CNAs and I got into a routine of doing the skin checks in the shower room, and since I needed to see ALL of her skin, she’d agree for the CNAs to ‘hold’ her clothing…funny how the shower would get turned on, and she’d get nice and clean- she was always very agreeable once she felt the warm water. One day before getting showered, she walked past one of the mirrors, and saw herself. She literally gasped loudly and stepped back from her own reflection… she looked at me and asked about a hairbrush.  At least she still knew it was her own reflection- some lost that.

Nursing homes get bad reputations, but there are so many nice ones. I had the chance to work at two that I really liked, each for about 2.5 years.  The residents become like extended family, and some of their families also became part of the daily routine.  I’ve worked with CNAs who have been at the same facility for over 30 years…when offered promotions, they refused, not wanting to leave ‘their’ people. ❤  I’m incredibly thankful for the coworkers and residents I met when I was working at those facilities. 🙂