Melissa Vincent credits medical cannabis with allowing her to reconnect with her real self and her family
“My oldest daughter said she had lost her mom,” Melissa Vincent says, her voice breaking.
For years, the stay-at-home mom would lay in bed, losing touch with her family, her friends and even herself more and more with each passing day. Vincent couldn’t walk; it hurt to be touched, and to touch. She couldn’t play with her then six-year-old daughter and she couldn’t hold her eight-month-old daughter.
Pain a common symptom of fibromyalgia
In Canada, just two percent of the population has the condition, but it disproportionately affects women, who account for 80 percent to 90 percent of sufferers. There is currently no distinct treatment for fibromyalgia, only things that can be done to ease symptoms and a number of different medications for the pain.
Vincent had tried many meds, but “nothing was working.” At the time, she was seeing two doctors—her family physician and a pain specialist. She also had a herniated disk and a pinched nerve in her right arm.
But the mother of two from Caledon, Ont., who was used to living a very active and social lifestyle, was not used to living in a bed.
After years of different medications such as Gabapentin, Percocet and lorazepam for over 10 years, a pain specialist referred her to a nearby location of Aleafia Health. She saw Dr. Michael Verbora, a Toronto physician who is currently chief medical officer for Aleafia Health.
Vincent had her first visit in February 2015, and began her cannabis journey with a small dose of medical marijuana. She started with a 0.5 g/day dosage of less than 10 percent THC, and now takes 2.0 g daily of 15 percent to 30 percent THC.
Vincent had used cannabis a few times previously, but says that among her friend group, she was the designated stickler for rules: “It was against the law!” she says.
Cannabis the only medication still standing
As Vincent began her new treatments, the old parts of herself started to resurface, and the pain she had felt for so long remained at by. “I gradually stopped taking all my other medications, and now I’m just on cannabis,” she says.
It took about three months to phase out the other medications, she says. Now, she takes cannabis in three forms: oil, usually in tea or brownies; herbal (either vape or joint); and topical (which she applies to her joints).
By the end of 2018, Statistics Canada noted that among the 15 percent of surveyed Canadians reporting current use of cannabis, about four percent consumed cannabis for medical purposes only and another four percent reported using it for both medical and non-medical reasons. Most medical users consume cannabis daily to help with pain.
“It’s been an amazing journey. I got my life back,” Vincent says. “I had no quality of life.” Weighing 300 pounds, making it difficult to even get out of bed, she lost touch with friends and family, and couldn’t play with her kids.
But soon, as treating her symptoms with cannabis continued, she could walk again. With the use of two canes, she was back on her feet. With practice, she got down to one cane. And then in the summer of 2018, she was able to put that cane down forever.
Vincent is now able to ski, do yoga, ride her bike. Her daughter, who felt she had lost her mother, told Vincent she had her mom back, and that, “she missed that.” Now, she says she can go skiing with her kids, currently 11 and 4, and sit on the sidelines at their soccer games like the other parents.
Though her routine varies from day to day depending on her level of pain, a 10-minute THC vape session gives her about one hour of relief, smoking a joint provides about four hours and edibles eight to 12 hours. She also does a drop of oil under her tongue before turning in for bed. “I hadn’t slept in years,” she says. “But I slept great last night!”
Using cannabis the best decision she could have made
Vincent says using medical cannabis was the best thing she has done for both herself and her family. Still, the decision to use cannabis didn’t come without hesitation. “There was all these negative stigmas that went around with it,” she says. But as she began using it, for her, “I realized it was all just talk; I became more active, I lost weight. My life totally took the opposite turn of what people [in her life] thought would happen.”
They were apprehensive at first, but that unease fell away when they saw how well Vincent was doing. “What I do is I take my medication and I’m able to do the laundry, I’m able to take care of my kids, I’m able to clean my house,” she says.
She reports her doctor at the cannabis clinic was shocked to see how she changed as she continued using cannabis, and was happy to see it working so effectively. The only thing she won’t do after taking her medication is drive.
Being open with her children was important
Having two children, Vincent has talked to them about her medication. “I had to be very honest with them. I say, ‘Mommy’s going outside to take her medicine’, because to me, it’s medicine.” Since she has explained that she needs the medicine, her children are very supportive.
She smokes outside the house, not around them. Her youngest daughter knows her mother takes medicine, but not what it looks like; her oldest daughter knows what it looks like, and has seen her vaporizer. Both the cannabis and vaporizer are kept locked up and out of reach of her kids.
There was some internal pressure Vincent had to overcome when she first medicating with cannabis, eventually learning not to be ashamed of using it. To those who are thinking of treating with medical cannabis, she says there may need to be a change in mindset. “You have to want it. You have to want to try something different,” she emphasizes. “I think people out there should know that there is something that works that isn’t an opioid,” she says.
“I have a better quality of life. I have my family back. I have my friends back. I have my life back,” she says. “I don’t view myself any differently. I just view myself as healthy.”
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Written by Anisha Dhiman