Your questions about CBD and medical marijuana use answered
By Genie Cartier
First, let me be clear: this article is a testimonial about the effects I have observed from using cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, to treat chronic pain. While I have done some research, this is not meant to be any kind of official study. My hope, however, is that with the recent legalization of cannabis in California (as well as other states), more scientific research will be conducted on the uses and effects of CBD. Based on my personal experience, I believe that CBD can be the answer to a lot of issues plaguing our nation, notably the abuse of opioids and other pharmaceuticals. I also hope that it is something politicians will support in the future. I can tell you that San Francisco mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss is definitely on board, so that’s a start! But in the meantime, perhaps this testimonial will help a few people discover a way to treat their pain without the harmful side effects of other pharmaceuticals. Here are the answers to some questions that people frequently ask me when the subject comes up.
Why do you need to use CBD?
Here is a quick backstory, so that if you are looking to compare your experience to mine, you know where I’m coming from. My background is in circus training— I started acrobatics when I was six years old, and also did aerial work for 15 years. So needless to say, I’ve got a few aches and pains. My primary afflictions (the ones I use CBD to treat), are sciatic pain (lower back), neck spasms/ pain, and an impinged shoulder which frequently gets inflamed with certain types of activities. These are all fairly common issues among both athletes and non-athletes, so I think most people should be able to relate to them. I have been taking CBD semi-regularly for about 3 years. I also want to note that I am not generally a person who gets easily addicted to things, so I can’t say for sure whether CBD has an addictive quality, but I have not personally found it to be.
But aren’t you just trying to get high and calling it medicine?
Ok, so no one has ever actually asked me this, but I sense it as an undertone to some questions. I believe that there are lots of people out there who (pre-legalization) got medical marijuana cards so they could use it recreationally. Shocker! I was actually one of them, originally. But I can honestly tell you that while I do enjoy smoking recreationally, my use of CBD is purely medical. I actually have to search to find products that are non-psychoactive. Moreover, when I take the right ratio, I only briefly get a “head rush,” if at all, and mostly just feel relaxed. It’s similar to how you would feel after a nice spa day.
How should I go about taking CBD?
This is something you should definitely talk to a budtender about (caution: some know more than others), but I will tell you what my usage pattern is. I have always been told (and hopefully reliable scientific sources will confirm this one way or the other soon) that in order for CBD to “work,” it needs some THC. I have found that a 2:1 CBD:THC ratio works well but makes me a bit stony. Not too much to function socially or run errands, but too much to go to work or concentrate on an important task. A 3:1 CBD:THC ratio is the threshold for me to not feel a psychoactive effect at all. Any more THC, and I don’t feel comfortable taking it in any kind of professional setting. That being said, I personally don’t use CBD while at work; I prefer to only use it at the end of the day for relaxation. I take it in 5-10mg doses on an as-needed basis. Each dose will last a couple of hours, with a bell-curve like pattern of effectiveness (ie, pain relief rises, reaches a peak, and then starts to fade). If it’s your first time, go by the old saying: you can always take more but you can’t take less. I’ve found that CBD is most effective for inflammation, sore/tight muscles and spasms. I also use a cannabis-infused topical balm, which is soothing, but does not do much more than Icy Hot. If I’ve recently experienced some kind of trauma or overuse and I’m in more pain than usual, I do what I think of as a “CBD blast” and ingest multiple doses at once, usually in different forms, and always in the evening when I have nowhere to be. Depending on how bad the inflammation is, the morning after doing this I usually feel much better.
What form does it come in?
Just like THC, CBD comes in many forms and there’s a variety of products to choose from: flowers, vape cartridges, topicals, tinctures, edibles etc. I have found edibles to be the most effective, especially the ones that come in hard candy. Something about the CBD being both absorbed into your mouth as well as into your stomach must have a stronger effect (science, please!). I also sometimes smoke high CBD flowers (Cannatonic is a good strain), or purchase a high CBD vape cartridge. This I don’t find as effective at actually targeting pain, but it does help you relax and not worry about it as much. And I think doing that is half of healing. Personally, I do not find tinctures to be as effective, but some people do. As I mentioned earlier, topicals are soothing but don’t seem that effective at actually targeting pain. If you’re just starting out, I recommend trying small samples of different kinds and seeing what works for you.
Why CBD and not ibuprofen or opioids?
When I first started having back problems, I was prescribed both Vicodin and Flexeril. Both of them succeeded at making me loopy and temporarily relieved of pain, or maybe they just made me not care about the pain. Both had horrible side effects. Vicodin made my skin itchy, dried up my insides, and eventually turned me into a bit of a zombie. Flexeril made me dizzy, and took away my appetite; my hands would be shaking, and I would realize it was because I had forgotten to eat that day. They’re both highly addictive. My issues with them were all relatively minor compared to what many longtime users go through. Ibuprofen is obviously not even close to opioids, but prolonged use does cause stomach problems (I once tore a hole in my stomach lining by taking too much), and you can develop a high tolerance for it pretty quickly, making it less effective over time. I do still take ibuprofen, but only on an occasional basis. And because I don’t take it all the time, it’s much more effective when I really need it. So basically, I have found CBD to be a better and safer alternative to opioids; it does the same job of relieving/ making you not care about pain, without the harmful and disruptive side effects (see below). If nothing else, CBD can be used to relieve minor symptoms on your better days, so that the stronger stuff is more effective on your worst days.
Are there side effects from using CBD?
I’m sure this varies depending on the person, but I have not experienced any real side effects apart from two things, and both of them only occur when taking daily strong doses (ie, more than my usual as-needed/ couple times a week frequency and larger than 10mg doses). The first is that I get a bit of phlegm buildup in the back of my throat, sometimes accompanied by a little sneeziness. It goes away immediately if I take a day off, so in the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty minor issue. But it is something to consider if you are, for example, a professional singer/speaker, or if you have issues with allergies etc. The other is that I will occasionally get a bit of anxiety if I’ve been taking larger doses for a few days straight. I’m guessing that has to do with the THC and not the CBD, because it doesn’t happen if I take pure CBD. So just something to consider– balancing the amount of THC you’re ingesting with the CBD is important. Other than that, absolutely nothing bad has happened to me since taking CBD regularly.
Is it expensive?
Unfortunately, yes. High CBD products in my experience are almost always more expensive than high THC. My dream is that one day my insurance will pay for it, but we may be a long way from that. In an attempt to be a savvy shopper, I always take out my calculator and look at how many milligrams I’m getting for how much. Edibles packages usually indicate the total number of milligrams, so I just divide that into 5mg doses and calculate the cost of each dose. It usually comes out to between $1 and $4. Valhalla CBD gummies are one of the best deals I’ve found. I also usually get some Jolly Meds CBD-oos lozenges to keep on hand for when I need a stronger medicine (those come out to a higher cost per dose, but are more effective). But I’m sure all of this will vary depending on the dispensary you’re going to and where you are, so I recommend just taking out the calculator and working it out for yourself.
Your answers weren’t very science-y. Where can I learn more?
Sorry! I am but a humble CBD user and not a scientist. I just wanted to share my experience in the hope that it will help someone. Maybe this will spare you the hours of mansplaining it took me to figure all of this out (you know how bro budtenders are super mansplainy? That’s a whole other article.) Hopefully, more scientists will start doing highly reputable studies soon, and we can have accurate and agreed-upon information about how and why CBD works. I will point you to one resource that I have found very helpful, which is this book. For what it’s worth, it seems pretty honest about what claims it can confidently make and which ones require more research. It also has a history of why cannabis is so stigmatized, which is very illuminating for those of you who might hesitate to use it because of its controversial past (basically: corporate interests and racism are the reason it was/is illegal).
I hope that this has shed some light on a few questions you might have. I really believe that in the liberated future, CBD will be used as freely as aspirin and will be covered and paid for by insurance (well, actually I hope that in the liberated future we have universal health care). In the meantime, if you have pain of any kind, I urge you to give it a try as an alternative to pharmaceuticals. It might just change your life for the better!