Denver, CO

Never swap out meds for marijuana without talking to a doctor first

David Heitz

Submitted Photo/This sign hangs inside a Denver marijuana dispensary.

Americans appear to be tossing out their prescriptions and the side effects that come with them.

The writing on the wall is so obvious that a few Pharma companies already have teamed up with the cannabis industry. Pharma wants to make money getting cannabis to consumers where it’s legal.

Many people who suffer from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, anxiety and other mental illnesses find relief from smoking marijuana. The plant has fewer side effects than the prescription medications, they say.

But going off your medications abruptly, especially if you have been on them a while, never is a good idea. And some medications, such as antipsychotics, are meant to be taken for life.

Always talk to a doctor before beginning a medical cannabis regimen. Many people report that cannabis makes them feel so much better and healthier they just stop taking other medications.

Don’t do that. I did that. Bad things happened.

Never quit your antipsychotic medication on your own

I have a diagnosis of chronic complex post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder. I had been on Risperdal, an antipsychotic, for 10 years. That’s a long time.

When I moved in with my dad, who had dementia, things went downhill fast. Dad forgot we both took medication and stopped paying for it. I wasn’t working, I was caring for dad.

At first after quitting the Risperdal things improved quickly. I lost a lot of weight. I got sober. I quit smoking cigarettes. I started landing one great writing gig after another.

But at some point, I began to ramp up off the Risperdal. I am bipolar-manic, and I took off like a rocket.

I did textbook things that a manic person would do. I decided to sell my house and move to Denver on a whim after my dad died.

My manic spin, followed by a crash and burn

But like manic people do, I blew through the proceeds of the house like a madman. I bought anything and everything I wanted.

I became more and more manic, and some people in my neighborhood began to harass me. I became so frightened I vacated my apartment, leaving everything behind. I started staying in luxury hotels.

Long story short, I ran out of money.

I became homeless on the streets of Denver.

In and out of the hospital with psychosis

I ended up in the emergency rooms of Denver hospitals many times. I constantly ran into conflict on the street. Eventually, I wound up in the state mental hospital.

I spent almost six months there. Today I am doing great. I take a monthly injection of Invega, an antipsychotic that’s a next generation of Risperdal.

I still use cannabis. My doctor recommends I continue using cannabis because it helps tremendously when I become agitated.

I have an active medical cannabis card in Illinois.

My doctor is not pushing me to take blood pressure pills any longer. I complained to her that blood pressure medications always make me feel dizzy.

I take a propranolol, a blood pressure medication, as needed for anxiety. The cannabis keeps me calm and my blood pressure within healthy range.

Remember that everyone is different. A British study showed that cannabis worsens high blood pressure symptoms.

Find a pro-cannabis doctor and be honest

If you want to use medical cannabis to manage your chronic health conditions, do so under a doctor’s care. Today there are plenty of cannabis-friendly doctors everywhere, especially in Denver.

Find a doctor with your best interests in mind. Be completely honest about your cannabis use. Some medications interact poorly with cannabis. Your doctor may take you off some medications right away.

And she certainly wouldn’t let you quit Risperdal cold turkey after 10 years.

Marijuana saves taxpayers $165.2 million

A national study in 2016 examined Medicare data to determine whether doctors were writing fewer prescriptions in places where weed is legal like Colorado. They found prescriptions nosedived for conditions marijuana can treat.

The study estimated that in 2013, Medicare saved $165.2 million thanks to people ditching their prescriptions for marijuana. That number likely is far higher now.

The research appeared in the journal Health Affairs.

Of course, if Medicare is saving money by not filling your prescriptions, you’re spending money on cannabis. Be very aware that switching from prescriptions to cannabis is expensive for most people. There are no low-copays on a 30-day supply.

Don’t underestimate the power of CBD

Some doctors may be opposed to you medicating with marijuana. Maybe THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, makes you paranoid or antsy.

Remember that marijuana also has a non-psychoactive ingredient called CBD. It won’t make you mentally high, but it will give you a nice body buzz.

CBD is legal and is all the rage right now. There even are CBD makeup products. It has been known to treat anxiety, PTSD, pain, and other conditions.

Giving CBD by itself a try first may be a good idea if you never have consumed marijuana. A new user will feel marijuana’s effects much more than a lifetime smoker.

Never take synthetic cannabis, such as “Spice” or “K2”

With marijuana all the rage, a market has opened for synthetic cannabinoids. This is not marijuana. Synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice or K2 are dangerous and can even be deadly.

Medical cannabis patients don’t have to be potheads

When I first became sober, I stopped smoking marijuana for 90 days. It didn’t kill me, and in some ways, I did feel a tad bit sharper.

When I medicated again after that 90-day break the effects came on strong. This is why doctors tell medical cannabis patients to take “dosing breaks,” so their tolerance remains low.

The reason cannabis is so effective is because it’s not one-size-fits-all. There are hundreds of marijuana strains for dozens of different medical conditions.

A little internet research should help you find a strain that matches your condition. Many doctors are not familiar with cannabis strains, but some are.

Be sure to seek a legal medical card. Ask the cannabis doctor when you see him what strains would work best for your condition.

What medical marijuana has done for me

For me, marijuana keeps my mind at peace so I actually can focus on life. I may smoke marijuana – legally – but I gave up booze and cigarettes. I never even have cravings for them.

I will admit that when I don’t have my marijuana and can be a little grouchy. But when that happens, I have antipsychotic tablets to supplement my shot. I take them as needed.

The bottom line is this: Educate yourself about medical cannabis before throwing out your medications. It’s for the sake of your health and well-being.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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