Jennifer’s Journey with Gastroparesis & Medical Cannabis
Meet Jennifer O. Jennifer has gastroparesis.
She has graciously agreed to share her personal health journey with gastroparesis and medical cannabis in the hopes that you all can learn from her experiences.
We had the opportunity to interview her on our medical cannabis: patient experiences webinar. This is her story:
My journey with gastroparesis has been a long one full of ups and downs. It was 2005 and I was 18 at the time I was diagnosed. I had to fight so very hard to finally reach a diagnosis of Gastroparesis. It started with what I thought was a stomach flu at the time. I couldn’t keep anything down after I would eat. As time went on it kept getting worse, not better and I was becoming quite concerned. I was starting to lose weight very rapidly and I couldn’t keep a single bite of food from coming back up after I would try and eat. I went to see my family doctor and I was very scared at that point. He brushed me off and said it was just acid reflux, gave me a prescription and said to come back in a week if it didn’t get better. So, after a week with zero change and still losing weight I was back in his office. He again, did not listen to me and my concerns and gave me a prescription for a different acid reflux pill and said to come back again if it didn’t help.
At this point I had lost close to 30 pounds and was in pretty rough shape.
I went back to see him the following week and refused to leave his office until he actually listened to me and did something about what was happening. It was at that point that he tried to tell me it “was all in my head” and accused me of being bulimic and said I needed mental health help. At that point in my life, I was already in therapy, on medication and getting help for mental health issues, bulimia not being one of them. If he had bothered to ever listen to me or read my file, he would have known that. I screamed and just broke down crying and said he HAD to do something, I wasn’t doing this to myself and I just wanted to be heard; I just wanted help. I was terrified and had no idea what was wrong and was slowly wasting away. He finally agreed to send me over to the hospital, but told me they would not find anything wrong with me.
I was admitted to the hospital, where I spent over three weeks with an amazing gastroenterologist who actually listened to me, acknowledged that something was very wrong and ran every test he could until he found out what was behind all of this.
He was very upset that my family doctor had let me get so bad and brushed me off countless times. At the time, gastroparesis was quite unheard of in my city, so they did not think to check for it until every other test came back negative. The gastric emptying scan finally gave me my answer, my stomach emptying process was quite delayed and I had gastroparesis.
I consider myself extremely lucky that over the years my symptoms remained mild to moderate with some flare-ups and my body continued to respond to the domperidone. Now let’s fast-forward a decade, when everything changed again.
It was as if I were 18 again and starting this cycle all over again.
I ended up hospitalized and that is where I met my new gastroenterologist. He has been supportive and helpful and has been fighting for me. One of the first things he did was repeat my gastric emptying test, which revealed how severe my gastroparesis had become over the years, showing that less than 1% of my stomach was actually functioning now.
We cycled through all of the regular medications, which either didn’t help or I developed horrible reactions to. This continued for a few more months as I progressively became worse. I eventually had to be hospitalized with a temporary nasojejunal (NJ) tube. My gastroenterologist decided to try a medication called Resotran (prucalopride). On release from the hospital, I was responding very well to the medication. This continued for several months; however, flare-ups started again and, without being able to keep medications down, my health was declining once again.
This is where my journey with medical cannabis started.
All the medications had failed me and I was out of options. I had first mention the possibility of medical cannabis to my family doctor, which was a big mistake. He is not a doctor who supports use for it even though he knows there are therapeutic benefits. He would not help me so I moved on to my Gastroenterologist. He was actually quite supportive of my decision to want to try it and at that point I had nothing to lose. He filled out a referral for me to go to the Trauma Healing Center Clinic (it is now called Harvest Medical) to explore Medical Cannabis options. After submitting the referral to the clinic I waited almost 4 months before I was able to be seen. When the day of my appointment arrived I met with a great doctor who listened to me and agreed that Medical Cannabis would more than likely be beneficial in helping me treat my symptoms. I got signed up with an LP and then started exploring the different strains and seeing what worked and what didn’t during a trial and error process.
Before I started using Medical Cannabis I was vomiting anywhere between 15-20 times a day and dealt with relentless nausea and pain.
Now, after years of treatment with Medical Cannabis I rarely vomit unless I end up in a bad flare up, the cannabis helps to keep the nausea somewhat manageable and it does help bring my pain levels down a bit. I had been doing research into medical cannabis for a while and continue to do so because I want to learn and have a greater understanding of the plant I am using as medication and the science behind it all. I have come to understand a lot more about different terpenes and cannibinoids and the roles they play in treating our symptoms.
In the past few years since becoming a medical cannabis patient I have been through several different LPs and it is always a trial and error process with each LP to find the strains that work and have the right terpenes for me. That is one of the drawbacks of our current medical cannabis system.
Every LP has different strains, they are all grown differently and can contain varying levels of cannibinoids and terpenes.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to using medical cannabis and it almost always involves a bit of trial and error to find the right strains and dosage to help treat various symptoms. I highly recommend to anyone just starting their journey to use a cannabis journal or an app like Strainprint to keep track of the strains, dosage and effects that you feel and how it helped.
My recommendations for patients that are new to cannabis:
If you are thinking about trying Medical Cannabis go have a chat with your doctor. A lot of doctors are getting on board and becoming more comfortable with recommending cannabis. Other doctors while they may not be supportive they may be able to refer you to a clinic if they aren’t comfortable or educated enough on Medical Cannabis. If those avenues don’t work and you are under the care of any other doctors try asking them and they may be able to help refer you to a clinic.
If you get to the point where you have seen a doctor and are now approved to order medical cannabis try and do a bit or research before making that first order. Try and find people who are using medical cannabis to treat your illness and ask them what works best for them. Educate yourself about terpenes and how specific ones can help your symptoms. Just remember that everyone is different and not everyone is going to have the same experience even with the same strains. It is a lot of trial and error and that is where I recommend using a Cannabis journal or an app like Strainprint so you can keep track of how each strain affects you and you can figure out from there what is working for you and what isn’t. When you are trying it for the first time, no matter how you use it start low and go slow especially if you have zero experience with cannabis.