Between 5-8 percent of the population has an autoimmune disease, yet did you know that women make up nearly 80 percent of autoimmune patients? In today’s episode, we hear from Timeka Drew about her experience with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract and leads to some life-threatening symptoms. After prescription drugs worsened her condition, Timeka finally found relief with cannabis. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD have anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties that can treat the chronic inflammation which is at the root of Crohn’s, and Timeka credits cannabis with saving her life. Tune in to hear Timeka’s remarkable story, plus expert medical advice for treating Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases with cannabis.
Ellen Scanlon (00:00):
This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for audiences 21 and over.
Timeka Drew (00:05):
Cannabis literally saved my life and without cannabis, I definitely would not have gotten to the ripe age of 40, especially with my colon intact or with four children. During my entire journey of illness with Crohn’s disease, there were so many times where I really felt absolutely hopeless. But there actually was something out there and it was cannabis and it could heal me in a very real way and allow me to have a real career and a life. That is not a narrative that I had ever heard about cannabis up until then. And even when people talked about it in helping sick people, it was always cancer patients who were dying, who were using it in the last leg of their life to help them through chemotherapy. I just hope more people learn about it and are willing to try it and explore.
Ellen Scanlon (01:08):
Welcome to How To Do The Pot, a podcast demystifying cannabis for women, I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Timeka Drew, the California based chief growth officer at NUG and the founder of Biko Flower, who also suffers from an autoimmune condition called Crohn’s disease.
Ellen Scanlon (01:29):
This summer, we are re-releasing some of our most popular episodes about how cannabis is helping women improve their health and treat symptoms of disease without the pharmaceuticals that may cause challenging side effects. Please be warned, these episodes may have some graphic medical explanations. I’ve also been getting a lot of questions about how cannabis is helping patients with multiple sclerosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is also known as PCOS and Parkinson’s disease. If you or someone you know has a personal story that you’d be willing to share with us, please send an email to email@example.com or DM Do The Pot.
Ellen Scanlon (02:16):
In today’s episode, we start the conversation around cannabis and autoimmune diseases. Between 5% to 8% of the population has an autoimmune disease and women are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases at a rate of two to one compared to men. This episode is very close to my heart because it was inspired by a friend who has Crohn’s disease, who asked me to learn more about cannabis as a treatment. I’m so passionate about sharing this information widely and hope it helps you or someone you love who may be facing health issues and is looking for answers.
Ellen Scanlon (02:56):
I have been sick a lot this year and have struggled with very slow recoveries so I can relate to how frustrating not feeling well for a long time can be. I’m using this time to rest and recover and would really appreciate you sharing this episode with anyone you think it might help. Thank you.
Ellen Scanlon (03:16):
On today’s episode, we’ll hear how Timeka found cannabis as a treatment for Crohn’s, what works for her symptoms and why she believes the cannabis saved her life. And Dr. June Chin, a New York based doctor gives us practical tips for what works best for her Crohn’s patients. Timeka’s health problem started seemingly out of nowhere when she was in college.
Timeka Drew (03:48):
I was attending the Catholic University of America at the time, I was on a full ride scholarship for academics and I was the captain of our debate team and we were at a debate tournament. I became really, really ill during this particular trip and one of the coaches actually saw me vomiting and noticed that I was vomiting blood. I mean, at the time it was the first time that I had ever vomited blood, but somehow it didn’t really alarm me in an extra way. I just thought, “Oh, I’m feeling really terrible.” It didn’t really register to me that this was a really big deal. This coach was just like, “Timeka, you have to go to the hospital, you can’t be vomiting blood and not going to the hospital. We have to find out why that’s happening.”
Timeka Drew (04:41):
That was really the first step of my journey, which I was referred to a gastroenterologist, a specialist from there and started down the diagnosis journey of getting tested and trying to figure out where that blood was coming from. As we were exploring where that blood was coming from, my symptoms were getting worse pretty rapidly. Really from then, my stomach was cramping, it was hurting and it never really got better. It really just stayed in this severe abdominal pain and then I started to see a blood in my stool. Then I started getting intermittent fevers off and on, and I couldn’t really pinpoint any other symptoms other than the constant stomach pain and the blood in my stool.
Ellen Scanlon (05:32):
Timeka was diagnosed with Crohn’s when she was an 18 year old sophomore in college. Dr. Chin explains what Crohn’s disease is.
Dr. June Chin (05:41):
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, IBD. It causes inflammation in the digestive tract, and it can lead to terrible, terrible, debilitating, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea. It can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition. You might have difficulty putting on weight and it affects different areas of the digestive tract depending on the person.
Timeka Drew (06:08):
I started having to take pretty regular trips to the hospital so that they could monitor the amount of blood that I was losing. I started to lose a lot of weight, at my lightest I was under 100 pounds at 5′ 9″. I was eating a lot still, but I wasn’t absorbing my nutrients properly and I just wasn’t gaining any weight and I wasn’t digesting my food either. It was just passing through and you start developing hemorrhoids. You start developing all of these different things that by themselves, you can treat and it’s not as big of a deal, but when they’re all happening together, it just felt like my body was under constant battle.
Ellen Scanlon (06:55):
In some ways, Timeka was lucky to get an early diagnosis, but what is an autoimmune disease? Dr. Chin explains.
Dr. June Chin (07:02):
With autoimmune disease there’s no one single test and the common denominator is inflammation, chronic inflammation, which leads to pain. Women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of two to one compared to men, so it’s quite a bit. It usually starts during childbearing years, 15 to 44. What the studies have shown is a reason why is genetics. A large number of genes that originate from the X chromosome, women XX, creates a far greater possibility of a larger number of mutations occurring and that puts women at a greater risk of development of autoimmune. Then you have estrogen, so our hormones also make it a little complicated for us.
Ellen Scanlon (07:45):
Women who have autoimmune diseases also deal with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Timeka Drew (07:50):
I fell into just very severe depression dealing with everything. Just for one it’s one of those things that’s hard to talk about. It’s a gross disease. Even when you’re telling people like, “Oh, this is what I struggle with,” you’re typically not going into detail unless you don’t mind being crass. But when you’re struggling with severe nausea and severe diarrhea, there are other things attached to that when you’re getting ready to go into that zone. Your body starts to sweat and you start to heat up and even just dealing with that, I’d be in class and I’m trying to pay attention then all of a sudden I’m just dripping with sweat. It’s just one of those things that you’re trying to balance so much and seem so normal, but there’s no way to be normal when you’re spending 30 minutes on the toilet every hour and you’re breaking out in sweats, having fevers for what seemed like no reason.
Ellen Scanlon (08:47):
Timeka’s doctor started treating her Crohn’s with a lot of prescription drugs.
Timeka Drew (08:51):
I was taking for the most part Bentyl for my pain, I was taking Asacol for regular management, I was taking Sulfasalazine for regular maintenance, and I was taking Prednisone for my flareups. I was also taking a variety of other experimental and antidepressant drugs here and there to see if they might work. At that time I was very much taking care of myself financially. I had health insurance, but I was going into severe debt around my hospital bills and paying for all of my prescription medications. I was taking out as many credit cards as I could, and I was paying for all of my medications with my credit cards.
Timeka Drew (09:42):
I had a couple different jobs during college as well, that I was putting all of that money, obviously towards trying to keep myself healthy enough to continue to work and to get through school. One hospital visit was $50,000 and when you start to go to the hospital on a regular basis, and you start to get these bills, you just come to terms with the fact that now you’re not going to have any good credit for the rest of your life. At 18, 19 years old, I knew maybe I’ll never be able to buy a house because I have Crohn’s disease. This is just the reality, but I’ve got to try to stay alive. I’d rather be able to rent than not be alive.
Ellen Scanlon (10:22):
In addition to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, she was having a lot of side effects from the medication.
Timeka Drew (10:27):
The medication regimen for me, always made me feel just woozy and just not well. I personally just felt overloaded and just really in a bit of a fog with all of the medications that I was taking. The Sulfasalazines, the Asacol create a lot of swelling and water retention. I had a lot of headaches, I had a lot of nausea, a lot of fatigue.
Ellen Scanlon (11:01):
Dr. Chin shares some startling facts about women and prescription drugs.
Dr. June Chin (11:06):
When MD’s write prescriptions for women, they don’t take into account the differences in dosaging that’s needed, or the differences in medication. Women, we have more adipose tissue, we have more hormones, changes in hormones, metabolism, our genetics are different, and that really plays a role in how we metabolize prescription medication and supplements and cannabis. The studies that are being done are usually not diverse enough. There’s usually not as much women as there are men because even in animal studies, women’s cycle “messes up” the clinical trial and then women of color. You don’t see a diversity in clinical trials as much and that’s the problem with that standardized dosing that we see in the pharmaceutical industry and in the medical industry.
Ellen Scanlon (11:58):
The biggest problem for Timeka was that the medications she was taking weren’t helping.
Timeka Drew (12:02):
I felt like I was just spiraling in to much deeper depression while I was on these medications as well. I’m doing every single thing my doctor tells me and I’m just getting worse and it’s costing an absolute fortune. I was like, “Ugh, I’m so sick now. I feel terrible. I’m a little bit suicidal here and there. I might as well at least start partying. I might as well at least start enjoying life a bit.”
Ellen Scanlon (12:27):
Timeka Drew (12:31):
I started smoking at parties and I would realize that after I would smoke at a party, I’d come home and I would actually feel decent for a couple hours that night. Started talking to people about it a little more and they would say, “Oh yeah, actually cannabis is used as medicine.” Started doing a little bit of research and saw that people were using it for gastroenteritis and for digestive issues and for nausea in cancer patients. I had a couple friends who started telling people, “Let’s make sure we set some good weed aside for Timeka because she uses it for her medicine.”
Timeka Drew (13:07):
That was a game changer for me because all of a sudden I had a pretty regular supply of high quality cannabis. I was able to start decreasing my Prednisone, decreasing my Bentyl pain medication and relying a lot more on cannabis for flareups and to help me eat and to help me just feel better in general. To help with my moods, with depression, just make things seem a little easier altogether. This is still just going from recreational use once every couple days to, “Okay, now I know I need to use it every day,” but not really understanding how to approach a real treatment regimen with it.
Ellen Scanlon (14:03):
With so many podcasts to choose from, finding a favorite series can take some trial and error. We started How To Do The Pot’s Podcast Club because we love podcasts and when we find a good one, we want you to enjoy it as well. If you’d like to put a podcast on our radar, whether it’s about weed or not, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can DM us at Do The Pot.
Ellen Scanlon (14:31):
Story Worthy is a podcast celebrating its 12th anniversary this July, wow! Story Worthy’s producer and host, Christine Blackburn, has created more than 750 episodes of the weekly storytelling podcast and has interviewed some of the biggest names in show business. Over the past 12 years, the stories have ranged from laugh out loud funny, to heart wrenching, but always with a positive message. Story Worthy is not a long form interview show. Christine and the guest talk about a true story that the guest brings to the show. It’s original, smart and insightful. I recently listened to episodes with two different writer/comedians and heard a very memorable story about working on a cruise ship and a funny, and extra interesting to me because it was about weed, story about being California sober. Check out conversations with talented comedians, writers, and celebrities on Story Worthy, available wherever you get your podcasts.
Ellen Scanlon (15:43):
Another visit to the hospital set Timeka on a different path.
Timeka Drew (15:46):
I had now developed regular vomiting and that was actually my biggest fear in life. Some people fear spiders, some people fear snakes, I feared vomiting. It was a huge undertaking every time I had to vomit and it was several times a day now. I was at the hospital during one of these episodes and the doctor told me that the next time I came to the hospital, they were going to put me on a feeding tube because I had wasted a way to the point where they didn’t really know what to do with me and I was definitely going to be admitted. Something in my mind just clicked at that time and I really thought to myself, “Timeka, if you get admitted to the hospital, you’re going to give up the will to live. You cannot live like this, something has to change.”
Timeka Drew (16:38):
I really just decided that night when I came home from the hospital, I’m going to get off of all of my medications and I’m going to try to exclusively use cannabis. That night I pretty much stopped taking all of my maintenance drugs. I still was taking a couple of my antidepressants and things that are typically difficult to wean yourself off of and I did wean myself slowly off of those. I truly felt in my heart that these medications just weren’t working for me and they were never going to work for me. It really helped focus and refocus my priorities in life and I thought to myself, “If I want to be able to heal my body and eventually be able to have kids, I do need to take a different approach and take a risk,” because to me at that time, cannabis seemed like a risk.
Ellen Scanlon (17:33):
Women who are considering cannabis for health related symptoms often wonder whether they have to get high. I asked Timeka what’s different about the effects of prescription drugs and cannabis.
Timeka Drew (17:42):
Even the strongest cannabis was never as strong as my pain pills or as my pills that I was being given for depression or my pills that I was being given to help with my insomnia or my headaches. Putting those pills together, which I was totally prescribed to do, I was definitely experiencing using drugs on a level that I never could if I was using just the very strongest of all the cannabis products that are out in the world right now. That also helped to make it just easier for me to buy into cannabis once I found out like, “Whoa, I’m getting higher than I could ever get from cannabis off of these pills right now.” After 20 years of utilizing cannabis, I don’t think I even get that high anymore, to be honest. I could never go back to being on that amount of pharmaceutical drugs that had such an effect on my brain and it was just so cloudy and I lost days.
Ellen Scanlon (18:48):
What cannabis medicine did work for Timeka and how did she start consuming it?
Timeka Drew (18:52):
I began smoking before and after every meal to prepare my body and my digestive tract for the meal. I began smoking every time I was experiencing severe pain or nausea and I began taking hemp seed oil internally three times a day as well, to really heal up the ulcers in my colon and throughout my digestive tract. This is also on a very clean diet. I wasn’t eating refined sugar, I wasn’t eating any meat, I was not eating gluten, I was not eating dairy. But after about three months of that clean diet and taking the internal hemp seed oil, I did not have any blood in my stool or any signs of internal bleeding whatsoever and have not resurfaced that type of internal bleeding since.
Timeka Drew (19:51):
I do feel that did heal the ulcers that I did have pictures of, that were bleeding inside of my digestive tract. But I think that if I wouldn’t have done all of those changes, if I wouldn’t have done the dietary changes, I did change a lot in my life as well. I was leading a very stressful academic life within college and law school, then once I medically withdrew from law school, I had less stress and I was taking more time to do art and get outside and garden.
Ellen Scanlon (20:38):
Flares are an often debilitating part of having an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s. Dr. Chin explains what they are.
Dr. June Chin (20:46):
A flare is when the inflammation builds up so much that your body’s just like, “I can’t take it,” and for irritable bowel disease patient, maybe they’ll get the runs for two weeks on end, or terrible nausea, or terrible pain and anything they eat just gets in the way.
Ellen Scanlon (21:03):
How does cannabis help with Timeka’s flares?
Timeka Drew (21:06):
Every once in a while, I will have the feeling of like, “Ugh.” I wake up, I’m having a hard morning, my body’s starting to try to want to go into a little bit of a flare. I find that if I can smoke a joint, if I can actually smoke a whole joint, I will be able to stop that flare in its tracks and start over. But if I’m not able to smoke a joint, I will still continue to feel that way and have to be on that toilet all day. It does have a pretty fast and effective ability for me at least to halt the start of a flare in its tracks and to actually be able to enable my body to calm down and do what it needs to do to not go into full flare mode. Where now oh, my body feels like it needs to start attacking itself because now it’s identified that there’s a problem happening due to the Crohn’s disease.
Timeka Drew (22:02):
I had to learn that there were these cycles that my body would go through and if I’m ever in doubt, I smoke a joint and then see how I’m feeling. I’ve almost never had a time where I’m stuck on the toilet or I’m feeling incredibly nauseous and I can’t get out of it, that smoking a joint has not helped.
Ellen Scanlon (22:22):
Timeka’s experience mirrors Dr. Chin’s guidance to her patients.
Dr. June Chin (22:26):
For a lot of my irritable bowel disease patients, Crohn’s disease patients, they do better with inhaled versions because the carrier oils in tinctures actually can upset their stomach. There’s tons of cannabinoid receptors in our gut so that’s why it works really well for irritable bowel disease. It’s a qualifying condition in most states with medical cannabis laws, because the studies have shown that it takes away inflammation and takes away that cramping pain. A lot of my patients will use it for Crohn’s disease and they can knock out three prescription medications in one shot, which is the Zofran, which is the anti nausea medication. They usually can knock out a pain medication and then they can knock out the inflammatory medication. If you could take something that’s natural, that’s plant based and knock out three prescription medications, I think that’s a win. Now, it depends on how extensive your Crohn’s disease is. If you’re already on biologics, if you’ve had bowel resections where they’ve gone in and removed parts of your bowel because it’s so inflamed, you might have to combine both prescription medication and cannabis.
Ellen Scanlon (23:35):
Some people don’t feel comfortable smoking, even if it can help their symptoms. Dr. Chin gets a lot of questions about inhalable medicine in her practice.
Dr. June Chin (23:43):
I think the biggest thing is people think cannabis smoke and tobacco, they just normally just lump it together. But the inhalation patterns of cannabis smoking is very different than cigarette smoking. Cannabis smokers, they hold their breath four times longer and they take in the cannabis smoke and then that’s all they need. With tobacco, you’re this chain smoking, you’re using it throughout the day. Vaping is a safer form of inhalation than using the dried flower, unless you’re using a pen that controls the temperature. The key when you’re using an inhaled form is a healthier draw and temperature control. You can control how much it burns from your dried flower to the vape cartridge.
Ellen Scanlon (24:27):
Having control over how much burns is a good thing. Dr. Chin has a specific recommendation for the heat settings on a vape pen and a tip for staying hydrated.
Dr. June Chin (24:36):
The studies have shown that the sweet spot is 390 degrees. A lot of these brands that you can control the temperature, you can set to 390. That when you are using smokeable version of cannabis, whether through vaporizer or dried flower, what you can also do is just protect your mucus membranes. So maybe have some elderberry, zinc lozenges handy, camomile tea. You can combine something like that when you’re going to use it so that your mucus membrane stay well hydrated and not as dry.
Ellen Scanlon (25:12):
While I hope you found Timeka’s story inspiring, please remember that finding the right cannabis to support symptoms of Crohn’s and autoimmune diseases will likely take some experimenting. If you’re ready to buy weed and try it, Timeka shares what amount of THC works for her.
Timeka Drew (25:29):
I’ve definitely been in a lot of different places in my journey in terms of cannabis over the last 20 years. From having access to very high quality cannabis, to really having nothing but shake for quite some time. With higher THC content might not take as much. I might be okay after that first half a joint and I’ll be able to save the other half until later on during the day or after I eat lunch. Even when I had nothing but shake, as long as I smoked that joint, which is probably a much lower THC percentage joint, probably something like 13%, at the most 15% at the very most, it would help stop things in their tracks.
Ellen Scanlon (26:22):
For today’s high five, treating Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases with cannabis. Number one: cannabis and Crohn’s. About 3 million people in the US are living with Crohn’s disease and Crohn’s is actually one of the autoimmune diseases that affect men and women equally. Number two: how does cannabis help? Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are potent anti-inflammatory and pain relievers that are able to treat the chronic underlying inflammation, which is the root cause of the disease. Number three: what consumption method works best for Crohn’s patients? Inhalation or smoking works best for Crohn’s because the carrier oils in tinctures can cause stomach upset. Look for the highest quality cannabis you can find, but it may not have to have a very high level of THC to provide relief. If you’re using a vape pen, like a packs, set the temperature to 390 degrees and have some tea or lozenges around too.
Ellen Scanlon (27:18):
Number four: mental health. Women with autoimmune diseases are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Cannabinoids can interact with psych medications. Dr. Chin recommends taking a team approach and working with your psychiatrist or therapist if you want to integrate cannabis medicine. Number five: drug interactions. If you’re considering cannabis, experts recommend starting with the least crucial medications you’re taking to treat your condition. Cannabis is known to modulate pain and help with nausea, so women often start experimenting with weed to replace what they’re taking to treat those symptoms.
Ellen Scanlon (27:55):
Thank you for listening to How To Do The Pot. You can find us on Instagram at Do The Pot and for lots more information and past episodes, visit dothepot.com. A special thanks to Kimberly Murphy for her help with this episode. Thank you to our producers, Madi Fair and Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon and stay tuned for more of How To Do The Pot.
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