Did you know that between 5-8% of the population has an autoimmune disease – and that women are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases at a rate of 2:1 compared to men? On today’s episode, we learn about how cannabis helped one woman with the painful symptoms of Crohn’s Disease, and hear practical tips about cannabis medicine from a doctor who treats patients with autoimmune conditions. May is Crohn’s Disease awareness month, and we’re very grateful to Timeka Drew for sharing her story.
Ellen Lee 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. And 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. And I just hope more people learn about it and are willing to try it and explore.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:09):
Welcome back to How to Do the Pot, I’m Ellen Scanlon. You just heard from Timeka Drew the California based founder of Biko Flower, who also suffers from an auto-immune condition called Crohn’s disease. Today, we’ll start the conversation around cannabis and auto-immune diseases. Between five to 8% of the population has an auto-immune disease. And women are diagnosed with auto-immune diseases at a rate of two to one compared to men. Do you get How to Do the Pot’s newsletter? You can sign up at dothepot.com and please also follow along on all our socials. And if you like How to Do the Pot, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, it helps more people find the show.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (01:54):
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 that 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. May is Crohn’s disease awareness month and we’re so grateful to Timeka for sharing her story. May is also lupus awareness month, and lupus is another autoimmune disease that cannabis is showing incredible promise treating. Stay tuned for more about cannabis and lupus, and how to talk to your doctor about cannabis medicine on our next episode. Timeka’s health problems started seemingly out of nowhere when she was in college.
Timeka Drew (02:34):
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 ill during this particular trip. And one of the coaches actually saw me vomiting and noticed that I was vomiting blood. And 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 like, “Oh, I’m feeling really terrible.” It didn’t really register to me that this was a really big deal. And 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.” And 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.
Timeka Drew (03:43):
And 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. So it really just stayed in this severe abdominal pain. And then I started to see 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 Lee Scanlon (04:19):
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 (04:28):
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease, IBD. It causes inflammation in the digestive tract and it can lead to terrible debilitating, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea. It can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and malnutrition, so you might have difficulty putting on weight. And it affects different areas of the digestive tract depending on the person.
Timeka Drew (04:54):
So I started having to take pretty regular trips to the hospitals 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 a hundred pounds at 5’9″, and 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. 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 Lee Scanlon (05:38):
In some ways, Timeka was lucky to get an early diagnosis, but what is an auto-immune disease? Dr. Chin explains.
Dr. June Chin (05:45):
With auto-immune disease, there’s no one single test. And the common denominator is inflammation, chronic inflammation, which leads to pain. Women get the autoimmune diseases at a rate of two to one compared to men, so it’s quite a bit. And 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, so 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 auto-immune. And then you have estrogen, so our hormones also make it a little complicated for us.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (06:27):
Women who have autoimmune diseases also deal with higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Timeka Drew (06:32):
I fell into just very severe depression dealing with everything. And 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. Like 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 to that all of a sudden I’m just dripping with sweat. And 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, high fevers. For what seemed like no reason.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (07:28):
Timeka’s doctor started treating her Crohn’s with a lot of prescription drugs.
Timeka Drew (07:33):
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 flare ups. I was also taking a variety of other experimental and antidepressant drugs here and there to see if they might work. And 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 my medications with my credit cards. I had a couple of 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.
Timeka Drew (08:34):
One hospital visit was 50 grand 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, well, maybe I’ll never be able to buy a house because I have Crohn’s disease. This is just the reality in, but I’ve got to try to stay alive. I’d rather be able to rent than not be alive, so.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (09:04):
In addition to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, she was having a lot of side effects from the medications.
Timeka Drew (09:09):
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 sulfasalazine, 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 Lee Scanlon (09:42):
Dr. Chin shares some startling facts about women and prescription drugs.
Dr. June Chin (09:47):
When MDs write prescriptions for women, they don’t take into account the differences in dosaging that’s needed, or the difference 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. So you don’t see a diversity in clinical trials as much. And that’s the problem with that sort of standardized dosing that we see in the pharmaceutical industry and in the medical industry.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (10:39):
The biggest problem for Timeka was that the medication she was taking, weren’t helping.
Timeka Drew (10:43):
I felt like I was just spiraling into 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, “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 Lee Scanlon (11:07):
Timeka Drew (11:09):
So 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. And 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 and cancer patients. I had a couple of friends who started telling people, “Let’s make sure we set some good weed aside for Timeka because she uses it for her medicine.” And 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 flare ups and to help me eat and to help me just feel better in general, and to help with my moods, with depression, just make things seem a little easier altogether.
Timeka Drew (12:19):
And so 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 Lee Scanlon (12:34):
Another visit to the hospital set to Timeka on a different path.
Timeka Drew (12:37):
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. So 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 away to the point where they didn’t really know what to do with me and I was definitely going to be admitted. And 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 can’t, you cannot live like this. Something has to change.”
Timeka Drew (13:28):
And 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. And 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 Lee Scanlon (14:20):
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 (14:29):
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. And putting those pills together, which I was totally prescribed to do was just, 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. So 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. And 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 Lee Scanlon (15:35):
So what cannabis medicine did work for Timeka and how did she start consuming?
Timeka Drew (15:39):
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. And 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 (16:38):
I do feel that 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. And 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 Lee Scanlon (17:15):
Flares are an often debilitating part of having an autoimmune disease like Crohn’s, Dr. Chin explains what they are.
Dr. June Chin (17:22):
So 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 like two weeks on end or terrible nausea or terrible pain and anything they eat just gets in the way.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (17:40):
How does cannabis help with Timeka’s flares?
Timeka Drew (17:42):
Every once in a while, I will have the feeling of like, 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. And 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 (18:39):
I had to learn that there were these cycles that my body would go through that if I’m ever in doubt, I smoke a joint and then see how I’m feeling. And 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 Lee Scanlon (18:59):
Timeka’s experience mirrors Dr. Chin’s guidance to her patients.
Dr. June Chin (19:03):
For a lot of my irritable bowel disease patients, Crohn’s disease patients, they do better with inhaled versions because the carrier oils and 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. So 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 Lee Scanlon (20:12):
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 (20:20):
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. So 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. So the key when you’re using an inhaled form is healthier draw and temperature control. You can control how much it burns from your dried flower to the vape partridge.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (21:04):
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 (21:13):
The studies have shown that the sweet spot is about 390°. And so a lot of these brands that you can control the temperature, you can set to 390, that when you are using smokable version of cannabis, whether through a vaporizer or dried flower, what you can also do is just protect your mucus membranes. So maybe have some elderberry, zinc lozenges handy, chamomile 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 Lee Scanlon (21:43):
Well, I hope you found Timeka’s story inspiring. Please remember that finding the right cannabis to support symptoms of Crohn’s and auto immune 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 (21:58):
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 of the joint, and I’ll be able to save the other half until later on during the day or after I eat lunch. And even when I had nothing but shake, as long as I smoked that joint, which is probably a lower, 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 Lee Scanlon (22:51):
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 auto-immune 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 and 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° and some tea or lozenges around too.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (23:47):
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. For a lot more on drug interactions, as well as tips for how to talk to your doctor, stay tuned to our next episode about auto-immune conditions and lupus. Today’s strain is Timeka’s favorite to treat her Crohn’s disease, blue dream. Blue dream produces a happy, relaxed high without being sedating. Medical patients often get relief from symptoms associated with pain, depression, and nausea. It can bring on dry eyes and dry mouth and may cause headaches in some people.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (24:49):
Blue dream is a really popular strain that you can definitely find in most dispensary’s. It will probably be listed as a hybrid. And if you can smell it, you’ll notice a sweet berry scent. For today’s podcast picks. I like the Happiness Lab hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos. The podcast is based on the psychology course that she teaches at Yale, which is the most popular class in the university’s 300 year history. Try an episode called Happiness Lessons of The Ancients: Lao Tzu. And How to Do the Pot. The Mary Jane experience hosted by Strawberry Sequoia. Healing Crohn’s With Cannabis. Yvette Stafford Jones’ son was suffering from Crohn’s disease. They tried everything and cannabis was the most effective treatment. She’s now on a mission to spread the word so no one has to suffer the way that her son did.
Ellen Lee Scanlon (25:40):
Thank you for listening to How to Do the Pot. You can find us on Instagram @dothepot and for lots more information and past episodes, visit dothepot.com. A special thanks to Kimberly Murphy for her help with this episode. Thanks to April Pride, Madi Fair, our brand manager and our producer, Nick Patri. I’m Ellen Scanlon, and we’ll be back soon with more of How to Do the Pot.
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