I’ve always been a late bloomer. I went on my first date at 17. Got my first kiss at 19. Lost my v-card at 21. If it wasn’t for being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia at 32, I probably never would have tried cannabis.

Staring down something like CFS and fibromyalgia is a lot like playing a game of Russian roulette and each chamber is full. The myriad of symptoms ranges from debilitating, widespread pain to extreme brain fog and paralyzing fatigue to mind numbing insomnia. These are illnesses where, according to modern medicine, you’re fit as a fiddle, but your body thinks it is under a constant barrage of viral infections—so it acts accordingly. The harder you try to push through the symptoms, the worse it gets. One doctor explained it as having exactly $10.25 in your bank account each day. You can’t save the money and apply to another day and you can never spend more than $10.25. Every decision, every movement and every thought deplete the $10.25 until you’ve spent it all. There are no tricks to override the system, I’ve tried and failed at each of them.

Doctors prescribed valium, oxycodone, hydrocodone and Flexeril to help with the pain. I was given Welbutrin and Phentermine to “give me more energy” and then Lunesta to bring me back down. After a year of taking these hard drugs I found that the normal dosing stopped having an effect, so I started supplementing them with massive doses of ibuprofen and Benadryl. My nightstand was crammed full of orange prescription bottles and increasingly, I became worried about becoming another victim of opioid addiction.

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In an effort to find a solution, I took a GeneSight Genetic Test and discovered that my “genotype may impact [pain relieving] drug mechanisms of action and result in reduced efficacy”. In other words, my options were ignoring the symptoms (not possible), continue taking increased dosages of habit-forming drugs, or, try something I thought I’d never try.

When I opened the door to a local cannabis shop for the first time my stomach churned, and my palms sweat profusely. I was so nervous I dropped my ID when security asked for it.

For 32 years, I had heeded my mom’s warning that “pot is a gateway drug that will make you apathetic and dependent”. I never looked down on those who imbibed cannabis, but I had decided that I’d abstain. However, something about being curled up in the fetal position crying on the bathroom floor while your fiancé stands over you frantically asking you how he can help, shifts your perspective on things.

I still remember telling the budtender that I’d never “tripped on pot before”. He looked at me quizzically before asking if it was my first time. With an embarrassed smile I nodded my head and explained my situation. As I have asthma, he recommended I give edibles a go, but he warned me that they don’t always work for everyone.

I forked over the cash and drove home feeling like a total badass. I was finally one of the cool kids. I was going to eat weed. Five cookies, a numb mouth and a giant bag of circus animal crackers later, I realized that edibles might not be the way to go. Sure, the high from edibles may be more intense and last longer but in the process of waiting 90-minutes for it to kick in, I got impatient and kept gnawing on the entire stash I had bought.

The thing about being in excruciating pain is that you want to be relieved of it as quickly as humanly possible. So, when edibles didn’t work, I immediately returned to my prescriptions.

Fast-forward a few months and once again my prescriptions weren’t dulling my symptoms anymore. Although my first cannabis experience left me unsatisfied, I knew I wanted to try it again. This time I figured I would try vaping. To start, I tried a CBD-THC hybrid in hopes that all the hype about CBD’s pain-relieving attributes would be warranted.

As I stood on my front porch attempting to master the mouth-to-lung puff, I felt like a total jackass. With each bird-sized puff my throat and lungs burned, and I had absolutely no idea if I was doing “it” right. After five minutes of coughing I figured it was time to call it a night. Then the most magical thing happened. I peacefully drifted off to sleep and woke up 10 hours later feeling like a brand-new person. I remember calling my fiancé at work and screaming into the phone, “holy shit! It worked! It actually worked!”

And it did work—for a while. After a few uses, my body acclimated and the amazing symptom relief I had experienced, faded away. If you’ve ever lost something that you hold dearly, you can imagine how distraught I was. I quickly slipped into a deep depression and thoughts of suicide were never far from my mind. If my new life was going to be nonstop physical pain and a slow deterioration of my mental faculties, what was the point?

Things continued to spiral through the fall until I hit rock bottom this January. With the threat of a psychiatric hold looming, my fiancé suggested I give cannabis one last try. It took some coaxing, but I followed his advice.

This time, instead of flirting with THC, I decided to go all in and pick up a cartridge with 81.44% THC. The expected coughing and pathetically small inhales ensued, but this time I could physically feel my body and mind relax. It was the exhale I had been desperately waiting for.

I can’t say that this new cartridge is the answer to all my problems because it isn’t. I am still working out the right dosage for my body and sometimes I get it wrong. Those days, I find myself macrameed to the couch watching endless episodes of Pawn Stars. It’s not my favorite feeling in the world but in my mind, the off days are worth it, if it means I get some good days. When chronic illness robs you of everything, sometimes all you can hope for is a miracle that gives you small glimpses of your old life. For me, cannabis has done that and I’m grateful.

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