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How Medical Cannabis Saved Me

A story of a Maltese man with a painful condition, and a natural solution

My name is Daniel, I am 36 year-old businessman, and I've been diagnosed with clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD). After a year of doctor-shopping and tonnes of different pills, I've finally managed to get back on track using natural remedies.

Approximately a year ago, my father, who owns a large business, decided to retire. He summoned me one evening, and told me his plans. Since I'm his only son and heir to the business, he told me that the business will now be in my hands. He would be there to support me, but all decisions needed to be taken by me from now on.

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After the meeting with my dad I was started feeling extremely anxious and I couldn’t sleep that night. I went from being a mere sales assistant in one of the shops, to the managing director of the business. I kept ruminating, worrying that I was not capable of taking on this role. But I had no choice. 

After the first month, the stress started to take its toll on me. I was feeling mentally exhausted. I couldn’t focus for longer than a few seconds. I knew something was wrong so I went to visit my GP. He explained that I was suffering from anxiety and mild depression which was probably caused by the new changes in my working career. He prescribed an antidepressant at the time, which I started taking as he advised. But after a few weeks when the medicine had kicked in, I felt even worse. I was experiencing a lot of side effects from the medication – nausea all day long, stomach pains, diarrhoea, a slight tremor and worst of all, I felt that I was unable to have feelings for my girlfriend anymore.

"After a few weeks when the medicine had kicked in, I felt even worse"

I stopped the pills I was taking and went back to the doctor, who prescribed different antidepressants which I needed to take at night since he told me that they might make me drowsy. I was hoping that this drowsy feeling would help me sleep as I was having very bad sleepless nights at the time. It did. 

I couldn’t get up in the morning. The hangover effect of these new pills lasted till almost noon each day, making me feel like a zombie and unable to function in the mornings. My father noticed something was wrong and stepped in to help with the business. I was left disabled. I didn’t know what to do. In desperation I decided to make an appointment with a psychiatrist.

By this point, I was practically lifeless, I had lost my appetite, wasn’t sleeping at night, was feeling depressed, constantly anxious and afraid that something is about to happen. I felt that I was going mad. I just wanted to feel normal again. Could it be that the stress of my new responsibility had triggered this mental disorder to surface? I was desperate for an explanation.

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The big day arrived and I made my way to the psychiatrist, hoping that he would explain exactly what was happening, and prescribe the right medicine so that I could feel normal again. After he assessed me, he agreed that I may have a depression and even though the pills may have side effects, I had to take them regularly if I wanted to get better. 

He prescribed two kinds of pills, one to take regularly in the morning and another to take when needed “in case of severe anxiety or a panic attack”. What had I brought myself into? I couldn’t believe I had just been to a psychiatrist. I was a mental case. 

"I was practically lifeless, I had lost my appetite, wasn’t sleeping at night, I was feeling depressed, and constantly anxious"

This new medication seemed stronger than the rest. It brought on more nausea, abdominal pain, sweaty palms, shakes, palpitations, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and worst of all, impotence. I was desperate to get better so I struggled with all these side effects for two whole months after which I returned to my psychiatrist. 

By this time, I was also complaining of aches and pains everywhere (I hadn’t slept in days), fatigue and I was unable to concentrate. He told me that I may be suffering from fibromyalgia and that he would need to change the treatment one more time as the pill I was given initially was not right for my condition.

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Once again, I found myself about to start a new medicine, this one was so far the most expensive so I was hoping that it should help a bit. When I started taking it, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel. I definitely felt calmer, so calm I could barely get up from the sofa. My stomach still hurt and I still felt depressed. I still couldn’t sleep at night and I still had that nagging pain at the back of my head which occasionally developed into a migraine causing me to retire to bed in the dark.

I was hoping that I would slowly improve but after a month on this new medication, there was no significant improvement. I couldn’t stand the side effects so I decided to stop all medication. I felt I needed to clean up my system from all these pills and get my strength back. 

"I couldn’t stand the side effects so I decided to stop all medication"

Coming off the pills was not easy. I seemed to get withdrawal symptoms where I would feel a burning sensation throughout my whole head, aches and pains everywhere, stomach pains, diarrhoea and frequent headaches. I decided to go to a private hospital to undergo blood tests. My GP told me that my test results were all normal and decided to refer me to a rheumatologist because he was suspected I was suffering from fibromyalgia. 

I visited the rheumatologist privately and he confirmed the diagnosis. He advised me to stay active and advised physiotherapy. He also prescribed a new medication which he said worked differently from anything I had already tried. In desperation, I took the new pill. 

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After exactly thirty minutes I started feeling the effect overpowering my body. I lost strength in my arms and legs. The feeling of nausea was extremely strong and I ended up throwing up a few times. The burning feeling that I had occasionally felt in my head was now flowing through my whole body. The extremely unpleasant experience only started to fade away after almost 8 hours during which I was left completely incapacitated. 

I had had enough of trying pills. I decided to stop everything. Surprisingly, I started feeling a bit better than I was when I was on medication. But I was still depressed. It was like I had lost my self-confidence. I felt unable to handle anything. Minor tasks seemed super stressful. 

"One evening, while scanning through Facebook, my girlfriend came across a new clinic that offered integrative medicine"

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One evening, while scanning through Facebook, my girlfriend came across a new clinic that offered integrative medicine. I had never heard of this and decided to read more about it. I scanned through their Facebook page and website which still seemed to be under construction. What intrigued me the most was that they claimed to try to get to the root of the problem and promoted natural healing rather than prescribing medications and operative interventions. But why is it called “The Pain Clinic”? What a misleading name, I thought…

“Integrative medicine…natural healing…holistic management…meditation…” all seemed like things I haven’t tried yet and possible options to try. I was hopeful. I called the clinic and made an appointment. 

The next day I walked into the clinic to meet the doctor. My hands were sweaty and I could feel my heart pumping fast. I felt a slight tremor as I introduced myself and shook his hand. He asked me to explain the reason for my visit and I started relating the story which had almost been dragging on for a whole year by this time. I explained that my symptoms started when my father retired and I was suddenly exposed to a lot of stress. 

I went through all the different medications I had tried and explained the effects they had on me. Throughout this time, he listened without interrupting, nodding at times to confirm that he was understanding. After about 10 minutes of talking, he spoke for the first time and said “I think I know what you have”. 

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"What intrigued me the most was that they claimed to try to get to the root of the problem and promoted natural healing"

Those few words were enough to ease my anxiety and raise my hopes. We then went on to do some tests where he asked me several questions about my diet, sleep patterns, whether I do exercise and how exercise makes me feel and he even asked me if I ever consumed cannabis and how it made me feel. I must say, I was quite surprised at the questions he asked but at the end of the 45 minute chat, I felt he knew practically everything about me and was ready to explain the diagnosis.

The doctor explained that I suffered from a condition known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CEDS). He told us that this condition was only named in 2004 by a Dr Ethan Russo who was studying the endocannabinoid system and why some medical conditions do not respond to conventional medicines. He explained that the endocannabinoid system, which was discovered in the mid-1990s is responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, at a cellular level. 

This means that when any system goes out of control, the endocannabinoid system is responsible for restoring balance and helping it return to normal functioning. There are more receptors in the endocannabinoid system than all the other systems put together, making it the most important system in the body. 

The endocannabinoid system is responsible for healing and repairing damage. It is what controls mood, appetite, memory, sleep, the immune system and pain management in the body. If your endocannabinoid system is working optimally, you would be feeling your best, you are able to fight colds, sleep well, eat well and can handle pain well. On the other hand, if you have a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system, you would probably complain of fatigue, depression, apathy, loss of motivation, anxiety, panic, mood swings and unexplainable aches and pains. Unfortunately, no medication works on any of the symptoms of endocannabinoid deficiency unless it contains a cannabinoid medicine – that is, derived from cannabis.

The doctor explained that I suffered from a condition known as Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome (CEDS)

So how and why did I develop endocannabinoid deficiency? The doctor explained that I may have had some slight endocannabinoid dysfunction for a long time and that would explain why I felt so good in Amsterdam, and also why I responded so well to boxing during my final year at university, and why cannabis helped me cope so well when I was building my house. The stress that I was put through when my father handed over the business was too much for me and my endocannabinoid system started getting depleted from the chemicals which I needed the most.

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Everything was making sense now. The reason why the medications I was prescribed were not working was that the wrong systems were targeted. The doctor explained that no existing antidepressant pills works on the endocannabinoid system. They work by boosting the chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline which were not the reason why I was feeling these symptoms. This was not the usual “depression” that responds to antidepressants. I finally managed to find an explanation for my symptoms. 

So now what? The doctor explained that for my endocannabinoid system to start working normally, the best medicine for me would be a preparation derived from cannabis. I was not very keen on starting yet another medicine that could make me feel drowsy or high. So I explained my concerns.

"It explained why I felt so good in Amsterdam, and also why I responded so well to boxing during my final year at university, and why cannabis helped me cope so well when I was building my house"

Since cannabis was still not approved as medicine yet, the doctor reassured me that we will not be having a problem with side effects. He said that until now, he was unable to prescribe a “quick fix”, i.e. a medicine containing cannabis which will work immediately to relieve my symptoms. He said that I will need to work on boosting my endocannabinoid system without cannabis. 

He explained the importance of exercise and vitamins – essential parts of the treatment of endocannabinoid deficiency. Exercise produces the body’s natural cannabinoid called anandamide which is identical to THC and binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain, causing euphoria and relaxation. 

“In order to prolong the effect of anandamide in the body, I can prescribe some CBD if you want and this will boost your endocannabinoid system even further as CBD works by preventing FAAH from breaking down anandamide”, he said. “But what is this CBD?”, I said, thinking that I was going to be given yet another pill with more side effects.

He continued to explain that CBD stands for cannabidiol, a cannabinoid present in cannabis and hemp that has a therapeutic effect on the body by boosting the endocannabinoid system. It works by preventing the breakdown of the endogenous cannabinoid anandamide and this results in a healthy endocannabinoid system. 

What else? “For a healthy endocannabinoid system, you need to meditate regularly” he said, and handed over a flyer which showed a picture of someone meditating and a list of benefits that meditation can help with. “We have someone teaching meditation every Monday at 7pm”, he said, encouraging me to try it out. 

"Within a few seconds, I could feel a sense of wellbeing throughout my body. I was not high or stoned. But I felt really good"

The next day, I went to the supermarket to shop for my new diet. I bought the multivitamins he recommended, ordered the CBD from a local website and went back to start a new membership at the boxing gym I used to attend when I was at university. I was excited to see if this was going to work.

The CBD was delivered the next day. I was curious to try it as I had read a lot about it and how effective it is as a natural anti-anxiety medication with no side effects. I went in front of the mirror and put two drops under my tongue as he had advised. The taste was very unpleasant. Within a few seconds, I could feel a sense of wellbeing throughout my body. I was not high or stoned. But I felt really good. It was like I had found the right key to my condition after trying so many wrong keys that made me feel worse. That night I slept like a baby for the first time in months.

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Over the next few days, I followed my diet, took my vitamins and omega 3’s and went to the gym religiously.  I took the CBD drops as recommended and I was seeing myself improving day after day.

After one month, I couldn’t believe what I had achieved. I had developed incredible stamina at boxing and I was feeling great after each workout. My physique was the best I ever had, and I fell in love all over again with my girlfriend. I took over the managerial job again and started taking on new projects. 

I felt invincible. The mindfulness sessions had taught me how to view stress as something which we bring on ourselves in response to a situation. By meditating regularly, I learnt how to cope with any challenge, no matter how stressful it was. I could feel truly balanced. Then it clicked what the pile of pebbles meant.

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Do you have a similar story about a difficult episode you've overcome? Write to us at hello@lovinmalta.com to tell us about it.

READ NEXT: Medical Cannabis In Malta Is 'Months' Away 

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