Cannabis vs One of the World’s Most Painful Conditions: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Rebecca Sewell was only 10 years old when she experienced her first attack of chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS) after a “magic trick” involving handcuffs went horribly wrong. CRPS is one of the most painful conditions a person can go through, ranks alongside cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia on the McGill pain index, above even amputation and childbirth.

Current treatments for CRPS include NSAIDs, analgesics, opioids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, intravenous ketamine, corticosteroids, nerve-blocking medications, bone loss medications, physiotherapy and mental health counselling. After months of gruelling therapy, Rebecca’s CRPS went into remission, and allowed her to live a relatively normal life. This would change when Rebecca moved to New York, having just landed her dream job of working for the marketing department at the store, Ross.

Opioids; opioid ligands; delta opioid ligands.
Delta opioid ligands. From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Delta_opioid_ligands.png

Rebecca had leg pains for many years, but they were tolerable. However, CRPS is progressive, recurring condition, and can easily return any time. This is exactly what happened to Rebecca when she was 29 and suffered a stress fracture in her leg. The pain went from a 2 to a 10, and this would mark the beginning of Rebecca’s 9 years in and out of hospital. She had to quit her job and move back in with her mom.

During her time in hospital, Rebecca would develop all sorts of other health problems, due to the knock-on effects of CRPS, the psychological impact of constant hospital visits and the medications she was prescribed. Her list of health problems went from “being in constant but manageable pain” to CRPS, scoliosis, diabetes, interstitial cystitis, gastroparesis, chronic inertia due to myalgia, fibromyalgia, depression, PTSD, anxiety, hypothyroidism and insomnia. Rebecca was taking 27 different pharmaceutical pills a day in order to treat these conditions. Rebecca was also constantly using opioids, which caused her teeth to rot and fall out.

Rebecca was running out of options, and was even beginning to consider assisted living in nursing homes, as caring for herself was beginning to look more and more impossible. Rebecca needed a change, and she needed it fast. This was when she started using cannabis, which she started smoking “recreationally” at first.

CRPS; chronic regional pain syndrome; fractured limbs; stress fractures.
Fractured limbs and inflammation are a common occurrence in those with CRPS. From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CRPS_002ms5.jpg

The results of this “recreational” use? Well, they could only be described as “medical”. Rebecca would be able to stop taking metformin (a medication used to help control blood sugar in those with diabetes), have far less trouble maintaining her weight and her bodily functions were starting to come back. Eventually, Rebecca would be able to stop taking all 27 of her prescribed pills, as cannabis helped control the symptoms of all of her conditions.

Cannabinoids effectively helped “reset” Rebecca’s body, and it could theoretically be argued that an endocannabinoid deficiency of some sort put her body out of balance. Yes, Rebecca still suffers from pain and has several CRPS-related issues, including neuropathic pain, but they are far more manageable now, thanks to cannabis. In fact, Rebecca is now well enough to live a relatively normal life. She now uses her energy to fight for cannabis legalization, which has even helped her find love!

A-Z of Medical Marijuana; medical cannabis; cannabis is medicine; Doctor Frank.
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