Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week December 1-7th Focus: Patient Story
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation marked the week of December 1st through the 7th as Crohn’s and Colitis awareness week. Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory bowl disease (IBD) that is known to cause inflammation to the digestive and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s can affect any part of GI tract, but most commonly impacts the colon region of the digestive tract. Not only can the disease affect the digestive and gastrointestinal tract but it can also impact the eyes, skin and joints of the patient.
Ulcerative Colitis is similar but not to be confused with Crohn’s. This disease mainly impacts the large intestine (colon and rectum). Many of the symptoms of the Ulcerative Colitis are similar to that of Crohn’s i.e. abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, blood and or pus in stool, reduced appetite and so on. Both Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis are serious conditions. It is important to take this week of awareness as an opportunity to become more educated on the subject of IBD’s and how cannabis can potential reduce the symptoms associated with both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.
In honor of Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week we have decided to share a patient testimonial. We have interviewed our preferred photographer, Jake Conway. He has agreed to share his personal battle with Crohn’s and how cannabis has aided him along the way.
My name is Jake Conway and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease over a year ago in October 2016. It’s an embarrassing disease to talk about, but not many people know about it or what people truly experience. Every person diagnosed with Crohn’s experiences it completely differently and has a different way of treating their disease. There is currently no cure for Crohn’s Disease but there are ways to help suppress the symptoms, maintain remission, and prevent relapse through medications, diet, and cannabis.
I first started experiencing symptoms around the end of August 2016, a few months before my diagnosis. I initially thought I just had a stomach bug for a week or so, but I had this weird lingering pain in certain areas of my abdomen. It persisted for weeks and caused me intense pain and anxiety until I finally went to the hospital where they thought I had colitis. I was prescribed Flagyl, but I continued to get worse and worse as each day passed.
I was having severe pain, fatigue, weight loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and mucous and blood filled diarrhea. I lost nearly 60 pounds because I couldn’t eat and I was lying around completed debilitated by varying types and degrees of pain. After two more visits to the hospital, I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist to explain my symptoms and seek proper treatment. A month later I had a colonoscopy where they found ulcers throughout my colon with patches of inflammation, confirming that I had Crohn’s Disease.
I was glad to finally receive a diagnosis so I could proceed with treatment, but I felt scared and anxious about having an incurable disease for the rest of my life. This disease makes you feel helpless, defeated, and drained of life, so I struggled with accepting my diagnosis for a short time because I’m so young and I was trying to balance this new way of life while finishing my last year of college. I missed at least half of my classes in my fall semester because I was too sick to make it to class and couldn’t even get out of bed most days. I felt guilty that this was somehow my fault and that I caused this upon myself because of bad eating habits or something else, but I eventually came to terms that I might never know what caused this. Nobody knows what causes Crohn’s Disease and anybody can practically be diagnosed with it. I may have gotten Crohn’s because I was diagnosed with Henoch Schonlein Purpura when I was younger, and if someone like me gets one autoimmune disease in his lifetime, they typically are diagnosed with another sadly. But who knows! That’s just my personal theory.
After failing another medication for a few weeks, my GI doctor started me on a biologic, Remicade, which is an immunosuppressant drug. I started Remicade back in February 2017 and noticed a positive difference in my state of health mentally and physically after my fourth infusion. I changed my diet as well and started to lightly exercise to attempt to achieve a more stable lifestyle. Treatment for Crohn’s Disease takes a long time to find what works and the medicines take a long time to notice an effect. There’s also a feeling of uncertainty that lingers in the back of your mind. You never know when this disease is going to put you into a sudden flare, what medications are going to work or for how long, and which ones are going to cause crazy side effects.
I’m in remission currently because of Remicade, but I’ll never feel 100% normal. My quality of life is indeed better since I’m not constantly on the toilet, waking up nauseous every morning, and laying curled up in a ball of pain every minute, but I still experience occasional abdominal pain almost every day, accompanied by joint pain and some irregular bowel movements with constipation, and what my doctor suspects to be IBS as well. I’m able to go to work and function like a human again with almost minimal discomfort, but I still fight the symptoms of Crohn’s Disease daily. This chronic illness is with me for life and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it.
Before I was diagnosed and my doctor suspected that I had Crohn’s Disease, I began using cannabis recreationally to help suppress my pain and inflammation. I used to not be able to eat anything at all, but I noticed the effects immediately after vaping a few hits. I was able to eat an entire plate of food for the first time in weeks and felt generally happier with less noticeable pain. I used cannabis daily to help with my pain, nausea, and appetite alongside with my prescribed medications from my doctor. Cannabis is still a routine part of my day because it essentially helps me function throughout the day and get close to feeling as ‘normal’ as possible.
Living with this disease can be a nightmare and it rips you apart slowly at your soul and will to live at times. But there is always hope and support from friends, family, and communities to discuss your stories and questions so we can help get through this together. You’re never alone with this and remember to stay in contact with your doctor constantly about any changes with your health and see if medical marijuana can be something that works to treat your Crohn’s. A great support community that I’ve found to discuss anything related to Crohn’s Disease is on Reddit, r/CrohnsDisease. Also check out The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation at ccfa.org to learn more and support others!
Cannabis makes life better with Crohn’s Disease for myself and I hope that there will be a cure one day so more people don’t have to suffer. I honestly don’t know what the future will bring, but I try not to dwell on the negatives, anxieties, or ‘what ifs’ with this disease. I do my damn best to be positive and achieve more in life so I can prove to myself that this disease won’t ever hold me back.
I try to live life to the fullest and never let Crohn’s Disease take control of it and you shouldn’t either. There are plenty of forms of treatment that you can find, but I believe that cannabis should be highly encouraged for people that suffer from Crohn’s. Using cannabis can’t hurt as compared to the excessive pain, cramps, and other fun symptoms of Crohn’s Disease! Medical marijuana is a great way to find relief, but make sure to meet with a qualifying physician to see if cannabis can be an appropriate treatment for you.