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Chelsea Leyland in Separating The Strains
Chelsea LeylandStill from Separating The Strains, directed by Caroline Sharp

5 people explain why they self-medicate with CBD


TextAmelia Abraham

We speak to individuals from the UK and US, asking them to share their stories of using CBD to treat conditions from epilepsy and anxiety to period pains

Over the last year, the UK has seen some major changes to cannabis regulation, as cannabis-based medication has finally been approved as a treatment for specific types of epilepsy and MS on the NHS. Meanwhile, a whole host of new products containing CBD have flooded the wellness market, from CBD infused beauty products – like moisturiser and lip balms – through to calming tinctures. On top of that, some British MPs predict that the UK will legalise weed in five to ten years – although whether this will actually happen remains to be seen. 

Either way, as we follow in America’s footsteps, CBD products are not just becoming more normalised, but more ubiquitous. Many people are self-diagnosing products either as an everyday aid or as a more serious medical treatment, especially when they have exhausted more well-trodden clinical routes.

Below, we talked to five of these people, from the UK and US, and ask them to share their stories of using CBD to treat conditions from epilepsy to anxiety to period pains.

JADE, 26, DUNDEE 

What do you take CBD for?

Jade: I take CBD for a whole host of reasons, most regularly to manage anxiety and panic attacks, but also during my period! I discovered this was a thing about six months ago now and haven’t looked back.

Where do you get it?

Jade: I was sent a package at work from a brand called Ohne, who sell 100 per cent organic tampons and a CBD cramp care kit. So I get my tampon, put a couple of drops of their ‘Holy Cramp’ CBD oil on there, and put it in as normal. I’ve got super heavy and sore periods and I found this is really effective for pain relief almost instantly. I imagine for conditions like endometriosis these things can be a real game-changer. There’s also a brand in the UK called Daye who will sell similar products – the difference is that theirs come infused with CBD so you don’t manage the application of it yourself. I was worried that a CBD oil up there might disrupt the pH balance, but surprisingly it didn’t at all. It’s a high potency, but really gentle. 

Has it made a difference? 

Jade: Yes, it really has. It’s strangely comforting – the same way as using a hot water bottle during your period is. It doesn’t feel invasive at all. For me, it’s the same as taking two paracetamol and lying in bed with a heat patch. OHNE also sell a “Yours, hormonally” edible CBD oil which can be used every day to manage hormones. I use this near enough daily. I’m really interested to see what other products femme care brands bring to this space in 2020.  

Would you use CBD for anything else? 

Jade: Mental health is my main reason to use it, alongside period pains! I also take Quetiapine, a bipolar medication, which is also pretty strong so I guess it’s a little tricky to tell what the benefit of CBD is versus that. The one major benefit of CBD is that it has an almost immediate effect so it can help almost instantly if I feel anxious, whereas Quetiapine is something that is always in my system. 

CHELSEA, NEW YORK 

Can you tell me about your condition? 

Chelsea: My type of epilepsy is called Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy and I was diagnosed when I was 16. I also grew up with an older sister, who had a different type of epilepsy. I was put on anticonvulsant medication, anti-seizure drugs, which I took for over a decade. I dreamed of coming off them but I was told that I would have to take drugs indefinitely, even in pregnancy. 

Three and a half years ago, I was introduced to Cannabidiol, which is known as CBD. I had a few drops and there was an immediate and profound effect: that evening I forgot to take my traditional pharmaceutical drugs. I started taking CBD in conjunction with my medication, and during a six month period, I began to feel well again. My brain was functioning in a very different way, I was sleeping 12 hours a night, my memory was better. 

Against my doctor’s wishes and without any medical support, I decided to wean myself off my prescription. I haven’t had one seizure since, so I owe a 100 per cent of my life to this plant because it gave me so much of my life back. It’s not just about seizures with epilepsy, it’s the insomnia from being always on drugs, the deep anxiety, not being able to finish a thought or a sentence.

“Until the public health sector is on board, patients who are the most vulnerable have to live without and so that’s what I am focusing on: fair patient access through the public health care system in my advocacy work” – Chelsea 

You self-prescribed originally, but now that you live in the US, do you get it from your doctor? 

Chelsea: Yes. As a medical marijuana patient, I have access to standardised pharmaceutical products and I currently use a CBD rich extract, in the form of a vape oil, that is prescribed by my doctor. I also use a one to one, which is equal parts CBD to THC. 

Because my sister lives in the UK, she remains without access. It’s been two and a half years of fighting for her and other patients who need a neurologist to sign off on everything that they take. Until the public health sector is on board, patients who are the most vulnerable have to live without and so that’s what I am focusing on: fair patient access through the public health care system in my advocacy work. Even though we have had a change in the situation in the UK, legalising cannabis as an epilepsy treatment, there are only four patients that have prescriptions. 

I am currently working on a documentary called Separating The Strains that draws attention to this issue. I had to find CBD from many different sources, and other patients should not have to go down the route I did, self-medicating, where there was no one to give me advice. A lot of CBD products are mislabelled, you don’t know if they have been third-party tested. It was really a colourful and textured journey for me, trying different products and now I am using a product that I know is good quality. It’s really important when you’ve got epilepsy to take a tested and standardised product. 

JAMAL, LONDON, 24

When did you start taking CBD and in what form?

Jamal: About a year and a half ago properly. Oil. Originally I started with one someone purchased for me from an independent holistic stall in the North which was under a tenner. Now I use CBDPure but it’s not cheap. It’s about 40 quid but it seems to have the best results.

What do you take it for and why?

Jamal: A mixture of things, mainly anxiety. Also to help with muscle relaxation – sometimes I forget to unclench my jaw and fists for hours at a time which is all linked to my anxiety. It came in handy when I first started taking hormones too (to transition) – my social anxiety peaked so it’s a quick thing to pull out your back pocket.

“I’ve seen a huge change in my anxiety and how it manifests but also a healthier way of controlling it” – Jamal

What switched you on to CBD as a treatment, and what changes have you seen?

Jamal: Honestly, mainly as an alternative for weed. I was smoking the most I ever have and I was smoking really heavy skunk which was making my anxiety worse. CBD gave me the calming feeling I needed and also let me function. Before hormones, I had to go cold turkey and stop everything (any illicit substances) for at least a month before. Afterward, I was a bit of a mess and CBD became the accessible healthy fix I needed. I’ve seen a huge change in my anxiety and how it manifests but also a healthier way of controlling it. Self-medicating with reliable and controlled sourced products is so vital for my well being.

How do you feel about whether the UK government should legalise CBD for more medical conditions?

Jamal: I have a very strong standpoint on medical marijuana and products derived from it. I think people forget the amount of shit we put into our bodies daily, and it’s extremely easy for the government to use the criminalisation of weed to push another agenda – surrounding who is and isn’t incarcerated. I think making CDB legal would have a huge impact on the amount of skunk on the street. Access is so important for health and CDB should not be exempt from that.

CHARLOTTE, 32, NEW YORK

Charlotte: I’m the co-founder of Nice Paper, a weekly weed newsletter and CEO of Dieux. I used to take CBD for anxiety but found that I needed tinctures and smokables that were more balanced with THC to feel an effect. Unfortunately, I live in New York so I’ve only really been able to find safe products and use them when I’m in LA.

How do you take it? What do you buy? 

Charlotte: I smoke some form of CBD every night to go to bed because it’s more bioavailable and hits you within minutes. My favourite way is to smoke a very high CBD cannabis strain: 6:1 (CBD:THC). My favourite brand is Pure Beauty’s CBD flower – they have incredible THC products and I was introduced to their CBD strain. When I  first started using CBD I found some hemp tinctures worked but, as I got to know my body better, I realised I always need more THC than what’s in most brands. When I’m in New York I’ll use Tonic CBD. Their prices are incredible and they are a transparent brand.

Is it normal to self diagnose CBD among your friendship group?

Charlotte: My friends are a bunch of overachieving, type-A power bitches. If they came to me with a problem and I told them “but have you tried CBD,” they would check if I had a fever. Quite a few of them, who are scientists and doctors, think it’s promising but the hype around it being a panacea is exaggerated. I would agree with the latter. Brands have found an incredible opportunity to make money with no oversight. Whenever someone I’m close with has an overactive brain at the worst times (aka right before bed even though they’re tired), or having issues with feeling overwhelmed/inflammatory pain, I’ll just buy them my favourite tincture or topical from Tonic CBD and tell them to try it under their tongue (it increases bioavailability).

“For every story on someone being helped by CBD, I know plenty of people that felt nothing. The brain is weird, our bodies are all different and it’s not a panacea” – Charlotte

CBD isn’t a cure, it’s an aid. I’ve heard incredible stories about it helping people reduce the amount of medication they needed, but others have had issues after trying to go off their meds (if you want to try CBD and are on medication, consult your doctor). Since I’m not a doctor I’m wary of acting like one. For every story on someone being helped by CBD, I know plenty of people that felt nothing. The brain is weird, our bodies are all different and it’s not a panacea. Some people like THC, some like CBD, some like none of it at all. 

Do you think that legalising CBD for medical use in the US has been a good thing? 

Charlotte: It’s federally illegal to sell CBD as a supplement in the US according to the FDA, in New York Cuomo signed the hemp bill. Topically you can sell things containing CBD, but there are a host of issues with that industry due to the lack of oversight. A plant that everyone uses but only black and brown people get in trouble for could turn into a revenue stream for an industry that has made healthcare and wellness increasingly inaccessible for America’s most vulnerable populations. It’s fucked up. 

Both CBD and cannabis need to be regulated but made accessible so more people can participate in the industry. While the marketing on CBD has gotten wild, it’s still an incredibly beneficial plant when farmed well, respected and, most importantly, tested. I’m mostly excited to see what research comes out, cannabis becoming federally legal and reparations made to every person that’s still sitting in jail for a cannabis “crime”. 

CLAUD, LONDON, 29

Why do you take CBD?

Claud: I take CBD to help with my medical condition, Crohn’s disease. My condition is triggered mostly by my mental and physical health. I started taking CBD oil about five to six years ago and then eventually using it in a vape. I heard about it from a few friends and a homeopath in natural medicine that I see – they suggested that it could have benefits to help my condition.

How long have you had your condition and what other treatments?

Claud: I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2009 and there is no known cure for the condition. There are many medicines I’ve tried to relieve myself of some symptoms. I had to have an operation in 2013 as my condition deteriorated so much and it was around this time I looked into CBD treatments.

Has CBD helped?

Claud: I feel that it does help with my mental health which helps to alleviate a lot of my symptoms, but I think high-quality CBD is unaffordable in the UK. I think it could have more of an effect than it does.

How do you feel about the gradual legalisation of CBD in the UK?

Claud: I think it will start to have more of an impact when more research is done into it. I feel that it is still at an early stage but can help a lot of people in the near future.

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