Anne Williams


I have, at last count, about sixteen different diseases and chronic conditions; not all of them are terrible – this includes both debilitating diseases and things like the condition that makes my eyelids itch and form gunk underneath my lashes. Some of the chronic conditions are also caused by other ones, such as the Hashimoto’s, which, during flares, often causes a chronic bacterial overgrowth in my intestines, which, in turn, causes severe nutritional deficiencies. In any case, I most often struggle with extreme fatigue caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease causing hypothyroidism, asthma, which is only manageable so long as I can avoid my triggers, which include cigarette smoke, dust, and animals, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Luckily, the hypothyroidism can be corrected with thyroid hormone supplements, as long as my dosage is continually increased to match the decay, but it often “flares,” which are periods of rapid decay, in which my medicine can usually not keep up (unless my doctor raises my dosage more aggressively), and my medicine also does nothing for the fatigue and other symptoms caused by the autoimmune process itself (which is somewhat similar to having the flu for the rest of your life). During an under-medicated flare, I sleep a lot, 20 out of 24 hours a day at my very worst, but more often 12-16 hours a day, and find myself unable to concentrate when I am awake, along with an assortment of other symptoms (hair loss, loss of skin tone, digestive problems, back and joint pain, decreased muscle tone, and much more). At my very best, which has only happened for about two months of this entire year, I sleep eight hours a night and feel energetic. The asthma is much more manageable, so long as I can avoid my triggers, but exposure to any of them can cause severe breathing problems for weeks afterward, with occasional complications, such as pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lungs). The PTSD is an ongoing struggle.

Of course, one of the hardest aspects of having these illnesses is that they are all invisible. Even friends who know I am sick can’t tell how well I am doing, and unless I tell them, they usually don’t realize I am sick at all. What this means is that, when I am not doing well, I constantly disappoint others. I have to cancel plans with friends if I am too tired to go out, and I have to say “No” when I asked to do something that, if I were feeling well, I would have been happy to do. Because it doesn’t show on the outside, other people don’t have any way of understanding what I am or am not capable of. And even at my best, I will never be healthy. When I was younger and healthy, I was athletic, intelligent, creative, and fast. When I became sick, those abilities left me, along with an ease of living. Now, when I’m even at my best, I have to carefully conserve my energy, and follow good health practices, and if I do that, I can maintain at least a fraction of what I could do before, enough to work, function, and have fun too. I try to put all of this negative emotion aside, along with my involuntary resentment when I encounter someone complaining bitterly about a two-week flu, and simply live life as it comes to me. In spite of my disappointment and frustration with being sick, I am glad to be alive and to be capable of so much. I am lucky that my illnesses are treatable at all, let alone as treatable as they are.

For a very long time, I assumed I would die from asthma. During this period, if I breathed any secondhand tobacco smoke, it would trigger a severe asthma attack. Unfortunately, my rescue inhalers never worked very well for me.  So, I practiced careful avoidance – crossing the street to get away from a smoker, and not going anywhere where people would be smoking (no outdoor activities at all). This continued until one day, in my thirties, a friend who knew I was interested in trying cannabis (and could not smoke) offered me a cannabis-infused edible. Quite to my surprise, I discovered that it not only relieved many of my troubling symptoms from other illnesses, but it also opened my lungs. Medical research (found online) confirmed my observations: cannabis is a natural bronchodilator, helpful in treating asthma. I found that cannabis relieved my asthma attacks much more effectively than my prescription rescue inhalers, and edibles could prevent asthma attacks for short periods, even in dusty, dander-filled, or smoky environments. For me, this was incredible – it meant that I didn’t need to fear asthma attacks as I had before, and it expanded my world to include environments that had been previously off-limits, so I could go to outdoor concerts or fairs, parties in houses where there are pets, or just walk around downtown without having to constantly watch for and avoid secondhand tobacco smoke.

Cannabis helps with other aspects of my health as well. When I am able to access cannabis, medicating regularly improves my Hashimoto’s symptoms; I am not sure of the mechanism, but cannabis is an immune system regulator, so perhaps it plays a part in regulating the autoimmune process. Any boost in my energy level is more than welcome, and cannabis also helps with my PTSD episodes, calming the intrusive thoughts and memories, as well as my anxiety and aggression.

Cannabis has so much potential to improve the lives of people with untreatable or poorly treatable conditions, as well as those that don’t respond to conventional medicines, just as it has improved my quality of life. If we work for it, in time, all Americans will be able to use cannabis without fear of punishment by the law, which would be the best situation for patients. ~