By Nadya Rousseau
A ten-pound, 36-inch sledgehammer pounded my head, specifically my left temple, shooting waves of pain across my face, down my neck and into my spine. My eyes were sealed shut—if opened, anything I saw swirled and whirled like I were back on a Six Flags Rollercoaster. Specifically, the one where you are holstered in, and flipped around going sixty miles per hour with your legs in the air beneath you. These sensations had been going on for what seemed like hours. My lights were off, and the room reeked of peppermint. Peppermint oil and Excedrin were my only chances at this point. When the pain began to dissipate and the hammer retreated, I thought what everyone thinks who endures chronic migraines—I hope this one doesn’t come back.
Every month, for at least three days, I was debilitated by these migraines. As a teenager in high school, there were days my mom picked me up early because of crushing headaches, which were later classified as hormonal migraines. Ah, hormones—they giveth and they taketh away. For some women, horrendous monthly pain by way of menstrual cramps and migraine headaches. Sometimes self-medicating succeeded; I vacillated between Excedrin and Naproxen. Aspirin, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen didn’t work. Once I was lucky enough to get some prescription Naproxen—which is stronger—and that was headache relief gold. But it also hurt my stomach and created dizziness sensations, so I didn’t pursue an ongoing prescription.
Two years ago, I went on birth control and hoped I’d receive some headache relief in addition to the more obvious benefits of the medication. I did—but it didn’t last long. They returned, and I began noticing other unpleasant side effects of BC. So, I quit.
Back to Excedrin, peppermint oil, and the usual OTC goodies that didn’t do much to help.
Concerned friends asked, “Why don’t you just smoke weed?” I would shrug, said I had a bad experience with marijuana in the past. I live in Southern California, where medical marijuana is widely accessible AND acceptable, yet I didn’t want to go down that route. I was terrified of unwanted side effects—paranoia, addiction, maybe even worsened headaches. In my mid-twenties, I had an unfavorable experience with a brownie that, much to my surprise, contained a large amount of hashish from a Sacramento Dispensary. I ended up spending the night in the hospital from one of the worst anxiety attacks ever.
Marijuana would just make me sicker, I concluded.
Then I began smoking occasionally, usually a Hybrid strain. I didn’t know what Hybrid, Indica, or Sativa meant, I just enjoyed what I was given. And, wow. No crazy side effects, just relaxation. A warm, tingly feeling that melted away my stress, and happened to alleviate my headache pain. I began hitting up friends who had their Medical cards to get my hands on some marijuana to keep around in case a headache struck. I realized edibles, not flowers, were what didn’t agree with me.
I knew it was time to give in and get my own medical supply, but for I was still apprehensive. There was something that felt somehow rebellious or subversive about it, even though marijuana is now completely legal in California. I figured I could just rely on my friends to help occasionally. Plus, my headaches were not as severe lately.
Then I got one of the worst migraines of my life—literally. It lasted six days. Three days before my period, one day during, and two days after. I couldn’t get any work done, I was rendered useless by the pain.
It was time. One five-minute FaceTime call with a Medical Marijuana doctor on an app called “Eaze MD,” later—I had my authorization. One week after that, I had in my hand, my very own Medical Marijuana card and certificate. Yet, it took me two more weeks to walk into a dispensary and make a purchase. I had an arbitrary fear of judgment; I imagined the Bud Tenders (the people that help customers select their marijuana products) thinking I was clueless, or mistakenly choosing the wrong product. I just had to get over it. So I researched heavily the best products to prevent migraines. When new to Medical Marijuana, research is key. Apps like Weed Maps and Leafly are to the Marijuana community as an APA Stylebook is to journalists. I came across two discoveries: Hashman’s Canna Drops and a hybrid strain called Harlequin.
Last August, I was migraine free for the first time in months. I had been taking my Canna drops for about four weeks, each night before sleep. Still, I questioned the efficacy of the marijuana. I had also started taking Evening Primrose Oil, which is noted for its hormone balancing effects, and has been said to help women alleviate their menstrual headaches.
Self-education when trying any type of new medication is key—including marijuana. I learned about 1 to 1 ratios (a balance of CBD and THC), and how CBD-dominant strains can often prove the most therapeutic. CBD is one of many active cannabinoids in marijuana—and noted for its anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. People like it because it relieves their pain without getting them high like THC.
Then, last September while writing this essay, I suffered from a migraine. I was traveling , and couldn’t fly with my Canna Drops from California to the East Coast. Marijuana isn’t federally legal, and the legality in states like New York and Maryland are nothing like they are in California. So I didn’t pack it, and had been without the drops for about two weeks—which brings me to the conclusion that they do work. That hammer you read about earlier? Yup, it took about three hours to start pounding. Over the past month the Canna Drops effectively prevented my migraine pain, but they need to be taken daily.
When in New York City, I was shocked to see only seven dispensaries pop up on my Weed Maps App. In Hagerstown, Maryland, there is one medical marijuana doctor, and the price tag associated with a visit felt like four times that of what I paid in California. Most people don’t have the income to seek treatment, even in states where Medical Marijuana is becoming available.
What needs to happen next is clear: we need to continue to rally and advocate for federal legalization so people who suffer from migraines, seizures, and other life-altering conditions receive the treatment they need without having to cut through their savings.
What’s the better alternative? A toxic liver from OTC medicines that do little to help, or feeling high from time to time? If you know the answer, you may not only be already high, but you have common sense.
Nadya Rousseau is a Los Angeles-based digital marketing consultant and new media entrepreneur. Recently, Nadya established the Social Media Storytelling Academy with the goal of supporting thousands of professionals worldwide with sophisticated and cutting-edge social media education based in powerful storytelling strategies.