The Cannabis Paradox: Illegally Helpful

This past January Germany officially joined the band of countries who have legalized medicinal Marijuana. Take a look at one patient’s herbal journey to fighting Fibromyalgia.

Before April 2016, German law permitted the use of medical marijuana only in the most extreme of cases. The cost of the drug though, was not covered by health care. In April of that year, a Multiple Sclerosis patient from Mannheim, Germany won a crucial case concerning medical marijuana. Citing his inability to afford his cannabis payments, the Federal Administrative Court awarded the MS patient the ability to grow up to 130 plants per year for personal use. Although small in concession, this case paved the way for the recent law that finally made medical marijuana legal across the nation.

The German Bundestag in January, 2017, voted unanimously to legalize the use of medical marijuana for illnesses like cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic illness, and for patients who haven’t responded to regular treatments. With this new bill, the drug will now be covered by German Healthcare.

It makes me uncomfortable to be put in a box with drug criminals for something I’m just using in a way that helps me

In France, for comparison, both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana is illegal, but more and more politicians are talking about legalizing medicinal use in their 2017 campaigns. In the US, the use and possession of Cannabis is illegal under federal law. But in twenty-three states medical use is allowed, and in eight states, the use and possession of Marijuana is, for both medical and recreational use, legal.

Anne, a patient with chronic Fibromyalgia, lives in Berlin and has been using marijuana for medical use without the prescription of a doctor for several years. Her story sheds light on the benefits and stigma of the medicinal practice.

The Cannabis Paradox: Illegally Helpful

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Anne, and I’m 34 years old. I grew up in Berlin and I studied Archeology and History at university. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at three and a half years old.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is an illness that causes pain in different parts of the body. The causes and diagnostic issues of this illness are still discussed in scientific research: there is no consensus about what Fibromyalgia is. There are many symptoms besides the pain like depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, and physical and mental exhaustion. Not everybody has the same symptoms but those are some of the most common.

Can you explain why you use cannabis? In which ways does it helps you ?

I use it against the pain in my body; that helps a lot. It’s also good for some psychological cases: it helps to lighten my depression and to get more stability in my mind and emotions. Used as a tool it can help me focus on other perspectives, which can make me learn from my mental state, in so far that I can reflect on myself quite better when using cannabis. So for me it has therapeutic use as well.

The Cannabis Paradox: Illegally Helpful

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

How does this disease affect you in everyday life?

I can’t walk very long and going up stairs can be very painful, especially when it is cold outside or extremely hot. Extreme temperatures raise the pain. When I have to do my daily tasks (going to the supermarket, authorities etc.) I’m so exhausted that I have to sit or lay down in my bed. So it’s very important for me to have as little stress as possible. This exhaustion combined with pain and the other symptoms make it impossible to work in a normal job.

Do you only smoke because of the illness or do you also smoke sometimes for pleasure? Did you start because of the illness ?

I have smoked before that, and that was for fun. But also because cannabis widens your consciousness, and for that reason I have used it before for recreational reasons, when I was with friends, at parties or things like that. But since I’m ill the therapeutic aspect has become more important than the fun aspect.

How do you regulate your consumption? Do you wait for the pain to smoke or do you have a schedule?

Sometimes I know that the pain is coming on and I should take some of the cannabis. Sometimes I take it when the pain is already there. I smoke two small sticks a day, not more. That’s exactly the dose I need, it’s never more, it’s never less. I know exactly what is too much and what is too low for the pain.

The Cannabis Paradox: Illegally Helpful

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

The German Bundestag just voted a law that authorizes use for medicinal cannabis. What is your expectation about the law?

I expect they’ll legalize it and install some coffee shop like they did in Colorado, so that you can go to a shop and say: “okay I have depression, I have pain in my body, what kind of strain can you advise for me?” And they can really show you what strain is best for the disease you have, and you are not dependent on the black market. I also expect on the policy side that they’ll control the sources of the cannabis so that you don’t get rubbish. Sometimes you have cannabis mixed up with bullshit, poisonous stuff…The problem is who is going to define whom as a very sick person? In Germany it’s still a topic. There’s so many aspects you have to fulfill to be recognized as a sick person.

What would it change for you?

I wouldn’t feel like a criminal anymore. Right now I always have to stay cautious that nobody smells the cannabis smoke and calls the police or other things like that. This can increase my stress level, and it makes me uncomfortable to be put in a box with drug criminals, for something I’m just using in a way that helps me.
I think it would be great if healthcare could pay for medicinally used cannabis, that would help a lot.

Did doctors recommend you to use cannabis? Or was it something you wanted to do? How did you come up with cannabis for this illness?

It was my own decision to take cannabis and I have not asked a doctor before I started smoking. I’ve read a lot about the medical uses of cannabis on the internet and I’ve also seen lots of reportages about this issue.

The Cannabis Paradox: Illegally Helpful

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Have you told some doctors that you were taking cannabis for your illness?

Yes, in the hospital I have told the doctors. Last year I was in a psychiatric hospital and I told them. They knew about my pain, and I told them I was using it for medication.

Did they say anything?

No, I’ve had no problems, they were ok with it. I just had to stop smoking during my stay at the hospital. But other patients have had problems with doctors’ reactions on consuming cannabis. So the reactions on that issue can be very different.

What are your hopes for 2017?

Actually I don’t have hopes for 2017. I will see what comes when it comes.

This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness

Adlan Mansri is a young Berlin based photographer. Through his lenses, he brings his sight of the world and the humans he meets with a reporter's eye.
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