Back to Normal

Medical marijuana relieves chronic pain, calms anxiety.

On a warm afternoon in 1999, Renee* was cruising the back roads of South Carolina with a group of people on Ducati Monster motorcycles. Renee was relatively inexperienced with that style of bike and could barely handle it, so when she hit a pothole going 80 miles per hour, she lost all control of the vehicle.

Photo by Marc Edwards.

Andrea Zotovas, MD, consults with a patient

“I went down on my left side with the bike on top of me and rolled down a fifty-foot embankment head over feet,” the New York native remembers. “When I finally opened my eyes, my ankle was facing the wrong way, there was a big hole in my knee, my pinky finger was ripped open from knuckle to knuckle and my fingernail was broken off in the middle.

“My boyfriend was riding behind me and saw the whole thing. He told me he thought he watched me die. We were in the middle of nowhere, so it would’ve been difficult for an ambulance to find us. My boyfriend dragged me up the embankment, put me on the back of his bike and took me to the hospital.”

Over time, Renee’s ankle, knee and finger injuries healed, but the accident also damaged her back and neck, causing chronic pain that wouldn’t go away. She was eventually placed on muscle relaxants and narcotic pain medication.

Renee took the narcotic medications for a while but wasn’t happy with their potential for addiction, so she chose to wean herself off them. Unfortunately, without medication, she was left to suffer with the chronic back and neck pain once again.

“Most of the time, it was a constant, aching pain, but if I bent over or moved the wrong way, the pain it caused took my breath away,” she describes. “My neck crunched when I moved it from side to side, and there were a couple of herniated discs in my lower spine.

“I went through physical therapy and did yoga regularly, but those things didn’t take the pain away completely, so I just had to deal with it. Being in pain became my new normal.”

Renee’s “new normal’’ lasted until December 2018, when her situation worsened due to a torn ligament in her right arm. When she refused to take pain medication for that injury, her doctor referred her to Andrea Zotovas, MD, at South Florida Medical Marijuana MD in North Palm Beach and Stuart.

“After working so hard to transition off of narcotic pain medication, Renee came to us looking for an alternative for her pain relief,” Dr. Zotovas reports. “In light of the problems associated with opioids, medical marijuana is an excellent alternative, so I certified Renee to use it for her arm and back pain.”

Similar Conditions

“There’s a great deal of misinformation out there about medical cannabis,” Dr. Zotovas notes. “As a doctor who recommends it to appropriate patients, I must be an educator. It’s my role to explain the components of the marijuana plant and how they work, as well as the different methods of administering cannabis so that patients receive its full health benefits.”

There are more than 100 components of the marijuana plant. The two major and most well-known are THC and CBD. The various marijuana components work in the body to maintain homeostasis, a natural state of equilibrium.

“The human body has its own endocannabinoid system,” Dr. Zotovas explains. “We have receptors in our bodies that are prepared to accommodate the components of marijuana. As part of this system, the body actually makes its own THC and CBD, but in some people, these substances are depleted or out of balance.

“Medical cannabis restores that balance. It restores homeostasis of the endocannabinoid system so patients feel better. Many patients using medical cannabis report that they simply feel normal again.”

The Florida statute on medical marijuana use lists specific medical conditions approved for treatment with cannabis. These include Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s disease, cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) glaucoma, HIV and AIDS once the condition is diagnosed by any physician other than the physician issuing the medical marijuana certification, and chronic pain from these conditions.

“Medical cannabis has been shown to improve the symptoms of those conditions,” Dr. Zotovas discloses. “And in some cases, it’s able to slow the progression of the condition.”

“Medical marijuana is the best thing I’ve tried for my pain. It also relieves my anxiety and insomnia. I’m really happy with my decision to try medical marijuana.” – Renee

The statute also approves medical marijuana for use with conditions similar to those specifically listed.

“Crohn’s disease, for example, is an inflammatory condition of the small intestine. It’s similar to ulcerative colitis, which is an inflammatory condition of the large intestine,” Dr. Zotovas informs. “Under the ‘similar conditions’ category, patients with ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel conditions qualify for treatment with medical marijuana.

“We follow the similar conditions category to include various neurological conditions, chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia and similar disorders.”

Dr. Zotovas points out that it’s common for patients suffering with chronic pain to have related anxiety and insomnia. Pharmaceuticals to treat these conditions are associated with adverse side effects, dependence and potential for overdose due to suppression of breathing. There is no such danger with medical marijuana.

“There are no marijuana receptors in the respiratory system; therefore, it’s impossible to overdose on medical marijuana,” the doctor stresses. “With medical cannabis, patients get relief from their pain, as well as the anxiety and insomnia consequences of that pain.”

“A Normal Life”

“I had really bad anxiety,” Renee admits. “I couldn’t even have a regular conversation with people. I broke out in a sweat, and my heart beat really fast. The medical marijuana calmed my anxiety, so it’s much better now. I can even talk to strangers with no problem.”

Once Renee began using medical marijuana following her arm injury in December, she was dumbfounded by its effectiveness. Not only did it ease the pain of her torn ligament, it relieved her back and neck pain as well.

“I said, Holy cow! This stuff really works. I’m not in pain anymore,” Renee raves. “Medical marijuana is the best thing I’ve tried for my pain. It also relieves my anxiety and insomnia. I’m really happy with my decision to try medical marijuana.”

A former cigarette smoker, Renee chose to take the medical marijuana in pill form. Dr. Zotovas also prescribed a transdermal application that she can use if her back pain becomes acute so that she doesn’t have to double up on the pills.

“I’m excited about medical marijuana because it has fewer side effects than pain medication, and you don’t get addicted,” says Renee, who is once again enjoying her favorite activities in comfort.

“I like to read, swim and do yoga,” she says. “I take a yoga class twice a week, and I’m much more comfortable doing the poses now. That’s why I absolutely recommend medical marijuana to others struggling with pain, especially in lieu of narcotics.

“With the opioid crisis the way it is nowadays, medical marijuana is a wonderful alternative for relieving pain and anxiety. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done because now, I live a normal life.”

*Patient’s name withheld at her request.
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    • South Florida Medical Marijuana MD

      At South Florida Medical Marijuana MD they understand that cannabis is an effective treatment for many conditions. Their friendly & professional staff is there to provide the highest quality, compassionate care to each of their valued... Read More

    • Andrea Zotovas, MD

      Andrea Zotovas, MD, is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, MI and her medical degree from American University of the Caribbean School of M... Read More