Opioid Independence

Break free from narcotics with medical marijuana.

Ten years ago, after getting out of the Army, Nicole Ensminger was in a world of hurt. She felt pain in her feet, shins, knees, neck and nearly everywhere else. She wondered if the physical demands of her military service overstressed her body and led to her painful circumstances.

Nicole Ensminger’s chronic pain was treated with medical marijuana by Dr. Kelly King of Releaf MD in Brandon.

Nicole says that in addition to having less pain, she feels stronger, mentally and physically.

“I saw doctors and got a CT scan,” Nicole recalls. “I found out I had a few residual injuries and some arthritis. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and autoimmune thyroid disease, which made my pain worse. I also had a few vertebrae in my neck that were really bad.

“All that left me in chronic pain. It felt like a train ran over me every day. Every morning, I woke up feeling like somebody beat me up. Then every night going to bed, I struggled to get to sleep. I just tossed and turned. In addition to chronic pain, I had insomnia, anxiety and depression. I suffered from bouts of sadness because I was in pain all the time.

“I went to a pain management clinic, where they gave me a handful of pills. The doctor put me on opioid pain medicine, muscle relaxants and sleeping pills, and I took them for ten years.”

Nicole never liked taking the pills and eventually became frightened of their potential effects. She saw reports on TV about the nation’s problem with opioids and how people were becoming addicted and dying from the narcotic drugs.

“I was concerned because as I took the medicine, my body got used to it, so I had to take more of the drug to get pain relief,” Nicole admits. “I didn’t want to become addicted, and I didn’t want to die because of the medicine. I just wanted to feel good and live a pain-free life.

“My pain management doctor mentioned that Dr. King visited his office to talk about medical marijuana, and he gave me her information. I did a lot of research before I contacted her, but then I did. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Kelly Ennix King, MD, is a board-certified internist who is licensed to treat patients in Florida with medical marijuana. The practice she co-founded is Releaf MD in Brandon. There, Dr. King tailors safe treatment plans for patients with various conditions, including chronic pain, using medical cannabis.

“Our mission at Releaf MD is to educate the public, patients and medical community about the health benefits of medical cannabis,” Dr. King explains. “We also help patients obtain appropriate treatment plans and understand the process so they know what to do when they go to a cannabis dispensary. I’m one of only three percent of physicians in Florida who do this.”

When Nicole met Dr. King, she was impressed by the physician’s approach to treatment. Nicole found comfort in knowing the doctor didn’t expect her to quit her pain medication cold turkey.

“Dr. King said, If you hurt and need your pain medicine, take it. We’re not just taking it away,” Nicole confirms. “She said she’d transition me. She’d have me try a little bit of the medical marijuana and see how I feel, what works for me. I felt no pressure to make a big life decision. And I was able to guarantee I wouldn’t be in pain.”

Nonlethal Alternative

In her role as an internist, Dr. King often sees patients who suffer from polypharmacy, meaning they take multiple medications. Some of the medications are used to treat side effects of other drugs, particularly narcotic pain relievers. Side effects may include sluggishness, constipation and depression.

“Currently, we have a huge opioid epidemic in the United States that includes opioid overdoses and addiction,” the doctor observes. “Medical cannabis is highly effective at getting patients off of narcotics while relieving their pain using relatively
minimal doses.

“I have patients such as Nicole who were on opioids for years and are now maintained on ten milligrams of cannabis twice daily. They’re completely off the narcotics. They’re happier, they’ve lost weight and, most important, their pain is controlled.”

One of the biggest issues connected to the opioid crisis is the rising number of overdose deaths. Dr. King believes that by treating more people in chronic pain with medical marijuana, those numbers can be dramatically reduced.

“Medical cannabis is a very powerful alternative to narcotics for pain relief, and it’s nonlethal,” she asserts. “No one’s ever died from cannabis therapy, and people die every day as a result of narcotics.”

Much has been learned about the mechanisms of action of medical marijuana. Studies suggest there are multiple compounds called cannabinoids within marijuana that contribute to its effectiveness. Two main cannabinoids are THC and CBD.

“CBD is a very potent anti-inflammatory as well as an anxiolytic,” Dr. King informs. “It’s extremely effective at diminishing anxiety in patients and helping to relieve depression. It’s also neuroprotective, which is why we use it to treat seizures.

“THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis that’s responsible for giving people the head high. CBD works to balance out that psychoactivity. When I formulate a treatment plan, I generally use CBD and THC in a one-to-one combination, so there are equal amounts of both cannabinoids. That way, patients get the benefits but not the head high.”

Dr. King explains that CBD works at the body level where pain is experienced. There, it relieves pain by decreasing inflammation. THC works at the brain level, where it alters patients’ perception of pain.

“Patients experience an overall relief in pain both at the body level, because the inflammation is being addressed, and at the brain level, with changes in perception of pain,” Dr. King verifies. “They become less strongly connected to the pain they’re experiencing. That’s why medical cannabis is so effective. It works at multiple levels of the pain pathway.”

Spreading the News

After ten years of being on narcotic pain medication, Nicole found substantive relief using medical marijuana instead. When she returned to her pain management physician for a follow-up appointment, he was amazed when she brought a near-full bottle of the medication.

“I filled the prescription two weeks after I started medical marijuana, and when I met with the pain doctor two months later, the bottle still had pills in it,” Nicole shares. “The doctor said, Wow! You have so much medicine left. For the first time in ten years, I did not refill my pain medicine last month.

“Before, I hurt all the time, even when I took the pain medicine, because it didn’t kill the pain one hundred percent. Now, there are times when I don’t have any pain. I still hurt some. It’s probably something I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. But now, the pain is nothing compared to what I used to go through.”

Nicole says she can’t believe the effect medical marijuana has had on her. In addition to having less pain, she feels stronger overall, mentally and physically.

“For the first time ever, I don’t have anxiety when I talk to people,” she enthuses. “I’m more active now as well. I have energy, and I’m riding my bike and moving around again. And I sleep without handfuls of medicine and their side effects.

“I’m so excited and happy about medical marijuana that I gave my resume to Dr. King at Releaf MD and begged her to help me find a job in the field. I want to help people feel the same kind of relief I achieved.”

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    • Releaf MD

      At ReleafMD, Center for Medical Marijuana they take pride and caution in their authority to recommend medical marijuana in Florida, California and New York. They keep all of your medical and vital records confidential and secure. Whether you a... Read More

    • Kelly Ennix King, MD

      Kelly Ennix King, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and is trained in primary care and hospital medicine. She earned her medical degree from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine and completed her resid... Read More