In an interview, Swiss artist Franziska Quadri tells about the importance of cannabis in handling her chronic pain.
Miracle cure … gateway drug … painkiller … Hippies … Snoop Dogg … Rastas …
Associations and stereotypes exist in droves when talking about cannabis. In most peoples heads though, this finger-leaved plant is tainted with a negative image. No wonder, after all hemp has been prohibited and demonized as killer-drug during the last century. That the reasons therefor were mostly of economic and political origin is oblivious to many. But let’s not forget that in the 19th century cannabis used to be one of the most sold remedies in Europe and the United States.¹
This said, I want to state that cannabis has it’s bad reputation without any good reason. Time to remove the blinkers. This does not mean that marijuana is a miracle plant, the Jesus amongst plants in a manner of speaking. Clearly not. I’d rather like to invite to more differentiated handling of this over milleniums proved medical plant¹. In the end the difference between use and misuse is mostly the consumers responsibility. To condemn marijuana as dangerous drug whilst drinking a couple of beers or filling up with fast food is nothing but hypocritical.
But enough about this, those who want to engage a little more in this quite polemically conducted discussion will find more than enough information in the vastness of the internet to confirm one’s own opinion.
Instead I would like to pass the word to Franziska who has become a true expert in the use of cannabis against chronic pain during the last couple of years. I had the pleasure to meet Franziska on the island of Tenerife, where she usually spends the colder months of the year to flee from the Swiss winter and the associated increased pain.
Hey Franziska. Could you please introduce yourself to our audience.
I am 44 years old. Ten years ago I broke some cervicals due to a paragliding accident. Since that moment I am paralyzed from the neck down. Today I cannot practice my profession as graphic designer anymore. I receive a pension and I am a 100% dependent on the help of others. The summer I usually spend in Zurich in Switzerland whereas during the winter months due to my intense pain I stay on the Canarian islands on Tenerife. Today I work as an artist and with my experiences and capabilities in graphic design I commit as medical cannabis activist.*
You use cannabis as painkiller. Can you tell us a little bit about your pain and it’s origins?
Right. Due to injury of my spine I have strong spasticity and neuropathic pain. Those are what make my life hell. Conventional painkillers don’t really help and destroyed my body. Four years ago I could not eat anything anymore, threw up after every meal and lost a lot of weight. Already during rehab in the hospital I noticed that other patients smoked joints in the evenings. After a friend of mine had found out in the internet that cannabis is an excellent painkiller and also helps against spasticity, I aimed to try it right away. Already before my accident I enjoyed smoking pot and valued it highly as relaxant after work. Thus I did not have any reserve whatsoever. And the effect was astonishing. At that point I already had tried nearly all existing painkillers. Cannabis though was unbeatable. The tense muscles instantly relieved after the smoke and the pain was softened. I was really excited. My physicians on the other hand weren’t interested in this experiment at all. It’s forbidden. They can’t help me. I was even asked to not get caught. But I did not let me be deterred from this. The pain relief was so alleviative that I did not care that it was illegal. Besides I exchanged information with other patients who confirmed my experiences. After finally being released from hospital I absorbed pretty much everything I could find about cannabis. There is countless information. This way I continuously optimized my therapy. I know exactly what I’m doing.*
Does your pain influence your life? If yes, in which way?
The pain that some wheelchair users have due to their injuries, you know that yourself, is extremely wearing and dictates a huge part of life. My whole body is a cramped, jabbing and burning pain which is always present. When touched, it becomes even more painful and my body tenses up with spastic cramps. If you are healthy you cannot imagine this pain. Previous to changes of weather the pain even increases. For me the Swiss winter is not bearable anymore. Due to the constant pain all activities become tiring which is why I’m often exhausted and end up going to bed already at 7pm. I’ve learned to deal with my pain however. Thanks to meditation, today I am able to exert influence. Thereby I am not as much at pains mercy anymore and I mentally transfer to a more pleasant state of mind. This capability has helped me a lot to cope with my pain related issues.*
What made you prefer cannabis to classical, synthetic painkillers?
As mentioned above, it actually was pharmaceutic medication that really made sick. At my best times I used to take more than ten different prescription drugs.
The pain was so unbearable that I tried everything. All this medication however crippled my stomach and digestion. My immune system was shattered. Various times I ended up in hospital with infections and once I even had a thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. This was when I knew that I could not continue like that. Sooner or later I would die from pneumonia.
Actually I already had found the right pain treatment. The only problem was the access to this medical plant. So I began to buy bigger amounts of cannabis on the black market and slowly withdrew from my medication. Today I only use cannabis and a drug against spasticity. Due to this complete restoration, my stomach as well as my digestion are doing way better. I was able to gain weight and today I can eat again with proper appetite.*
How much cannabis do you usually consume on a daily basis and how do you consume?
I take very high doses in various forms. As I was able to withdraw from many other painkillers, my dosing is no surprise. I take whole-extract-cannabis-oil in a capsule twice a day (a total of 300 mg THC²). Additionally on days with higher pain intensity I eat various cannabis-cookies in the course of the day. Consuming cannabis via the stomach, it takes effect slower and lasts longer. For people like me with chronic pain where a continuous taking is desirable, this is very beneficial. But as in most cases it takes more than 2 hours until the oral taking begins to show effect, I usually smoke hemp flowers when having spastic cramps. The effect sets in right away and by smoking the amount is easily allotted. For health reasons I abstain from mingling with tobacco and instead smoke the flowers in a joint or vape them in a vaporizer. Of course the available breed of cannabis plays an important role. Some breeds help perfectly against pain while others are not as helpful. Thus it is important to know what to take. The access however is still lousy! As you can see, all this is a science on it’s own and to figure out the optimal treatment is time consuming. Sadly there are still no or barely any physicians that can help. I can only recommend everybody to educate oneself and to try. It is a medical plant with only moderate side effects. You can use it depending on the form of the day. But it’s no magic bullet. My pain and spasticity are still present but I can bear them.*
What impact does cannabis have on your pain and your quality of life?
Cannabis gave me back my life. My body could recover after withdrawing from medication and it helps me to handle my pain positively. However it doesn’t only work as painkiller as it also stimulates my appetite and has a positive effect on my mind. I even go as far as to say that cannabis saved my life. In my despair of chronic pain it was my sheet anchor and it’s calming effects helped me to cope with this situation.*
You live in Switzerland. Concerning cannabis, how is the legal situation there right now and what does this mean for your everyday life?
The situation in Switzerland is very confusing. Cannabis based products with a THC ratio of less than one percent and a very high CBD ratio are permitted in Switzerland. Those products don’t help me though. I depend on a high ratio of the THC component. But as it affects psycho-actively and is therefor classified as narcotic, it is prohibited in Switzerland. If you can find a physician willing to apply for a special permit at the federal office for health, there meanwhile is an option to buy some few cannabis-drugs in the pharmacy. Those products however are overly expensive and dosed way to weakly for me. Even with the special permit those products just don’t help me. For the moment I’m still forced to treat myself illegally. I am painfully aware of that which causes me intense mental stress. Not necessarily because the police might drop in, I rather see myself in a permanent acquisitive distress and always fear that I could run out of my medication.
I can’t even imagine to be one day without my painkillers. In Swiss parliament they’ll soon discuss and vote on a medical dispense solution. In Switzerland those proceedings take a lot of time however. It will take more than four years for the current situation to change. And the way I see it, this regulation won’t head towards a direction that could help my case. It’s not intended that this medication is covered by social security. This would mean for me that only home growing could come into consideration. Everything else would exceed my financial scope.*
As president of the ‚Medical Cannabis Verein Schweiz‘ (Medical Cannabis association Switzerland) you actively promote the legalization of medical cannabis. Correct me if I’m wrong but I can imagine this to be a battle David against Goliath. Where do find the energy to keep on going?
As you can see in my detailed answers, I put my heart and soul into my work as cannabis activist. I do so because I perfectly know that this is the right thing to do for me and my body. I’m not criminal. I relieve my pain. In my occupation as president of this association I’ve met many people who share the same opinion. We are not willing to shut up and hide. This is why I stand here as representative and tell our stories. Ethically we’re in the right. It is not our wrong doing that a painkiller which in the 20th century was banned only due to economic reasons today is our only relief. Today this fact is proven in black and white. Cannabis is no killer drug. During the 19th century it was widespread and highly valued in medicine! I also would like other patients with chronic pain to get the chance to try cannabis. In any case I won’t rest until finally I come into my own. It’s my health.*
As a subject cannabis also finds itself in your art on a regular basis. Could you tell us more about your artistic work?
Yes, meanwhile nearly every drawing of mine bears upon my favorite drug. But as I’ve said before, cannabis was my life-saver. Painting on the other hand is an important part of my psychotherapy. Chatting with a psychologist never really was my cup of tea. Being able to illustrate my experiences and feelings in drawings with color though, helps me a lot. Nearly all of my drawings tell a story. Sometimes I have an idea in my head. Sometimes the drawings originate casually. My art is and always has been an important tool on my way back to myself. This accident destroyed so much and the pain does not make my situation easier. However the painting makes me realize that even today I can draw astonishing pictures with my left arm. Not in my wildest dreams I would have imagined this while I was lying motionless in intensive care.*
Do you have any final words, you would like to direct to the readership?
I’d like to cordially thank you that I’ve got the chance to speak in your blog about my concern. It’s important that the stigma of the medical plant cannabis finally disappears. Politically those proceedings will need another couple of years. Still I’m sure that cannabis will find it’s place in medicine again. Meanwhile even the WHO has confirmed that cannabis is of medical value. The scientific proof is convincing. The evolution of the cannabis industry like in California does not bode well though. The legal ways are overregulated which is why the prices are rising. Meanwhile many people have tasted blood and want to become rich with the ‚green gold‘. In any case I will keep on fighting for cannabis to be given back to the people. It would be an affordable medicine that literally grows like weeds in the garden. It’s condemnable to abuse it as expensive drug and make profit out of patients. With this in mind: Legalize it, gosh darn it! Everything else is barbarous!*
* Originally the answers are German. Those have been translated to English in the most literal way possible.
- THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is not only the main- but also psychoactive component of hemp.¹
- CBD (Cannabidiol) is a just barely psychoactive cannabinoid and therefor is not subject to the narcotics law. Among others it acts antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anxiety-resolving and antiemetic.¹
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- Franziska Quadri: franziskaquadri.ch; Instagram: franzi_quadri
- Medical Cannabis Verein Schweiz: medcan.ch; Facebook: medcan.schweiz
Further pain related articles:
¹ see German source: Raab, Angela (2017): Weißbuch Cannabis; Indikationen, Wirkungen, Risiken, Nebenwirkungen
² More about THC and CBD see glossary.