Even now, when I tell people I've been giving vaping a go they look at me strangely. "I didn't know you smoked," they say.
"You don't know what's in those things," they say.
When I add that I have been using a vaping device (yes, an e-cig if you want to give it its common name) to ingest CBD (cannabis oil) the eyebrows that were already raised have almost hit the ceiling.
"But... but.... do you get high?"
"Is that not illegal?"
"Do you get that on prescription?"
"How do you know what you're getting?"
To be perfectly honest, they are the same questions I have asked myself and the honest truth is no, I would not be vaping if I didn't see it as a chance to help improve my health and help me live with the chronic pain that plagues my life - pain which causes me rely on opioid pain medication such as Tramadol just to make it through the day.
No, I have never smoked before. Not so much as a quick puff behind the bike sheds or the end of a joint passed around at a student party. I have been resolutely anti-smoking since I can remember.
So this is not a natural move for me - but.... never say never.
In April 2016, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia - it's a poorly understood condition which causes, among other things, chronic pain, muscle weakness, fatigue and brain fog. Other symptoms can include nausea, IBS, numbness in the extremities, restless legs (and arms, in my case!) and much much more.
- On my worst days, I can sleep for 18 hours and still feel tired.
- When I walk, I can lose my balance or feel as though I've poor control of my legs. I use a stick when I need to.
- I'm unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time.
- Walking up and downstairs can be excruciating.
- My hands can hurt so much that I can't even wear my wedding ring - as it feels too heavy. I cannot write - holding a pen hurts and my handwriting becomes (even more) of a scrawl.
- Clothes can hurt.
- It can be difficult - if not impossible - to speak coherent sentences. For me, the brain fog means words get stuck in my head. I can know what I want to say but my mouth simply won't say them. I probably appear drunk, or spaced out. It's embarrassing.
In short, it's horrible. There is no cure. There are periods of remission - or when I'm not in a flare and things are fairly manageable. I enjoyed a pretty long period of remission from January through to May of this year and then - boom - this summer has kicked my ass. Thoroughly.
To the point where my daily meds just take the edge off - but my options for prescription medications are limited.
So I've tried different things. I take strong Magnesium supplements. Vitamin B6. Vitamin B12. Vitamin D. Black Cohosh. Calcium.
In June, during a particular violent flare episode I was told about CBD drops. I bought them (perfectly legally) in Holland and Barrett - and while they were effective - they taste like death. Like actual death. And with nausea as one of my flaring symptoms, it became a struggle to keep them down.
So I was told about vaping - and ingesting the oil this way.
Here are a few keys points about it
- The industry is very tightly regulated to ensure that CBD oil is what it says it is and does what it says it will.
- There is no THC (the "fun" and illegal element of cannabis) in CBD oil. This is a medicinal treatment not a risk to your health. Having a history of depression and anxiety, I would not have tried anything wth THC which can have a negative effect on your mood.
- I'll say it again - it's 100% LEGAL AND REGULATED.
- There is no nicotine in CBD oil - but make sure you are buying actual CBD oil and not marijuana flavoured e-liquid from other suppliers! The two are not the same.
- CBD oil is not addictive.
- There is a body of evidence which shows CBD oil is effective in the treatment of chronic pain/ seizures.
Northern Ireland based company Ziggicig offered me the chance to try vaping with CBD oil - from the company Canavape - in return for my honest review of how I found the products. Because this is a health issues I must say this is *my* experience and what I will write below is 100% honest - but please bear in mind that no two people are the same and, needless to say, I'm not a medical professional.
I was given an Aspire e-cig and some Blue Skante flavoured oil (OMG, even the fact that the oil did not taste like DEATH was a bonus. It has a fruity taste with a slight hint of mint).
As I haven't smoked before, I did my fair bit of not inhaling properly, spluttering, wondering what I was doing over the first couple of days.
Yes, I noticed that if I used the vape the burning pain I feel in my arms and legs would subside for a bit. As it would with the drops. This was a good thing.
The big test came during the week when my body decided to uber flare. I could not sleep due to the pain I was in. My limbs were restless with shooting pains and jumpy legs, electric shock type pains in my arms and all over aching.
Normally, with such a strong flare, I would reach for a top up dose of 100mgs of Tramadol (And I'm already taking 300mgs a day... so the top up brings up to the very top of the safe daily limit for this very strong drug).
But I decided to see if the CBD oil would help first. It was 3 in the morning. I was exhausted and emotional. I started to vape. Within half an hour, and without having to top up with strong opioids, my limbs had settled and my pain had reduced which allowed me to be able to get some much needed sleep.
This was a DEFINITE GOOD THING.
I have been able to mostly get on with my life this week. If I feel achey, I have started to vape. Perhaps it's the oil. Perhaps it's taking ten minutes out - but it has worked. I've been able to manage the pain in my hands so that I have been able to keep writing and meet my work commitments.
I'm not pain free - but I'm more how I was in January when I felt it was relatively under control than how I have been over the course of the last eight weeks.
Fibromyalgia is variable though - it relapses and remits. I can only explain how I feel in this short period of time and to get a full picture, I'd need to vape for at least a month to see how it helps with my hormonal patterns fluctuating. That said, I've enough faith in it to keep going for the month - and perhaps beyond.
Ziggicig have a number of retail outlets throughout Northern Ireland and their staff will be able to advise you on what is the best product to suit your needs.