Spenser Reilly: Beating Colitis with Cannabis
MMJ Patient: Spenser Reilly, Castaic, CA
My name is Spenser Reilly and I live in Castaic, CA and come from a very large family. I am currently planning on going back to school to complete my Associate’s Degree and have a certification for completing the Interpreter’s Training Program. I hope to be able to start a family with my wife, Rachel, in the near future.
What medical condition(s) have you been struggling with?
I suffer from Ulcerative Colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease that is located in the colon (large intestine). Crohn’s disease is similar to ulcerative colitis, but it differs in that it can effect the entire digestive tract. Although this is not one of the “sexy” diseases, there are many people suffer from IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and have their lives gravely impacted by the news of their diagnoses. It causes inflammation, which can lead to terrible stomach cramps and a bleeding colon. Fun fact about the pain that it causes: One of the writers for the movie “Alien” contributes the alien coming out of the chest idea to the pain that he was suffering due to Crohn’s disease.
There is a relatively low amount of research that has been done on the subject, so the medical community is continually adopting new ideas and treatments, often times leaving patients with a laundry list of prescribed drugs in order to regulate symptoms and side effects. My colitis wreaked more havoc than I could have ever given it credit; with rampant inflammation in my descending colon and my immune system trying to fight an enemy that wasn’t there, the effects of the disease spread first to my liver, and then to my pancreas. I suffered from autoimmune hepatitis as a result of a reaction to medication. In 2013, I was diagnosed with sclerosing cholangitis, which refers to the bile ducts narrowing as a result, in my case, of inflammation.
There is a relatively low amount of research that has been done on the subject, so the medical community is continually adopting new ideas and treatments, often times leaving patients with a laundry list of prescribed drugs in order to regulate symptoms and side effects.
How long have you been experiencing your medical condition?
I was diagnosed in September of 2004 and suffered throughout my high school years and most of college. The onset of other conditions came and went as my condition improved or worsened. The worst shape I’ve ever been in was about two years ago when I was hospitalized with pancreatitis three times within a year and weighed 131 pounds.
What do you believe caused this medical condition?
Research has yet to discover what exactly triggers inflammatory bowel disease, but in many instances they relate it to stress or a condition that results from an infection in the body.
What type of medications have you been taking that were prescribed to you by your doctor?
When I was first diagnosed, I had no idea what my body was getting into and I don’t think I had time to mentally prepare for the battery of medications that was going to commence upon my exiting the recovery room. My doctor first prescribed 5-asa drugs. There are a variety of them out there, and I think by the time I was done taking them, I had tried four different versions of it and none of them had worked. I was taking 4×4 daily and to no avail; my gut did not improve. As my condition worsened and showed no sign of letting up, my doctor thought it best to try the next line of defense to try to knock down the flare by introducing steroids.
Long term steroid use can lead to a variety of bone and joint problems and although they worked well, cessation only prompted a larger flare and my condition worsened still. The emotional/mood aspect of the steroids wasn’t noticeable until I started my second round at a later time and it completely changed my personality and I fell into a deep depression. When steroids were no longer an option, we ventured into the immunosuppressant world. Although my time with them was short, the experience of my health declining so rapidly really helped shift my focus and realize that I was not well and that my life was hanging in the balance of prescribed drugs and a very limited lifestyle. The drugs caused my liver enzymes to spike into the thousands. My body burned with itching sensations and my eyes became jaundice. I was extremely sick and their “medication” was only making me sicker.
What side effects did you experience from the medication prescribed by your doctor?
The side effects from the medications I had to take were both mental and physical. Half the medications I was taking would cause diarrhea, which is the main symptom I was trying to fight. The steroids caused weight gain in my face, depression, and although they improved health at the time of application, as soon as I stopped taking them, my condition worsened drastically. I was diagnosed with auto immune hepatitis via a liver biopsy, which my doctor continues to say wasn’t a result of the immunosuppressants, but when I stopped taking the medication, my levels dropped, so I don’t think he’s telling me the truth. I guess that’s why they call it ‘practicing’ medicine. When I returned to the 5-asa, simply because of the limited side effects, my body had been beaten and torn up from the inside out and my bile ducts began to express inflammation. An ERCP (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) diagnosed me with sclerosing cholangitis, which I believe is a direct consequence of the medications that I took.
What type of alternative medicine have you tried aside from your doctor’s recommendation?
In a world of dietary experts and digestive aficionados, there have been several recommendations and combinations of diets, herbs, exercise, acupuncture, massage, and oils, you name it; I’m sure I’ve tried them all. I think the most frustrating part of having a disease that limits your ability to eat is that when people see that you not eating, they don’t see all the tumult and destruction happening in your bowels. I know everyone’s thoughts came from the right place, but I am a firm believer that the patient knows what works best and can determine their own success. My doctor was shocked to learn that I had not been taking my prescribed drugs after my scope. He came in with his chest puffed up, saying how good my colon looked and how my treatments were obviously successful and I watched his jaw drop to the floor and his satisfaction turn to disdain as I informed him that I had been treating myself with cannabis instead of taking the medication he’d prescribed me and noting that I was in the best health I’d ever been in my lifetime.
My doctor was shocked to learn that I had not been taking my prescribed drugs after my scope. He came in with his chest puffed up, saying how good my colon looked and how my treatments were obviously successful and I watched his jaw drop to the floor and his satisfaction turn to disdain as I informed him that I had been treating myself with cannabis instead of taking the medication he’d prescribed me and noting that I was in the best health I’d ever been in my lifetime.
How long have you been using the alternative medicine?
I have been using cannabis now for over two years. I eat an edible before I go to sleep and I smoke to help stimulate appetite. I had occasionally used it before, but was not yet convinced it was medicinal. Now, having seen the effects I believe this to be astoundingly true.
How have you felt since you started using the alternative medicine compared to that of your prescribed medications?
While being treated under prescribed medications, it was normal for me to use the bathroom 25 times a day and have blood in every single one of those movements. It wasn’t uncommon for me to wake up 4-5 times a night to sit on the toilet for 30 minutes cramped out of my mind trying not to wake up family members sleeping in the rooms next to me. I’m going to be completely honest, I had given up, there was no hope for me, nothing was going to work, and I was going to die young and sick. I ate a chocolate bar edible with the hopes of feeling better the next morning, maybe sleeping through the night, but what I woke up to was a complete awe-inspiring moment. Not only had a slept through the entire night, but I had only woken up once to pass a single formed bowel movement. As graphic as that might be, it was completely shocking to me! For 10 years, I had never experienced a pain free trip to the bathroom… and after a single edible, this changed overnight. I immediately went out and purchased more and have been succeeding with treatment ever since. I feel like myself again, before I was sick.
For 10 years, I had never experienced a pain free trip to the bathroom… and after a single edible, this changed overnight.
Do you think you will continue with using alternative medicine?
Until the day I die. It isn’t a debate for me anymore, I’m an example. You can’t ever convince me otherwise because I am living, breathing proof. I had written off my life, given up, and closed the door on my future; Cannabis provided a key to a new door and as I opened it, I knew it was the right one for me.