Todd Ball was “pretty much a zombie” for an entire decade.
In 2005, the Michigan native was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a chronic pain condition characterized by swelling, tenderness and a burning sensation in the extremities.
Doctors prescribed him Vicodin for the pain. Then methadone. Then morphine.
The list goes on – as did the side effects.
“Every time I took the pills I would be nodding on and off. There would be times where I would literally fall asleep as I was eating food... I had stomach pains, sweats, mood changes, depression; it was an awful huge list – for 10 years,” said Ball, 43, who also developed irritable bowel syndrome while on opioids.
“When you’re on opiates, you almost don’t care. You just give up. I wasn’t myself.”
As a single father, Ball came to realize that not being himself simply wasn’t an option – so, he turned to cannabis.
Ball first used the plant to help wean himself off pharmaceuticals. It turned into a full-time stand-in for his opioid cocktail. As he puts it: “so much has changed.”
“I’m now off all my pain meds. The doctor isn’t sure if my RSD is in remission or the cannabis is just working that well,” Bell told Civilized. “I can put a little bit of cannabis oil into my system and not have to worry about it until night-time.
“It takes the pain away a lot quicker and with fewer side effects [than the opioids.] I don’t feel sick 30 minutes later, I’m not losing all the weight I was losing on the pills from not eating, and I don’t feel like a zombie anymore.”
Ball added that while cannabis doesn’t necessarily produce the same “superhuman power strength” characteristic of opioids, he feels far more in control of his pain and his body nowadays.
“When you’re on opiates, you sometimes have this superhuman feeling like you’re invincible, and of course cannabis isn’t going to replace that. It’s just going to replace the side effects and do what it needs to do,” said Ball. “On days when I’m not in a lot of pain, it gives me relief... On really bad days, it helps take my mind off the pain.
“Opioids are just a big Band-Aid... Your body’s not numb [on cannabis].”
One of the best ‘side effects’ of Ball’s new regimen, however? His 10-year-old son “says he has his dad back.”
“It was very hard [being on opioids] as a single parent, because if something were to happen to me, it would affect my son,” said Ball. “Cannabis has changed everything.”
His is an experience Ball wishes more people – specifically, those in political and medical spheres – would try to understand.
Ball is currently living in Ohio, where newly passed and extremely strict medical marijuana legislation presents numerous obstacles for patients like him. Ohio also happens to be one of the hardest hit states in the country’s opioid epidemic.
“[Legislators] make it so difficult to access marijuana.... but our morgues are so full that they have to rent out iceboxes to put bodies in,” said Ball.
“It just makes me sick that people would rather push pills on us when... it’s [well-known] that cannabis can help.”
When asked what he’d say to Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who infamously deemed marijuana only “slightly less awful” than heroin and recently asked Congress to undo federal medical marijuana protections – Ball doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s an amazing plant... It’s given me my life back. Don’t take that from me.”
Read more in our 'Life After Opioids' series: