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Big Pharma Meds Almost Sent Me to an Early Grave, While Pot Helped Ease My Disease

Crohn's disease and conditions like it have become big business for Big Pharma.

Photo Credit: Stanimir G.Stoev / Shutterstock.com


I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 10 years ago this August, and looking back those were some pretty horrific days. Within months of being diagnosed I was ready for my first (and hopefully only) surgery to remove over a foot of my diseased colon. At 18 years old I was getting an unintentional crash course on how the American healthcare system works, and the hell of being a human lab rat for corporate pharmaceuticals.

After almost a decade of taking and struggling to pay for Johnson & Johnson’s most profitable drug, Remicade—a drug that brought in $9 billion last year alone—I sought to find out more about this relatively new drug, which was first approved, only for use in treating patients with Crohn’s disease, by the FDA in 1998. Remicade would later be approved to treat seven more conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis. What I found was disappointing, but unfortunately, not all that unexpected in the American healthcare system.

After over a decade and a couple hundred thousand dollars later (scrambled together by me, my family, employers and the insurance companies that fought to throw me off their plans), I have learned that although it worked to an extent, the drug was likely sending me to an early grave while fueling record profits for the drug companies, doctors and hospitals I trusted with my health.

Not only that, likely alternative cures might be right under our noses, but are not being studied in earnest. Cannabis, a federally illegal drug I still risk arrest for purchasing and possessing, is showing signs of putting the disease into complete remission in foreign clinical trials. One-time treatments such as fecal transplants and parasitic worms are also showing promise, but have yet to catch on in favor of expensive pharmaceutical options designed for long-term use.

Because doctors believe Crohn’s disease can only ever be treated, not cured, very little research has been done on these alternative therapies and diet or lifestyle changes that could help treat or cure the illness. Crohn’s disease and conditions like it (both autoimmune and gastrointestinal) have been on the rise and have become really big business. Patients like me seeking alternative treatments are usually left to self-educate and pursue the treatments independent of their healthcare coverage. In the case of cannabis that means risking one's freedom for the sake of one's health.

Crohn’s Disease: A First World Affliction

The cause of  Crohn’s disease is unknown, although researchers believe genetics can predispose a person to getting it and environmental triggers may cause the disease to manifest itself. Most diagnoses are made in a person’s late teens or early 20s, although there has been a rise in pediatric diagnoses as well.

I was diagnosed at 18, and because of an adoption in the family, we had no way of knowing to look for it. Doctors told me the problem was my vegetarian diet and sent me to a nutritionist. I was given pills for acid reflux, which I didn’t have. I was given pills for stomach ulcers, which I didn’t have. I reluctantly had my first colonoscopy, and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in August 2004.

Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation primarily in specific parts of the intestines, but can affect any part of the digestive tract. A Crohn’s flareup is characterized by weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, severe abdominal pain and inflammation of the joints, eyes, skin and liver. Patients with Crohn’s disease are always at an elevated risk of developing colon cancer.

I had no idea at the time, but I was developing a pretty deadly blockage, which is by far the most horrific thing about having Crohn’s disease. When inflammation is severe and goes on too long, scar tissue develops inside the intestines creating blockages that, if left untreated, can eventually kill the patient. The blockage and surgery to remove it are excruciatingly painful. Even breathing hurts after the surgery.

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