When Stefan Borst-Censullo dislocated his shoulder in the spring of 2014, his doctor didn’t entertain the possibility of a medical marijuana prescription for the pain.
Instead, Borst-Censullo was prescribed a “giant bottle” of Tylenol-Codeine No. 3 (commonly known as T3s), to be refilled “as many times” as needed.
The Long Beach, CA resident’s reaction to the oft-prescribed opiate was “immediately negative.” In the interest of “taking the doctor seriously”, he managed to stay on the powerful painkillers for three weeks before their impact on his day-to-day life became too overwhelming.
“Even that small dose of just about the lowest level of opioids you can get...made me sick to the point of not being functional for work or exercise,” said Borst-Censullo, a long-time athlete who was working for a local politician at the time of his injury – incurred when he fell off a balcony while campaigning.
“It’s so powerful on the pain relief side, and the doctors are so focused on addressing that individual symptom, that they have blinders to the rest of your life and what’s necessary to keep you functional. The things that made really able to enjoy life were being slowly taken away.”
Along with generally “feeling like garbage” and as though he were “in a haze” in the short-term, Borst-Censullo grew increasingly anxious about the effects the T3s might have on his long-term wellbeing. More specifically, the powerful drug’s tendency to “mask” the pain made him fear he would cause further injury to himself.
“The T3s made it easier to do things I wasn’t physically ready for. I was pushing myself to a point where it wasn’t recommended in physical therapy because it masked the pain,” said Borst-Censullo. “I [worried] I’d be at risk for an even more significant chronic injury.”
Enter cannabis. With his own doctor a dead-end, Borst-Censullo turned elsewhere for the largest quantity of “whatever low-THC flower” he could get his hands on. With the market for high-CBD products relatively dry, it was a challenge at first to determine a dosage that wouldn’t negatively impact his work.
Once he managed to figure it out, however, the difference in his pain management and quality of life was immediate and dramatic.
“What I liked about it was that it provided me a moderate amount of pain relief... but what it was really good for was helping with range of motion,” said Borst-Censullo.
“Physical therapy became a little easier and, unlike with the T3s, [cannabis] didn’t hide the injury so I wasn’t being tempted to go past my limit. When you’re dealing with a shoulder injury, in particular, it’s a long and arduous process to fix.”
Given North America's growing opioid epidemic, it's a shame more doctors aren’t willing to prescribe medical marijuana, said Borst-Censullo. That said, he understands why this is the case for the time being.
“It’s a conservative profession,” he said simply. “What’s really funny is that so many doctors talk about having no idea how to recommend cannabis, how they’re afraid to do that because even if there was clarity in terms of their licensing standards, they just have no idea how to dose it correctly.
“But when it comes to opioids, they don’t seem to care. They wrote me this giant prescription for more than I needed of these T3s and I don’t even think it was necessary.”
Whether medical professionals like it or not, the movement toward using cannabis for pain relief (along with a range of other ailments) is going full speed ahead. This is particularly true in light of the dramatic changes coming to American healthcare, said Borst-Censullo.
“When people lose access to good health insurance, they have to rely on more affordable and sustainable types of medicine, and cannabis fits that bill for a lot of people,” he said. “In a time of uncertainty when it comes to people’s access to adequate healthcare, that could mean more growth for [this movement.]”
Banner image: Stefan Borst-Censullo