“It feels like someone is pushing your eye out,” says Mike of Lakeville, Minnesota, on describing the pain he endures from cluster headaches. “Don’t worry, my condition isn’t contagious,” he jokes.
Mike is a husband, a father of two beautiful daughters and two dogs, and an avid runner. He has lived with vertigo off and on for most of his life, but it wasn’t until August 2016 that he started to experience excruciatingly painful cluster headaches and migraines. Once he was diagnosed, he spent most of the first four months confined to dark rooms, head on ice, with oxygen tanks ready at his side to help bring down the pain.
In the following months, Mike experienced cycles of pain so extreme and debilitating that he could no longer work or carry on with normal day-to-day functions. To treat the pain, Mike’s physician prescribed him Verapamil. Although the medication was very effective, he experienced low blood pressure and a low heart rate and it often left him feeling out of breath. Mike attempted to lower the doses he was taking, but the headaches would get worse each time. Looking for another option, his physician recommended he try Topamax—a ‘nasty, nasty’ drug as Mike describes it, “It’s almost like you’re on heroin walking around,” Mike says, “it really dumbs you down.”
Other prominent side effects from his medications included slurred speech, tingling throughout his entire body, fatigue and a foggy state of mind.
When Mike’s vertigo was at its worst, he decided to pursue self-medication. As an alternative to smoking—he didn’t care for the way it made his lungs feel or some of the other side effects—he began to make cannabis tea. When the tea helped, it would bring his pain and nausea, on a scale from 1 to 10, down from 8 to 4. “That’s the difference between being stuck in bed or being able to go out and cut the grass,” Mike explains.
The issue with making his own tea was that he was never quite sure what he was getting—what chemicals or fertilizers were used or what combinations of compounds were in the cannabis. Sometimes, he would have one cup and he would experience just the right amount of relief; other times, he would have one cup and would be over-medicated and confined to bed—the outcome he was trying to avoid in the first place.
Looking for more consistency and reliability in his pain management with the cluster headaches, Mike decided to pursue enrolling in the Minnesota medical cannabis program. In search of more information before making an appointment, Mike called LeafLine Labs. He remembers everyone he spoke to as helpful, professional, polite and kind, which gave him the confidence he needed to make his decision. He scheduled an initial consult with a pharmacist at LeafLine Labs.
Today, Mike’s pain generally ranges anywhere from 3 to 5, rather than 7 to 9. On his best days, medical cannabis helps to dull the pain from 2 to 3—which in Mike’s book is considered 0. With 3 on the pain scale, Mike can still do work around his home or spend time with his family, rather than being out of commission and unable to participate in his own life. The other benefit that Mike enjoys with the cannabis is the ability to sleep. When the headaches were at their peak he was sleeping 2 to 3 hours per night. He now regularly gets 8 hours. “The cannabis, it’s been huge. It’s just been huge,” Mike says, “It didn’t cure me or anything like that, but it suppresses the pain… Cannabis is one of my tools in this fight.”