In this week’s podcast, Tabitha talks Sophia — a person currently in recovery — about medical use of cannabis in recovery from anorexia.
Hello there, welcome to this weeks podcast. This week we are talking about medical marijuana/cannabis for use in recovery from restrictive eating disorders such as anorexia. I am talking to lady in the UK her name is Sophia. Sophia is going to talk us through her recovery story and also explain how using cannabis actually helped her in recovery, so before, I don’t know how you feel one way or the other, it probably depends on where you live as to your perception of cannabis but put that aside and let’s start by listening with an open mind to hear what Sophia has to say. Here’s Sophia:
Sophia: Yeah, I got in touch with you because I wanted to share something that maybe other people hadn’t come across yet, that might be helpful for them. I always felt like the information that I had on anorexia or eating disorders in general from the media, from people in my life like doctors. People that were supposedly experts didn’t really fit with what I was experiencing so I have never, it’s not really part of my personality to particularly care about fashion or being really thin, or the way I look particularly. Like I have cared about those things to what I call normal degree.
And so a lot of the advice or information I was coming across was very much based on I must have body dysmorphia if I have anorexia and I must be comparing myself to the way other girls look and that sort of driving the illness where as that did not feel like the case for me at all. When I was as an adult trying to work out what the expression of my illness was, I did kind of remember that it had started when I was about 11 and that wasn’t diet based at all. Interestingly all of the symptoms of anorexia were present just present in a really different way. So I did compare myself to other people but I compared myself to specifically younger girls than myself and that was image that was held up in my mind all the time, it would just be younger versions, younger bodies. I find it interesting how the same mechanisms can support the illness and just fit in to the context that you’re in. So that kind of always showed me that it was something deeper was going on. Something neurobiological I guess. But then the thoughts or feelings would just be built on top of to support whatever was going on.
But actually that didn’t last very long because I wasn’t in control of what I was eating so the only way that I could be anorexic was to eat less and so for a long extended period of time that just wasn’t going to work with a growing body, luckily because I had no help at the time. Then I just spontaneously recovered but obviously not fully fully fully for a long time to the point where I completely forgot about that happening and then it was as an adult, quite a traumatic experience in my life and it was all just very bizarre to me how all of this just was the first coping mechanism that my body had. And it seem like out of nowhere.
So I was in a relationship with someone that I met when I was 18 and we were together for about 8 years in total and we got engaged after 7 years and I mean I’m not going to go into too much detail but for whatever reason things weren’t going that well for him at the time, but this wasn’t something that he was particularly expressing to me. I can see that there was a lot of factors getting the way, like when you are planning a wedding, your probably supposed to be the happiest, whatever, that you’ve ever been and a number of factors. We did get married and he left me about a month after we got married and it was for me, completely out of the blue as far as I was concerned I had just married the person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and I had an amazing wedding day.
So I don’t think I knew how to process the information at all and I didn’t tell anyone, I told one person, I didn’t tell anyone for weeks because I was waiting for him to change his mind. And I remember little things, I can’t remember that much actually about it, I think my brain shut down. But I went to work every single day, I was a secondary school teacher. I remember people saying ‘When are you writing the thank you letters?’ I was like ‘Oh…soon’ That wasn’t great and look back on it, I think what my brain said I was doing was just eating the things that I wanted to eat. Now that I was single I could choose exactly how I ate. So it turned into something that was semi orthorexic but it felt like I was choosing these things, like it was something positive that I could do and I think that probably like a lot of people, that I had fallen into a pattern, we had been together for all of my adult life, of negotiating what we wanted to eat for dinner every night and just sort of falling into a pattern of if I was by myself, not really making an effort, or eating less or using it as a time to quote unquote eat more healthily.
So clearly this pattern developed and I hadn’t really noticed so when it came to me needing to feed myself, for myself, by myself, I don’t think I really knew what the hell I was doing actually. Recently I came across an old diary that I had, a planner not a dear diary kind of diary and I saw a shopping list and it was just so weird to see, just the othorexia was, yeah, it was very clean and I think that was at the height of it’s trend then. But I think that was actually an eating disorder using whatever it had at the time, I don’t know, I think it was using the information it had at the time and that actually it just got worse and that’s really common for people, that didn’t last long at all. So just to kind of speed through that, again I had this sense of not having a clarity of what I was doing, just sort of acting and so there would be snippets, moments of looking in my shopping basket and being, oh that’s really odd, that’s really odd stuff to by and it’s just not enough for a person. There’s no way that I’d look at that shopping basket if it was anyone else’s and think that that was normal.
So there was this detachment going on, none of this driven by I want to look xyz. It was more like it was occurring to me as it was happening. But after a while it was becoming more and more obvious and actually this kind of, I take a constructionist view of eating disorders, so I don’t really think, I agree with some of what you’ve said before it’s possibly all based on restriction on some level and then kind of dips and dives around that, it might look like a restrict/purge, sorry not a restrict/purge, it might take on so many different guises and it’s just going to be expressed through a person depending on what their context is. So that’s something I really saw for myself and I think after a while I couldn’t to restrict in the way that I was and exercise basically kind of became the main thing. And who knows, maybe that’s because I felt I needed to eat more and that was some way that I could eat more.
But that became my main way of restricting and again it’s like it was already happening, I just had what I could only describe as ants in my pants which might have been circulating cortisol, it might have been the migration response that you talk about, but it then, it’s almost like I then had to find some sort of justification for this, the ants in my pantsness so I would do things, I’d sign up to a marathon so that I had some kind of way of not needing to see that I wasn’t in any kind of control at all. This was happening to my body primarily. I’ll speed up, so essentially I ended up in this horrible cycle, the real cycle of expending far too much energy and needing to eat a lot more so this would be where it would maybe considered by someone as exercise bulimia or something, it depends what way around you look at it.
But that was a major cycle and I think the reason that I had to wake up from that was that I got injured, luckily and then the repercussions of me being injured were just emotionally huge and I was smoking through all of this because that was also something that I was doing probably to get through the hunger and then just went mad when I was injured and training for a marathon so the cognitive dissonance was huge, there was no way I can pretend that I’m being healthy at all.
T: That’s actually something that many of us have, like ‘Oh I’m doing this for health reasons’ and then you’re also at the same time that could never be considered as healthy.
S: I know and to follow running blogs or whatever I was doing just did not work so that’s when I kind of predecided that I had to take hold of this, whatever was happening. So my recovery was quite long and drawn out and I wanted full control over it. It probably sounds a bit unusual, like where was anyone in my life at this time, but like a lot of people, I isolated, I started to push people away and I have always been quite good at pretending everything is fine and also I think because of the break up that people expect you to lose a bit of weigh. It did get to the point, and also because I was running marathons and I just made it sound like I was choosing to all these things. But so my recovery was quite self directed as well.
One of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you was because something that particularly helped me in recovery was use of CBD so that’s Cannabidiol and smoking cannabis. Again, I managed to stop smoking cigarettes which was great, and there are a number of ways that one can vape or smoke cannabis without using nicotine. But the reason that I wanted to bring these things up is just in case they help anyone else. Now there was no way that I was going near weed in general when I was unwell and in the early stages of recovery because, munchies. Which is also one of the reasons why I would like to take a little bit more of a role in promoting it’s use in anorexia recovery because I think there are really really useful aspects to it and I know it’s legal in a lot of states in America and you probably can get hold of it for anorexia. I’m not sure.
T: I think that you can on a medical marijuana card. I also think that for, because we have I know there are lots of people who listen to this in the UK, lots of US. I imagine that lots of people in the UK are like what the hell, they are talking about cannabis, that’s illegal. And I’d just like to remind the people in the UK that in many states in America, including the state that I’m in, Colorado, cannabis is legal. It’s legal for both recreation and medical use.
S: Yes and it’s puts us in a really funny position. I’m speaking about it from a country where it’s still illegal and it’s partly why I wanted to speak about it, because I wanted to bring it in to more public awareness.
T: The problem with it when it’s illegal is, if it was like alcohol, if you’re buying it illegally, you don’t really know what you’re getting, it would be like if you’re buying alcohol illegally and it just all came in a brown bag and it could be vodka, it could be beer, you wouldn’t know. There are so many different strains of cannabis that if you go into a shop here that sells cannabis, there is somebody there to greet you that is trained and you can tell them what you need, what your problems are and they will select a strain specifically for that problem. So if you said to somebody, I need help with anxiety, I need help with appetite, they would actually direct you as to the exact strain that is going to help with those things. So you’re not just going in blind and taking absolutely anything because there are so many different strains of cannabis and they all have different effects.
S: Exactly, and so I hope that I’m also not preaching to the choir. I’m probably preaching to quite a mixed crowd at the moment.
T: I mean, I live in Colorado so (laughs) I’m relatively educated in the medical uses of cannabis. But I imagine that many people listening will be like ‘Wait a minute, they are talking about drugs’ (laughs)
S: Yes and that really is the point that it’s not regulated in the UK but what people don’t know is that ratios of Cannabidiol and what’s called THC which is the psychoactive component so if you’re unsure about any of this, I recommend that you do some research on CBD oil and that means that you won’t be ingesting any psychoactive component but I would like to say at this point that from personal experience when I was ready, it has been definitely the TCH that’s been particularly important in my recovery because it basically inhibits a lot of, I guess it inhibits, it attaches to what are called CB1 receptors and it basically presses pause on your habitual thoughts. It’s how I describe it in a nutshell.
So if you are almost at the mercy of habitual thoughts and even if you are really good at recognising them and dropping them, from through recovery it doesn’t mean that you are perfect at seeing these things, of course you wouldn’t be because you are using the same head
T: Yes, I have a client actually who, she lives in Colorado she has been prescribed medical marijuana for anxiety and she says that when she takes she can, it’s like she can clearly see her eating disorder thoughts and dismiss them. Which is incredible.
S: They seem preposterous as well.
T: That’s what she said, it just seems absolutely preposterous, these thoughts in the same way that they do to the outside world, other people who are not in our heads freaking out of the possibility of putting butter on a piece of toast. She said it just, when she takes her medication she can see those thoughts and see how stupid they are and because she can see how stupid they are, she can laugh at them and do what she needs to do. But you know, so the relevance here is because those there is still some stigma about this type of medication.
S: Yeah, exactly we are just in a little bit of a funny passage of time around it and of course a lot of people that have eating disorders might also struggle with anxiety and it’s not going to be helpful to think that you’re doing something bad, or doing something that’s illegal or taking some sort of risk, it will quite possibly interfere with some of the benefits. So there’s that. On the other hand one benefit that I can find from sort of doing this kind of thing now is also that something I think the biggest thing that I’ve learnt in recover from an eating disorder is that I have to put my self first in a lot of ways especially when it comes to what information am I taking in from outside sources, who am I listening to, what feels intuitively like the right information and what doesn’t and I have to say, and I say this, I don’t know, laughingly a little bit, the majority of the information that I take in from the outside world feels like absolute shite most of the time.
So navigating through that has been an exercise in becoming stronger and braver and part of that for me was doing something like using medicinal marijuana because I’ve decided to put myself first as opposed to what everyone else thinks necessarily.
T: I think that that’s a really important message for anyone about any aspect of recovery really. It doesn’t matter what other people are recommending, or not recommending. You know yourself and if you know that something is going to help you recover or do what you need to do in order to recover then you need to be able to say to yourself, this is what I’m doing for me. It doesn’t across the road disagrees with it.
S: Yes and I mean there are countless examples of where I’ve heard precisely the wrong thing and I know that all your listeners will have countless examples of where they’ve heard the wrong things. One that I’ll just mention is that when I did, finally I went into CBT briefly and I actually dropped out which I’m quite happy about now, because of this particular reason, it was NHS funded and the therapist who claimed to be an expert in eating disorders said that a bit of restriction was healthy. And I think that I didn’t walk out immediately but I did argue with her, I said ‘Well actually, what I’ve written on my list of goals is to be completely free of restriction’ and she said had to that ‘Err you know a bit of restriction is healthy’ and I was no no no wrong crowd.
T: That is not what you say to someone with a restrictive eating disorder.
S: No. And that’s just one tiny weeny example. So yeah, I encourage anyone to do anything that they think is going to help them to build their resources and encourage.
T: Just quickly, how are you doing now?
S: Oh I meant to look at, I would say, I’m very much still in recovery. It feels to me as if to be recovered, it feels like that definitely I’m aiming for and I don’t think that’s too far in my future. The only reason that I say that I’m in recovery is because, because of generally the work that I still put in to releasing thoughts and it’s mainly around new information that comes in. There isn’t much old information that hangs around or influences what I do. Nothing influences what I do, that’s full stop. i.e eat on a pretty much, you know, nothing influences my behaviour, but new information coming in has to go through a bit more of a process before I decide whether it stays. So I’m not just roaming around the world, like someone who hasn’t had an eating disorder essentially. Yes. Definitely. Thanks.
T: Huge thank you to Sophia and being brave actually to talk about something that is a bit controversial and a lot of people don’t agree with for various reasons. But I’d like to just look at it as this is something that helped her. It’s something that I have also known to help in recovery that doesn’t mean that it’s going to help everybody in recovery but it’s something that is considerable. Sophia emailed me after the show, after we talked and she asked me to say she been quite conservative when she was speaking about where she was now. So she would love me read the following and I’m going to read that now:
I say I’m still in recovery but that’s only because I know the insidious nature of the disease and I want to make sure I’ve got the upper hand in all situations. That said, here are some of the things that I can do and do do on a regular basis: rest, go out for dinner with friends, have a job, eat cheese sandwiches, forget that I’m in recovery, sleep in, change plans on a whim, get food on the fly, date, read books, sit down.
Which I think is pretty wonderful isn’t it? I think that many of you listening will listen to that and realise that she’s doing pretty well.
So what are your thoughts on CBD or CBD oil, cannabis? Any of those above products or medications for use on anorexia? I know it will depend on where you live as to whether you can even use that as a tool or a medication. But the world is changes and especially in America. More and more states are legalising cannabis for medical and recreational use as well.
This is something that I have tried personally, I live in Colorado and cannabis became legal here about 5 years ago for recreational use. It’s been legal for medicinal use for some while before that, and of course before it became legal, there is all the fears and all the worries and all you’re going to have is stoned people lying on the streets. None of that happened, in fact I actually think I noticed people using cannabis in general, in public way less than I did before it was legal which I think is one of the arguments for legalising it and I’m one of these sad people that listens to politic shows and I was listening to, I think it was Any Questions, Any Answers for the BBC and they were talking about legalising cannabis for medicinal use in the UK and then they went on to the discussion of legalising for recreational use and there was somebody, I can’t remember who the speaker was but she was saying, I’ve been a teacher and I’ve seen the affects, I’ve seen students coming into lessons having used drugs and sitting there and just gazing into the distance and they are ruining their futures. And I think that that’s one of the really typical fear based arguments as to why cannabis shouldn’t be legal.
But that’s not a problem with cannabis, that a problem with people using drugs before they go to school. (laughs) Because that happens with alcohol as well and alcohol is legal. And so if somebody wants to take drugs and become intoxicated before they go to school they are going to do that whether it’s legal or not for them to do so. So I think we’ve got to be very careful about mixing these arguments up and actually looking, what if there are problems with legalising cannabis and what are those problems that are specific to that, rather than what are the problems with rebel children? Because that is not what the actual question is.
Anyway so I have used cannabis, I have no desire to use it recreationally so I don’t. I have these little things called chill pills and they’re actually THC indica and they are tiny, I think it’s such a small amount that most people it wouldn’t even know it would have happened, but I’m such a lightweight and so I actually only have these tiny chill pills and I take about ¼ of one a couple of times a year (laughs), really very rarely because I’m not actually a person who has particularly high anxiety or anything but there are some times when my mind is racing and I really can’t get my mind to settle and I know I want to get to sleep and these things will just help me recognise worry thoughts and not care about them as much and recognise them for how silly they are. It also makes my body nice and heavy and sleepy.
So really really rare that I take one of those things but if I do, it’s just actually to help me sleep. Would it occur to me to just take one for fun? No. That’s I think one of the weird things about cannabis, alcohol I do drink recreationally, it’s a different feeling. Cannabis just makes me want to go to sleep and so it wouldn’t occur to me to use it recreationally anyway. So I think that that argument for recreational and medicinal it’s just really, you know what just let people decide for themselves. Ultimately they are going to anyway because you can get hold of it even when it’s illegal, you just don’t know what you’re getting and it’s a lot less controlled and you’re much less able to specialise use.
So one of the, as I mentioned in the podcast, one of the great things about the really educated people that work in cannabis stores in Colorado is that one can go in and say I have this that and the other, I have a bad back, anxiety, I knew one lady who had really bad GERD, acid reflux and she went into a cannabis store and they found a strain that would specifically help her with that and it did. And they can also make it so it’s non psychoactive or whatever and low THC so you’re really actually just benefiting from the lack of pain rather than feeling out of it.
There is so much that can be done, it’s such a pliable medicine. And such a natural medicine as well so those are my thoughts and I know that not everybody will agree, I just hope that we can take a really sensible, non fear based look at this and would I have used cannabis when I was recovering from anorexia had it been available to me because it wasn’t, it wasn’t legal when I was in recovery. My healthy brain answer to that question is it would have been a game changer for me, I can think back to what my anorexia brain would have thought about that and I think I would have been really scared about using it and I probably would have been resistant to using it because I would have been scared of the munchies, I would have been scared it would increase my appetite. I would probably also have been scared that it would have allowed me to rest.
Those were things that my eating disorder were afraid of so there is a little bit of a problem there with getting people with anorexia even if they have been prescribed medicinal marijuana, getting them to actually use it and I know from myself I would have certainly been resistant to using it in the same way I would have been resistant to really using anything that would help my recovery especially when I was in recovery but not really in recovery if you know what I mean. When I was in recovery and really in recovery, I think I would have really benefited from it and I think it would have been a game changer and I think it would helped massively.
So I would love to hear from anybody’s thoughts on this. Good or bad, I would like to open a discussion on the more controversial aspects of eating disorder recovery. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can tweet at me @love_fat_ thanks for listening, cheers and until next time cheers and cheerio.