Scleroderma and Medical Cannabis for the Chronically Unwell

Kim Tocker avatar

by Kim Tocker |

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Scleroderma and the Ordinary Girl

I feel strangely uncomfortable sharing my opinion in this particular column. I am conscious that there are many facets to the question of cannabis use, and differing opinions and ideas. There is much to say about its many benefits for the unwell and the questionable suppression of the treatment by some people in power.

Legislation and intricate technicalities on how the plant works and is used must be considered. There are also moral arguments for and against, together with much confusion about the difference between medicinal and recreational use. It is, therefore, a subject fraught with complications.

When I was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma, it was a relief to finally understand why I had been feeling so terrible. The doctors seemed to have many therapies to offer, most of which I took without question. I was the perfect patient.

However, as I wrote in a recent column, after years of taking opiate pain relief and steroids, I began to question what I was allowing to happen to my body. While these medications gave me some pain relief, I experienced distressing complications and side effects that actually worsened other aspects of my disease. The problem was that the medical profession had nothing else to offer me, other than a selection of synthetic chemical cocktails. All the while, my inflammation levels remained very high, as detected in my regular blood tests.

What if cannabis, a plant that has been used for thousands of years as an herbal medicine, could help me? A law-abiding citizen, with a rare complicated painful autoimmune disease? With thousands of anecdotal benefits and more recently, studies outlining the plant’s anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and anti-nausea properties, why on earth wouldn’t I give it a try?

I did some research and discovered that it’s not possible to overdose on cannabis, because it does not shut down the part of the brainstem that controls breathing and blood circulation — unlike opioids or alcohol. The very same opioids that are easily available on prescription and handed out like lollies from the doctors. And the very same alcohol that is freely and legally available to purchase and drink for fun by almost anyone, at any time, and as much as you like.

The thing is, the plant in question has been declared illegal to grow and use for medicinal purposes in many countries, including mine (New Zealand). Now, who on earth would want to put a stop to sick people accessing a plant that may be able to help them? I’m guessing those who would benefit from their own products footing the bill for the chronically unwell. I smell a rat — a morally-challenged rat.

Back in high school, we debated moral and ethical understanding using the “Heinz dilemma.” (You can read it here.)

Sadly, there are many similarities between Heinz’s quandary and those moral questions raised when considering whether to use medicinal cannabis. However, I remembered one thing very clearly when we were debating Heinz’s dilemma in class. It was the quiet boy whose mum had cancer.  

There was no question for him about whether it was OK or not to steal the medication. He had to live with the reality of his mother living a life of pain and sickness that he had to watch every day. I remember he looked everyone straight in the eyes and said he would steal the medication a million times if it meant his mother would be well, right before he ran out of the classroom in tears.

To use medicinal cannabis illegally or not? To decriminalize growing and using the plant for the chronically unwell and terminally ill? I wonder how many of the people who are making these decisions have had the experience of that boy in my class? Knowing the reality of a life filled with pain and suffering offers a unique experience that is a game-changer in the whole debate.

Perhaps a change is in the wind because believe me, it’s long overdue — just ask those of us who really know.


Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Sharon Centrone avatar

Sharon Centrone

Hi Kim,

I am a dispensary pharmacist in the US and one of my patients has Crest syndrome. I'm wondering how cannabis has helped your condition in particular.I'm hoping to bring her some relief as she has already had several amputations and has a considerable amount of pain. Thank you!

Lainey avatar


I am very interested in the reply as I was diagnosed with CREST in 2014. Was treated for RA and Lupus for 5 years before being properly diagnosed. I am 63 years young.
Also have asthma, Celiac and fibromyalgia. And on top of that, I am allergic to synthetic/chemical fragrance that causes my skin to dry out and split open. I get out and do as much as I can to keep myself active. I'm divorced and alone. Sister and her family are great. They understand when my pain is unbearable but can't understand why sometimes I just don't feel good. I understand that they just don't get it because they aren't experiencing what I feel. Isn't life fun?? LOL... yeah, got to have a sense of humor to survive this. Have been researching medical marijuana a lot. Even had a friend to find me a cannabis oil vape pen for pain. (it's illegal here, too) What a relief!! It does take the edge off and allows me to rest at night. But curious if it will help treat the actual disease. CBD oil does nothing for me. All the best from Alabama in the US....

Jill Morton avatar

Jill Morton

Hello! Just found your information! Not many understand the pain and suffering that one must endure daily dealing with “Scleroderma,”
“RA,” “Sjogren,” “Fibromyalgia,” etc. I also have “post-heretic neuralgia.” For anyone that does not know what this is -where you continue to have pain from the shingles. You also have flares with the “shingles” like you do with “scleroderma.” Learning the difference between the two is pretty easy. The shingles goes deep and all the way through you. “Something everyone needs to know that may be dealing with both,” such as my self: • “YOU CANNOT TAKE STEROIDS IF YOU HAVE POST-HERPETIC NEUROLOGICAL “it will trigger the virus and cause a outbreak!
This is one of the first things learned in medical school! If you have ever had the shingles you would think anyone would always keep this in the forefront of their minds! Unfortunately there are a lot of doctors that do not know this! You have to be your best advocate! That is why I am sharing this with you! My body is scarred severely from major reactions to bad steroids I was given in a flare! Rotator cuff needed surgery, but first let’s try these injections of “DEXAMETOSONE” in your shoulder closer to your heart and see what happens? Within 12 hrs “DEXAMETOSONE” had been recalled due to glass particles subject to be in the vials dispensed and in circulation. • REMEMBER IF YOU SUFFER WITH POST -Herpetic Neurolgy Do Not Take STERIODS! Night Mare!!!


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