When I was 17, I was viciously assaulted, raped, torn in half. The carefree lad who entered the apartment of that man wearing the shirt that said “sexy” on it was replaced by a PTSD-ravaged man-child with a bomb ticking in his brains, and a mute button on his tongue. When I was finally diagnosed many years later, several therapists wanted to load me up with Zoloft, Xanax, all kinds of heavy drugs that big Pharma, the ultimate pusher, wanted to shove down America’s throat. The only thing I found that really helps more than it harms is nature’s remedy: weed, ganja, skank, Mary Jane, good old-fashioned marijuana. But living in New Jersey, I can't access the drug I need—the one that grows in the earth, the one that no one has ever died from—without breaking the law. Because it's illegal. During my search for a remedy to my situation, I came across a fascinating organization, New Jersey Alternative Medicine, and an individual who's treating chronic pain in revolutionary ways.
David Henry Sterry: How did you get started as a professional reliever of pain?
Andrew Medvedovsky: As a medical student I decided to go into neurology with the idea of becoming a headache specialist. During my neurology residency, I encountered many patients suffering with chronic pain who had to be referred to a pain specialist. I felt that my treatment options as a neurologist were limited to a script pad and few basic interventions. I decided to pursue a fellowship in interventional pain management so that I can perform more advanced procedures for patients suffering with spine related conditions. It made perfect sense to me as a neurologist to specialize in pain management and maintain continuity with my patients to provide comprehensive treatment options.
DHS: I suffer from chronic pain, and most people who don't suffered in this way have trouble understanding the long-term effects this can have on people. What have you observed in your years of treatment about how chronic pain impacts people?
AM: Chronic pain affects every aspect of your life. Pain affects your function, mood, sleep, interpersonal relationships, and overall health. People in pain don’t sleep well, wake up tired and frustrated, irritable, and have no energy or desire to do anything. Chronic pain affects a person’s ability to work and maintain financial stability, leading to increased anxiety, stress and depression. Personal relationships become affected and ultimately lead chronic pain patients to become isolated, depressed, and continue the vicious cycle.
DHS: How did you become involved in using marijuana for medicinal purposes with patients?
AM: After I completed my pain medicine fellowship, I joined a very busy pain management practice (RA PAIN SERVICES). It was funny at first that so many patients asked me about getting medical marijuana prescribed. I didn’t take it seriously at first, but then decided to register with the state as a marijuana doctor and give it a try. Patients I was treating had been through many conventional treatments like therapy, injections, medications and surgery without relief. Many patients admitted to trying cannabis and reported much better pain relief than with medications. I started the program in July 2015 and was amazed at the results. Patients were happier, more functional, taking fewer medications and had much better quality of life.
DHS: How do you see the opiate crisis in American medicine and American culture?
AM: It’s a serious problem and a major challenge for physicians treating patients with chronic pain and for patients seeking treatment for chronic pain. Older generations of doctors were trained to prescribe massive doses of opioids without the fear of addiction and diversion. There has been a major paradigm shift on opioid safety and prescribing practices for physicians today. There are patients with chronic intractable pain for whom opioid therapy has allowed good level of function and quality of life. With the new CDC guidelines and strict regulations for physicians, many patients are struggling to find physicians to manage their pain and are seeking alternative treatment options. Unfortunately, the opioid crisis is a national epidemic that has impacted communities and families across the US. Opioid addiction often leads to heroine and lethal consequences.
DHS: Why do you think it's still so hard to get medical marijuana for pain management in many parts of the country (New Jersey, in particular, where we both live)?
AM: I don’t think it’s so hard to get medical marijuana for “Pain Management” as long as the cause of pain is established and supported by diagnostic studies. If someone says I have back pain without any imaging studies or previous treatments than that wouldn’t qualify someone for medical marijuana. If a patient complains of back pain who had back surgery, suffers with chronic intractable pain, spasms, neuropathy, and has tried and failed other treatments, then this is someone who would absolutely qualify. I have many patients in my program for “Pain Management,” but it’s related to a medical marijuana program qualifying condition like Multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s, cancer, severe spasms, muscular dystrophy, etc.
DHS: What is interventional pain management?
AM: Interventional pain management refers to minimally invasive procedures that target specific pain sources. The most common interventional pain procedures are epidural steroid injections usually performed for sciatica type pain, facet joint blocks, and more advanced interventions like spinal cord stimulators. Physicians who perform these procedures are required to complete advanced fellowship training.
DHS: What are some of the conditions which can be helped by medical marijuana?
AM: In my experience, the following conditions have seen tremendous benefit from medical marijuana:
- Intractable chronic pain
- Migraine headaches
- Nausea, vomiting
- Multiple sclerosis associated spasms
DHS: What are some cases where you have seen medical marijuana help patients with their pain?
AM: I honestly think that every patient dealing with chronic pain can get some benefit with medical marijuana. It depends on how motivated the patients are and if they are patient enough to find the right strain to help them. Most patients will have much better sleep, increased energy, improved mood and be able to take less medications. Poor sleep is a major issue with chronic pain patients, which ultimately results in ongoing fatigue and hormonal imbalance.
DHS: What advice do you have for people who are in chronic pain?
AM: Be your own advocate, be open minded and know that there are always options. Medical marijuana is not a miracle cure, but it’s a lot safer than just about any other medication out there. It may be a life-changing decision and the road to health.
Dr. Andrew Medvedovsky is a Board Certified Neurologist and Pain Medicine Specialist. He is a full time physician with RA PAIN Services and the founder of New Jersey Alternative Medicine. He is an advocate for medical marijuana and is passionate about helping patients improve their quality of life, reduce the need for harmful medications, and educate the public about medical benefits and safety of medical cannabis.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His new book Chicken Self: Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his wife, and co-founded of The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping countless writers get published. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp. He can be found at davidhenrysterry.com.