Without a diagnosis, he had to advocate fiercely for himself… now, he helps others, too
It’s difficult enough to live with a diagnosed chronic pain condition or illness; it’s even more challenging to be undiagnosed, like 28-year-old Andrew Kuebbing. This means he has a tough time getting effective treatments designed specifically for the root cause of his pain and other symptoms. Instead of failing over and over again to get relief through traditional medicine, he eventually turned to medical cannabis, and is living healthier, stronger, and more meaningfully than ever.
Life-threatening illness, lackluster treatments
In the summer of 2011, when Andrew was 21, he got sick with what he thought was a bad stomach virus… but it has never gone away. He has seen multiple gastrointestinal specialists at some of the top hospitals in the U.S., but none have provided a definitive diagnosis. Some say he has irritable bowel syndrome (“a catch-all diagnosis when they can’t tell you exactly what’s going on,” he says) and others have postulated that he may have Crohn’s disease (“they have been unable to give me a diagnosis, which has kept me off harmful biologics and other nasty drugs, but is also frustrating”).
His symptoms were so bad that within a few months, he had lost about 40 pounds and was down to a weight of 105—frighteningly thin for someone who stands 5’9”. “I started to feel like I was dying,” he remembers. “I was having milkshakes four or five times a week in an attempt to gain weight. I started to have joint and muscle pain from not getting enough proper nutrients and losing the weight.”
“For me, a flare is like all of a sudden a switch flips, and I go from my typical restricted diet and bad nutrient take-up to my body just rejecting everything; it comes out both ends,” he says. “I’m in acute pain. The pain in my stomach feels like a very tight knot, and I will throw up even a sip of water.” Sometimes he has gone to the emergency room for help, but mostly he rides it out at home.
A move to California for cannabis
One doctor prescribed Marinol, a medication containing synthetic THC that eases nausea and is typically prescribed to patients with AIDS. It provided Andrew with a small amount of relief, but nothing like smoking herbal cannabis. And as he soon learned, it wasn’t nearly as effective as concentrated medical cannabis.
In 2013, Andrew and his then-girlfriend moved to California to be able to take medical cannabis legally. (She also became an attorney in the medical cannabis industry.) “That was my lowest point; I was almost constantly sick,” says Andrew. He began using medical cannabis.
During a flare-up when his stomach would knot up, “I would swallow a drop of FECO (full extract cannabis oil) and six or seven seconds later, I would feel my stomach untighten, as if I were cranking the pressure the other way. The relief would last for several hours. It would slowly tighten again, but then the next dose would make it loosen again. After a few months, the pain lessened, and now every day, I’m on the low end of where I have been since I first got sick.”
“I sometimes forget the progress I’ve made,” says Andrew.
“I’ll think, ‘Oh, I’m still in pain.’ But when I look at the long run of it, I get perspective and realize I’m doing a lot better.”
Cannabis relieves nausea and pain for Andrew, and allows him to eat without throwing up or experiencing immediate indigestion. The cannabis oil he takes regulates his digestive system, and allows him to not focus so much on the pain and discomfort of his illness. “It helps with my anxiety as well, which can turn into a cycle of increasing stomach symptoms” if left untreated.
Four years since he started using cannabis, Andrew says he doesn’t need conventional medications or treatments. He mainly ingests FECO oil (also called Rick Simpson oil, or RSO), and sometimes vaporizes or dabs concentrates, or smokes cannabis flowers. “I started with higher doses and then titrated down as I found I didn’t need so much; smaller amounts actually seem to help more. Using concentrates allows me to use very little of the product.”
Part of overall wellness
Andrew emphasizes that it’s not just cannabis that helps; it’s a combination of many lifestyle changes he’s made, including the move from a busy Maryland city to a more relaxed California existence.
He’s very careful with monitoring his activity level and energy. “It’s easier to just leave, or take it easy, than deal with the consequences of not respecting my limitations,” he explains. He sleeps elevated to minimize heartburn and nausea, and brings snacks everywhere to avoid experiencing low blood sugar.
“I’ve learned that my beliefs and actions have more control over my health than I would have thought,” says Andrew. “I’ve improved quite a bit just through diet and lifestyle changes.” He also meditates, uses relaxation exercises, eats a modified diet, and avoids stress as much as possible.
While he still has no official diagnosis, his connection with the Crohn’s disease community has taught him numerous strategies for healthier living—so even though he’s not technically a member, he’s thankful for the friendships he’s made through it and all the knowledge he’s gained. Sometimes, simply feeling heard, respected, and understood can go a long way toward healing.
Education is essential
Andrew says he was surprised when he arrived in California at how many people simply took cannabis for granted, and didn’t actually do their homework on how it works. “In some ways, it’s such a commercial venture here that many people don’t treat it as medicine.” He had to do lots of homework for himself.
“Treating it respectfully and taking the needed doses at the times that I do, it really improves my results,” he says. “But people who don’t know what they’re doing—just smoking a bong a couple times a day for a little pain relief—they could be doing so much more for themselves but they don’t have the tools to access it. That was something I felt like I could change.”
Advocating—and working for—cannabis for all
So he started seeking opportunities for advocacy. Through Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Andrew learned that a project called Rimidya was looking to expand medical cannabis access. There, he met a co-worker, Felicia Carbajal, and together they decided to start California Cannabis Advocates.
The pair began speaking at events like the Abilities Expo, Autism One, U.S. Pain Foundation education days, San Diego Gas & Electric Company meetings, and support groups in the Los Angeles area. “Getting the word out allowed me to spend time healing without concentrating solely on it.”
In February 2017, Andrew decided to take another step toward healing—and working for cannabis access for all. He moved to northern California and began collaborating with Emerald Canyon, a medical cannabis grower serving the region. As the California market becomes more regulated, efforts like Emerald Canyon need people with Andrew’s talents for licensing and marketing—and his strong spirit. He is a fierce advocate for access to medical cannabis, and for people with chronic pain and illness to become their own strongest advocates.
“While cannabis and other medications are important, you will need to take charge of your own treatment. You know yourself better than any doctor will, and you have to believe you can make improvements,” he says. “If I hadn’t taken charge of my diet and stress level, and instead had just listened to doctors, I never would have improved, even with the help of cannabis.”
Abilities Expo: abilities.com
U.S. Pain Foundation: uspainfoundation.org
California Cannabis Advocates: californiacannabisadvocates.org
Emerald Canyon: @emeraldcanyon on Instagram
Project CBD: projectcbd.org
Skunk Pharm Research: skunkpharmresearch.com