In 1995, when I was just seventeen years old, I was diagnosed with Erosive Seropositive Rheumatoid Arthritis, also known as RA. Although RA typically develops between the ages of 30 and 60, it is possible for children and young adults to develop young-onset rheumatoid arthritis (YORA).
Unlike osteoarthritis which results from wear and tear of joints, RA is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system identifies healthy tissues around the joints as foreign infiltrators that have to be attacked and eradicated. The result of this ongoing battle is constant inflammation, and the side effect of that is constant pain. If not controlled, RA can result in irreversible joint damage.
Four years prior to receiving my diagnosis, I began to experience pain in my left elbow. Over time, the pain spread to almost every joint in my body. Although I had multiple symptoms of RA, doctors attributed my symptoms to growing pains. By the time I was able to consult with a rheumatologist, I already had experienced some joint damage. I could barely step on my feet and had debilitating pain throughout my body—from my toes all the way up to my jaw.
My doctor prescribed prednisone, a corticosteroid, that weakens the immune system all across, and therefore also reduces inflammation and pain. He also prescribed solganal, also known as gold salts, a drug that has been used for more than 75 years to suppress the inflammatory process in patients with RA. After solganal provided me with little relief, my rheumatologist added a low dosage of the chemotherapy drug methotrexate which reduces inflammation by weakening the immune system.
The methotrexate caused many unpleasant side effects and caused my hair to fall out. An adolescent at the time, the hair loss was absolutely devastating, and I begged my doctor to reduce my dosage in order to prevent me from going totally bald.
After my fierce battles with my rheumatologist, I finally got off methotrexate and was put on sulfasalazine, a drug used to treat ulcerative colitis. I responded quite well to the drug for many years– 16 to be exact. Thankfully, by the time that sulfasalazine was no longer working for me, new RA medications, called biologicals, had come on the market. Biologic treatments are derived from living organisms rather than being synthesized in a laboratory.
While the old-school meds worked like a B52 bomber, carpet bombing the entire immune system, these new meds were like a GPS-guided cruise missile. They target specific proteins within the inflammation-creation process and work to cut the chain of inflammation. These meds proved to be a real breakthrough in treating autoimmune conditions like RA.
Six years ago, I finally found relief after being prescribed the biologic, rituximab. Administered twice a year via infusion, it worked like magic.
Throughout all of this, I remained on prednisone, a magical drug that is used to treat hundreds of conditions and is one of the top 10 medications prescribed in the US. Although it does work wonders, it also damages many systems in our bodies (bones, heart, sugar level, etc.) and shouldn’t be taken long term. Usually, doctors will prescribe it to temporarily deal with inflammation of a flair up in autoimmune conditions.
For me, that temporary prescription became an ongoing one: days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years—23 to be precise. My endless attempts to wean myself off the medication always ended up in pain and relapse, and although prednisone is not formally classified as an addictive drug, I beg to differ. I experienced significant withdrawal symptoms whenever I attempted to wean myself from the drug and eventually resigned myself to the fact that I would be taking prednisone until the day I died.
But then, about 5 years ago, I started hearing a lot about CBD for RA. Although skeptical, I felt I had nothing to lose. I began researching CBD and discovered a whole new world of cannabinoids and other naturally occurring substances within the hemp plant (CBD is just one of more than 100 cannabinoids in the hemp plant). I also learned that the combination of various cannabinoids creates what’s called the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the theory that all compounds in cannabis work together and produce a better effect when taken together versus being taken alone.
After learning that CBD could support and calm the immune system and possibly alleviate autoimmune conditions, I decided to give it a shot. That’s when I ran into another problem – trust. Since CBD was gaining momentum, everyone wanted to capitalize on it. CBD sellers were starting to pop up like mushrooms after the rain, and many were selling snake oil. I knew that the one person I could really trust was myself, and that’s when I went on a journey to source the highest quality raw materials in order to formulate my own blend – a highly potent top-quality broad spectrum hemp oil.
I started taking 1ml twice daily along with my daily prednisone. I took the CBD sublingually, holding it for 60 seconds and swallowing the rest. After 2 weeks, I started feeling good and used my brand-new pill cutter to cut those 5mg prednisone pills in half, taking only 2.5mg of prednisone daily. After the 3rd week, I felt so good that I decided to stop the prednisone and see what would happen. The rest is history. I said goodbye to prednisone, and that was 5 years ago. Today, I feel better than ever.
I also have decreased my infusions of rituximab. I went from infusions once every six months to once a year and it’s now been a year and a half since my last infusion and I’m feeling fine.
This was a true victory for me, but I also felt that I wanted to share with other autoimmune patients, those with arthritis, fibromyalgia, those who are taking steroids, and more. This was my inspiration for founding Reclaim Labs, and since its inception I was fortunate to inspire and help many fellow patients by leveraging this very unique and strong patient to patient trust.
To this day, I’m still using my own 2800 mg CBD-rich Broad Spectrum Hemp Oil and also offering a 1000 mg Full Spectrum Nano-CBD roll-on for more local treatment.
As for my old prednisone pill box, I keep it as a reminder of how CBD helped me overcome my addiction to the drug.