After years of dealing with endometriosis and PCOS pain and navigating opioid-based painkillers, cannabis finally helped me find a way to live again.
(Content note and disclaimer: this piece briefly mentions sexual assault and addresses medical themes. The article occasionally uses gendered language because the studies referenced on endometriosis and PCOS pain only include or refer to cisgender women. Whenever possible, gender-neutral language is used.)
By Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert
I grew up in a rural town with a strong anti-drug sentiment. In school, I regularly participated in Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program meetings, adamant that I would never smoke a cigarette, much less try something I deemed as scandalous as marijuana (which, we were told, was a gateway drug that would inevitably lead us to using meth). Imagine my surprise when, in my 20s, weed became part of my everyday routine and essential for my sex life.
I’ve been managing the chronic pain of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) for nearly 10 years. Irregular and heavy periods, emergency trips to the emergency room for ruptured cysts, an ultimately useless surgery that caused me to drop out of school for a semester, losing a job because I couldn’t manage the pain — the works. Penetrative sex was painful to the point of being unbearable, despite repeated discussions with my doctors and making adjustments with my partners. I was prescribed opioid-based painkillers such as Hydrocodone and Norco to take multiple times a day in an attempt to manage the breakthrough pain episodes that regularly left me curled up in the fetal position and weeping.
It felt like my body was trying to destroy itself. I was horrified to find myself developing a tolerance to narcotic painkillers and depending on them to get through my day-to-day life. The country was just beginning to understand the implications of prescription opioid abuse and I was desperate to find an alternative. It was my mom, who smoked a little in college, that suggested weed.
The first time I got high I split a low-dose edible in half and, as soon as it kicked in, I felt the difference. My body relaxed, the ever-present tension in my belly gently unclenched and I melted into the couch. Not only did a few grams of THC serve as an incredible painkiller to address the chronic conditions that had been plaguing me, but it also soothed the anxiety about my health that I’d been experiencing.
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And I’m not alone: one in 10 women, according to a recent study, use marijuana to treat their endometriosis pain. Another study suggests THC actually slows the growth of endometriosis tissue in mice. Similar studies show weed is also effective for PCOS sufferers and those who struggle with anxiety.
Having a reduction in pain was wonderful and finding there was less clutter in my mind was an unanticipated bonus, but it wasn’t until I began regularly incorporating weed into my wellness habits that I realized one of the most incredible benefits: I was finally able to experience wonderful, fulfilling sex without pain.
The first time was unintentional — I didn’t set out to get stoned and have sex, an activity I usually avoided, but that’s ultimately what I did. I was dipping my toe into smoking instead of nibbling on my trusted edibles and ended up sharing a joint with a guy I was seeing at the time. I remember my skin felt like it sparkled when he touched me and, when we did end up having sex, I experienced none of the discomfort I had become accustomed to. I didn’t wince, I didn’t stifle tears; my whole body was relaxed and I felt present enough to enjoy it. Getting stoned before sex allowed me to feel pleasure in ways I hadn’t ever experienced — ways I didn’t realize would be possible for me.
I didn’t understand the extent of my sexual hang-ups until I started smoking weed. I knew that experiencing sexual assault in my early teen years made me anxious about sex, but I attributed most of my problems to pain caused by the cysts and rogue endometrial tissue around my uterus. It wasn’t until it was gone, silenced by a pre-coital sativa joint, that I realized the constant buzz of fear I felt about sex (fear of pain, fear of violation, fear that I wasn’t good enough) was not only something that existed but was something I could switch off with a plume of smoke.
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I smoke every day, now. It’s something I never thought I’d do, much less publicly acknowledge, but weed has become as much part of my wellness regiment as taking my other medications or brushing my teeth is. It reduces my pain without the risk of addiction or overdose, it quiets my anxious mind and has allowed me to intimately connect with my partners without feeling broken or undesirable. With marijuana as pain management and relaxation tool for wellness, people with conditions like endometriosis and PCOS, people with histories of trauma and anxiety — people like me — are able to settle their minds and reclaim their health, not to mention their sex lives.
Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert is an investigative journalist living in Southern California with her retired service dog, Liberty. She uses her distinctive voice to share untold narratives on topics such as health and sexuality, politics and criminal justice. Through her work, Katherine aspires to help strengthen the fragile trust between journalists and the public. You can find her on social media as @scrawlgirl.