Surgery for any reason is traumatic. When it involves transitioning from one gender to another, however, physical pain and recovery is just one factor a patient must deal with.
The emotional trials involved concerning friends, family, and loved ones can also play a huge role in healing physically and emotionally. If you are already suffering from PSTD from a lifetime of confusion, persecution, and rejection, the transition is that much harder.
Marval A. Rechsteiner, who made the decision to transition from female to male after years of coming to terms with his natural masculinity, knows exactly what this feels like. That’s why the Salt Lake City native is grateful he attended university in Humboldt County, cannabis capital of the world, as that is where he found the medicine that helps him to this day.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine going through any kind of surgery or emotional trauma without cannabis now,” he says.
Marijuana and PTSD in the LBGTQ Community
Bullying, stress, anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and eating disorders are all things many LBGTQ individuals deal with on a daily basis from a very young age. This is even as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people become somewhat more accepted in mainstream society.
This acceptance, however, hasn’t fully extended to transgender or gender non-conforming individuals. Amidst a rising epidemic of murder and violence against transgendered people, they have traditionally had a hard time even fitting into the LBGTQ community. All of this is due largely to being perceived as “confused” for dressing, identifying with, or acting as the opposite sex.
“From my own experience, and those of close friends who identify as queer, you grow up in a heightened state of anxiety or fear,” he says. “Those identifying as transgender get a special brand of fear-mongering because we aren’t even ‘normal’ looking to begin with.”
Rechsteiner says that his “biology as a gender-bending person” caused him to be labelled an “outsider, freak, and rebel from a young age” while growing up in Salt Lake City in the ’90s. “I had crushes on the young girls my age and felt that the boys were often competitive and mean to each other. The strict gender norms of either male or female confused me greatly and caused me stress from a very early age.
I began to disassociate with my body around the onset of adolescence, and high school became a time of secrets; secrets around the core of my identity and gender. Basically, as a teenager, I felt my body had betrayed me.”
Today, Rechsteiner says he knows that science has discovered people can be born with XXY or XO chromosomes instead of XX or XY chromosomes, and that some people assigned female gender at birth have more testosterone than others.
He also feels that those with some differences in sex development may be born with genitals that doctors characterize as female at birth, but change around puberty.
“Our bodies are complex and dynamic,” he surmises. “Our genital characteristics are just one component of who we are and do not define, medically or biologically, our sex. Additionally, all components of sex, from genitals to hormones to chromosomes, exist on a spectrum rather than as a binary.”
This information, however, isn’t commonly accepted—or universally known—just yet. And so the bullying and self-hatred continues. Sometimes, the violence, stress, anxiety, and fear experienced by LGBTQ individuals can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs). For Rechsteiner, trigger points he had in relation to his gender identity caused him to experience this firsthand.
“I’ll have a panic attack because of fear and internalized self-hatred that looks very much like a PTSD episode,” he says, adding that these episodes led him to realize that transitional surgery from female to male was necessary for him.
“Other gender-nonconforming people have told me of similar attacks, where it feels like the world is about to collapse in on them. Look at it this way: if your very identity is constantly made invisible or stereotyped negatively, you disassociate from integral parts of who you are. And what that means is years and years of unpacking the hatred inside yourself to find yourself again, and find love.”
Thankfully, though, it’s possible marijuana can help.
“Although there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that marijuana helps with PTSD, there has been no controlled trial to test how marijuana suppresses the symptoms, including flashbacks, insomnia, and anxiety,” Suzanne Sisley, researcher at the University of Arizona, told USA Today in 2014.
In April 2016, however, both the FDA and the US Department of Health & Human Services gave Sisley the green light to conduct research on cannabis use for PTSD in war veterans. At the time of writing, the 10-week study was underway and Sisley was hopeful cannabis would prove to be a viable source of help for the more than 7.7 million Americans suffering from PTSD.
Of course, queer people can also use cannabis in a negative way, and Rechsteiner says it can be likened to any other substance used to bypass emotional pain. However, he also acknowledges how cannabis helped him deal with all sorts of issues surrounding his identity.
In the past, when the panic attacks began, I was prescribed Xanax to calm me down,” he explains. “Now, I use cannabis in specific ways. During my transition with hormone replacement therapy, I was smoking, as it lifts your mood fairly quickly. But tincture is by far my best option in terms of calming my fear down. I don’t get blazed out of my mind on it; it helps me to get into my body and feel good inside my body, which for someone like me who has disassociated for such a long time, is deeply healing.”
Cannabis During Transitioning
Rechsteiner’s journey from female to male began in Colorado with his surgery. Though he took his prescribed Percocet for two days after surgery, Rechsteiner switched to hash oil capsules on the third day, with excellent results. The capsules were a high-THC activated dose purchased at Terrapin Station in Boulder.
“I took two of the hash oil caps the first night and slept like a baby,” he says. “They were very strong, with activated THC. The pain disappeared, and my mood was surprisingly cheerful.”
For five days, the hash oil caps were all that Rechsteiner took to quell the pain from what was major surgery. Taking the medical cannabis did lead to some side effects, but one that many think of as a negative—cotton mouth—was actually a positive experience for him.
“The hash oil caps were strong, which was great as I didn’t want to continue taking the Percocet, but they made me have dry mouth pretty badly. That encouraged me to drink a ton of water, which was great because I had toxins from surgery to flush out of my system, so even that was a win-win with the weed,” he says.
After finishing with the hash caps, Rechsteiner paid a visit to The Growing Kitchen in Boulder. Owner Brooke Wise began making her own cannabis medicine at home after her husband was injured in a snowboarding accident.
After successfully replacing opiates with cannabis, the couple knew they had a calling. Today, in their industrial kitchen, they create healthy medibles, salves, and real medicine in tinctures, capsules, and oils, customizing equivalencies for each patient.
“First off, I love Brooke’s products so much. They are the best and highest-quality cannabis medicine I have come across so far,” Rechsteiner says. “I felt very comfortable and assured when using them and they worked magically.”
“Magic” is a word used often when describing what cannabis can do, especially for pain, when used as a medicine. (Though it’s not really magical, just a naturally occurring analgesic plant.)
A trial done by oncologist Donald Abrams in San Francisco in the early ’80s with AIDS patients demonstrated a 40 per cent increase in the efficacy of painkillers after smoking cannabis. Some patients have replaced up to 300 milligrams (mg) of morphine a day with a small amount of cannabis oil.
“The Growing Kitchen’s Chill Pill doses at five milligrams each, and I would take one a couple hours before bedtime. Then at bedtime, I’d take a stronger dose of two Perfect Peace Pain Pills of 20 mg each, then three sprays of under the tongue of tincture. I slept through the night with no problem and no pain,” Rechsteiner says.
As he regained mobility, Rechsteiner says he then only needed to take the Chill Pills if he felt anxious. “It’s a close tie which product I like best, the spray or the caps. The spray is more fun, meaning it’s immediately psychoactive and I enjoy the euphoria, but the Chill Pills are super tasty and I feel their gentle effects emotionally and really loved the experience.”
Follow-up maintenance to further insure against inflammation, pain, and infection included taking a capsule containing CBD, a major medicinal component of the plant that doesn’t have psychoactive properties.
“I would never have surgery again without cannabis,” Rechsteiner says. “It was really surprising how quickly I transitioned off Percocet with the hash oil caps. And smoking flower on top of everything kept my mood elevated.”
“This has not been an easy road to travel down,” he concludes. “Megan [his partner] and I are both grateful for each other; I’m thankful to have her in my life. Where the surgery itself is concerned, I’m blessed to have the knowledge of cannabis as an alternative to the damaging and addicting pain killers so many struggle with post-surgery.”