Her Canna Life: Dr. Junella Chin, MedLeafRx

Women come to cannabis for a myriad of reasons. Telling our stories is essential to help eliminate the stigma around cannabis that prevents women from getting access to the information – and products and services – they want or need. We’re partnering with HerCannaLife.com to bring you women’s stories about their personal cannabis journeys. 

Describe yourself and what you do.

I am a chronic pain survivor. As an athlete in college, I injured my back with multiple spinal disc herniations and a spondylolisthesis. Doctors suggested opiate pain medications, steroids, epidurals, and ultimately surgery to fuse the spine.

As a result of my experience, I decided to dedicate my medical career in finding effective, integrative and holistic approaches to patient care. To reach the best outcome, my patient and I form a therapeutic alliance and inform each other.

My goal as a physician is to help patients reach their optimum health, through prevention, proper nutrition, and always with support, empowerment and education. I specialize in Integrative Cannabis Medicine.

What is your vision for your professional cannabis endeavors?

For over a decade, I practiced integrative cannabis medicine in California. I am an advocate for better understanding of the science and medicine of marijuana and have been profiled for my work in St. Jude’s Medical, Crain’s, Good Housekeeping, USA Today, and NBC TODAY. I teach medical students about the science behind cannabis in order to facilitate this conversation at the physicians-in-training level.

What is your personal cannabis origin story?

At 17 years old, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, or AS, which is a progressive type of arthritis that affects the spine, pelvis, hips, and back. It causes extreme pain and stiffness. What ends up happening is your vertebrae essentially become crazy-glued together. Your spine starts to look like a bamboo stick and you literally can’t bend it anymore. It usually happens in young adults.

I tried physical therapy. I tried opiates, muscle relaxants, icing, nerve block injections, acupuncture. Everything under the sun. I left no stone unturned.

When I moved to San Francisco in the 90’s for medical school, I was really disheartened. The opiates were making me too drowsy, and I couldn’t retain any of my academic material.

Here I was, training to be a doctor, and I had hundreds of doctors at my disposal. It felt ironic that I couldn’t find a solution to my own chronic pain. I was frustrated, I told the doctors, “I tried it all and I can’t. Don’t hand me another script. Please. It doesn’t work.”

One day, an attending, a physician mentor, introduced me to the world of cannabis. He was this hippie-looking doctor, and he had an integrative private practice where he was using medical cannabis to treat AIDS patients to increase appetite and help with pain. I watched as his patients got better and better with the cannabis he was recommending.

When I told him about my spine, he said, “Listen, I have this marijuana plant that can help you. It doesn’t make you feel high. In fact, it will help you with the stiffness and the aching, it will make you feel like you did yoga.”

I was mortified but desperate. Here I was, a medical student, training to be a doctor, and thought, ”You are offering me POT? You want to make me a drug addict?”

I grew up in the Bronx where there was a huge social stigma around marijuana. Kids that smoked weed were either the dropouts or they were involved in gangs.

My attending gave me this little brown dropper bottle that smelled like a combination of alcohol, wet dog, and grass. We now know this is called a CBD-dominant formula. But they didn’t call it that back then. To my amazement, it worked very well.

“Oh my God, this works, the stiffness, numbness , the pain… I was getting better!”

My MRIs and X-rays were showing that the degenerative part of my disease was not progressing as quickly as it had been. I took it for a month at a time and was able to stay in school.

So here I am on this little weird bottle of marijuana, and this has gotten me so much further than any of the opiates, muscle relaxers or even the nerve block injections that the conventional doctors were giving me. That’s where it all began.

Cannabis changed the trajectory of my life. I would not have been able to finish medical school and become a doctor had it not been for cannabis treatment.

Learn more about Dr. Junella Chin on HerCannaLife.com.