Bridging the Gap: A Green Nurse’s Story of Managing Colitis with Cannabis
An Overview of Irritable Bowel Disease
Crohn’s disease and colitis are chronic inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract. These diseases can be lumped into the category of irritable bowel disease (IBD). It is estimated that 1.6 million Americans struggle with IBD. Symptoms related to inflammation in the GI tract include abdominal cramps, pain, constipation, diarrhea, urgent need to move bowels, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats. People who experience such symptoms are often greatly debilitated, their quality of life negatively impacted. They become nutritionally depleted, their fluid/electrolyte balance is thrown off. Severe dehydration is common. Basic functioning is severely altered and impaired. And as if these symptoms aren’t enough to cope with, the diseased GI tract often results in an abnormally functioning immune system. People struggling with IBD also tend to struggle with autoimmune symptoms that include fatigue, severe joint pain, skin irritation, and the inability to fend off infections.
Conventional treatment for IBD conditions includes several categories of prescribed medications including antibiotics, aminosalicylates (anti-inflammatory agents), steroids, and immune modifiers that work to suppress the body’s immune response. Over the counter medications may also be a part of the regimen including antidiarrheals, analgesic medications, and nutritional supplements. Managing an IBD condition can be challenging and overwhelming.
Sherri Tutkus, RN — Founder of the Green Nurse Group
Meet Sherri Tutkus — Cannabis Nurse, Cannabis Patient
Sherri Tutkus is no stranger to the debilitating nature of IBD. A registered nurse with over 30 years of experience in the healthcare field, Sherri found herself on the other side of the sick bed in 2012. She had contracted a type of acute colitis that is caused by a contagious infectious bacteria. This condition is often an adverse reaction from taking prescribed antibiotics, but she became infected from exposure to this bacteria while she was working. She started with flu-like symptoms such as fevers, sweats, chills and altered bowel patterns alternating between diarrhea and constipation. She developed severe urgency, cramping, had difficulty defecating, and had a feeling that she was retaining stool. A CT scan revealed that her colon was indeed swollen and after a colonoscopy she was diagnosed with pseudomembranous colitis.
As her disease progressed, Sherri experienced pain upon eating, suffered from regular and unpredictable bouts of painful diarrhea. Her belly was distended and filled with air. The abdominal pain she experienced was immense and effected every aspect of her life. She was prescribed the most powerful opioid medications and steroids. She had the strongest IV antibiotics infused to combat her disease. A single mother of three, she was unable to work for months. When attempting to return to work her symptoms would worsen and she would develop another medical problem. Sherri the nurse had become a critically ill patient.
Because of her condition, Sherri experienced significant anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. She didn’t want to leave her home for fear of not being able to control her bowels. Panic, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and pain were symptoms she experienced regularly. Sherri felt isolated, depressed, and disconnected from her community. She was in a constant state of fight or flight and she continued to struggle with side effects from taking several prescribed and over-the-counter medications. Sherri had exhausted conventional and holistic therapies at that point. She began to experience a cognitive dissonance of wanting to live and die at the same time. Her thoughts scared her and prompted her into seeking out something she hadn’t tried before. She turned to cannabis.
Sherri became a medical cannabis patient in 2014 and started administering cannabis to treat her symptoms and try to wean off of the medications that were causing her side effects. She vaporized cannabis, took tinctures, capsules, and edibles. Her symptoms were improving to the point where she realized “wow, this works!” Through her own trial and success, Sherri was able to wean off of all her medications. Sherri had effectively bridged the gap from what she was not getting with her conventional treatment and the holistic therapies that she was utilizing to help herself. Her condition had greatly improved, and she felt connected to her community again.
The Green Nurse Group is Born
Because of everything she had been through, Sherri saw a great need in her community and beyond. Another gap that needed to be bridged. This time for other people. She had to learn how to medicate with cannabis on her own, without anyone to guide her, or help her make informed decisions. It took her a very long time to find what worked for her. Navigating the medical cannabis community can be challenging, and there can be a steep learning curve that patients have to overcome in order to relieve symptoms consistently, effectively, and in a way that doesn’t impair them. Sherri had to learn all of this on her own and felt that cannabis patients shouldn’t have to, especially in the face of debilitating disease which can be overwhelming enough.She founded the GreenNurse™ Group, an action oriented, non-profit organization of dedicated professionals and nurses who seek to relieve suffering via the safe use of medical cannabis and other natural, holistic therapies. The GreenNurse™ Group utilizes a medical-based, patient-first approach. Through their services, they strive to bring the same excellence of trusted, quality nursing care to the medical cannabis industry.