Jules Calnan: Living Her Best Life
To look at Jules Calnan’s smiling face and glowing skin and watch her bounce around her Burlington home like a friendly ball of energy, you’d never guess she was living with a daunting chronic condition called Crohn’s Disease.
She’ll tell you that the living is easier thanks to cannabis. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Crohn’s Disease is a type of bowel disease that causes inflammation of parts of the digestive tract. Doctors don’t fully understand what causes Crohn’s, but they believe that it results from a problem with the immune system.
I thought it was normal to run to the bathroom 15 times a day, to have blood in my stool and to be doubled over in pain…
Jules was about age fourteen when her symptoms began. Diarrhea, weight loss. A bout with kidney stones.
“I thought it was normal to run to the bathroom 15 times a day, to have blood in my stool and to be doubled over in pain,” she recalls. “My doctor didn’t have a clue.”
This continued for several years. Finally, as a 19 –year-old in her first year of college and far from home, Jules was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and put on a rigid medication schedule.
It felt like the treatment was worse than the disease. “The doctor in Colorado had me taking 30 pills a day, everything under the sun. I had to keep track of them with a special timer,” she says.
The medications helped, although they came with side effects that didn’t make life much easier.
Then a friend, a staunch supporter of medical marijuana use, suggested that cannabis might offer some relief. Pot supplied by friends soon became her go-to medicine – and started her on the path toward taking charge of her health.
“I was lucky,” she says. “When I first began experimenting with cannabis in Colorado, my gastroenterologist had a more liberal mindset. He was fine with is, as long as it didn’t affect the conventional meds I was also taking.”
My doctor in Pennsylvania was conservative and didn’t support my desire to continue treating my Crohn’s with cannabis. I was completely on Western medicine, with no reliable source of cannabis, for years. It was very rough on my body, especially the arthritis and other symptoms that come along with Crohn’s.
Jules’ ad hoc treatment plan became official when she and her wife, Sarah, moved to Seattle. Sarah encouraged her to obtain the Green Card that allowed her access to standardized, medical grade cannabis, guided by a knowledgeable doctor and targeted towards her symptoms in effective doses.
“ I knew I was doing the right thing,” says Jules, “and this confirmed it.”
It was a different story when Jules and Sarah relocated to Pennsylvania to continue their education. Unlike Colorado, Washington, Vermont and a handful of other states, medical cannabis is still illegal there.
“It was terrible,” she says. “My doctor in Pennsylvania was conservative and didn’t support my desire to continue treating my Crohn’s with cannabis. I was completely on Western medicine, with no reliable source of cannabis, for years. It was very rough on my body, especially the arthritis and other symptoms that come along with Crohn’s.”
Educate yourself. If you don’t like to smoke, there are so many other forms – edibles, topical salves. And don’t blindly follow your doctor’s advice. Ask questions, and demand answers. Be your own health advocate.
In February, their education completed, the young couple realized a long-term goal.
“We always wanted to live in Vermont – it was always the plan. And finally, we both landed our dream jobs,” she says. Jules is a currently a stage manager for Burlington-based Vermont Stage, and she’ll be the Resident Stage Manager there for the 2019-20 season. Sarah has a position in her field at Champlain College.
“We’re house hunting now,“ she says. “We’re settling in, loving the active lifestyle and the liberal attitude toward cannabis, which is so important to my well-being. “I’ll never be completely off conventional meds,“ she adds, ”but with the help of cannabis, plus paying close attention to my diet and lifestyle, I’ve been able to cut back to just three drugs, control my symptoms, and live well.”
Joey’s a bit deaf now, but still going strong at age seventeen.
Her advice for folks who are curious about medical cannabis? “Educate yourself. If you don’t like to smoke, there are so many other forms – edibles, topical salves. And don’t blindly follow your doctor’s advice. Ask questions, and demand answers. Be your own health advocate.”
It’s been a long road for Jules, from sickly teenager to a vibrant example of how to deal intelligently with a serious medical condition. She’s learned a lot about cannabis along the way. So when Joey, her Chihuahua, was being treated for cancer a while ago. Jules kept him comfortable with cannabis “treats.” Joey’s a bit deaf now, but still going strong at age seventeen. In dog years, that’s almost 120. Can cannabis take all the credit? Probably not…but stay tuned.