From the outside, Sarah Ratliff's family seemed to live the ideal life. Her mother was an editor at The New Yorker magazine and her father was a head writer for ABC News. At home in New York City, the cracks in the façade began to show.
“My late mother and both brothers struggled with addiction at home,” said Ratliff, who described herself as a corporate America escapee, eco-organic farmer, writer, and published book author. “I grew up surrounded by addiction.”
Ratliff described her parents were high-functioning alcoholics who preferred to look the other way when their son, John, began to smoke marijuana. Ratliff's brother's teenage rebellion and foray into drugs became a years-long debilitating spiral into heroin and other dangerous drugs.
“I feared drugs my entire life because of this,” Ratliff told Weedmaps News.
By the time he was 18, John had been in jail for heroin and other hard-drug use, leaving young Sarah to look after herself and her other brother Marcos while her parents spiraled into depression and alcoholism.
For decades, Ratliff blamed marijuana for John's descent into addiction. She blamed him for fracturing the family beyond repair.
“I was against all drugs,” she said. “I thought they were all bad. I never imagined I'd feel any different.”
Lapsing into Dependence
However, she had been downing prescribed drugs on a near-daily basis to alleviate pain from a serious fall that fractured her spine when she was 18 and living alone in New YorkCity. After rounds of MRIs, ultrasounds, acupuncture, and yoga, the pain in her back continued to keep her from living a full life. She was on a continuous round of prescribed drugs, including tramadol, Neurontin, and Vicodin.
“Doctors would prescribe them and I would take a half-dose or a full dose depending on the level of pain that day,” Ratliff said. “With the Vicodin, I would always be high. I would be either a little bit of high or a lot of high.”
She slowly distanced herself as a caregiver to her alcohol and drug-dependent family, marrying and taking a high-paying job in the biotech industry. In 2001, she and her husband, Paul, left their jobs, sold their sprawling home in Southern California and bought an organic farm in the interior of Puerto Rico. They wanted a slower, more meaningful life. She wrote her first book, “Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide” with fellow writer and editor Bryony Sutherland.
But the pain persisted. In 2009, she was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and sacroiliitis, an inflammation of the sacroiliac joints. She continued to pop pills to get through the day. The pills only masked the pain.
“I was in a lot of pain, and that doesn't work on a farm,” she said.
A few years ago, to help support the burgeoning farm, Ratliff began writing for an addiction center, writing papers and blogs to assist families and patients struggling with dependence.
“That's when I began to connect the dots and saw how beneficial marijuana could be, for everything from epilepsy to pain maintenance,” she said. “My eyes were open.”
After nearly 30 years navigating daily pain with the help of prescription painkillers, Ratliff worried about her liver and other side effects of long-term use. So did her doctor.
“At first I knew nothing about pot, only all the bad stuff,” she said. “When my doctor first suggested it, I thought, 'I really don't want to be high all day.' ”
Her doctor informed her about strains specifically for pain maintenance.
“I can't control how high I am on Vicodin, but I can with pot,” Ratliff said. “When I just want to be free from pain, I reach for a strain that won't make me high.”
There was an immediate reduction in her daily pain and an increase in her quality of life, Ratliff said. She embraced the drug she had feared for decades due to her family's history of addiction.
“I feel good because it's all natural and I can self-regulate, so I'm pain-free and not just high,” Ratliff said. “I'm in control of how much I need and you are not in control when you are taking a controlled substance. That is the biggest difference.”
She currently uses cannabis for chronic pain, anxiety, migraines, and insomnia. For pain, she prefers the strains AC/DC and Harlox, which are high in cannabidiol (CBD)and low in THC.
There were also unintended, beneficial consequences.
“I wasn't expecting that taking marijuana would also take away my anxiety,” she said.
Kimberley has been writing about the latest trends on fashion, food, health & more for more than 20 years. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, People, In Touch, Japanese Vogue, Hollywood Reporter, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas Sun and KNPR’s Desert Companion among other national publications.