After trying numerous different DMDs (disease-modifying drugs) intended to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, along with taking dozens of other prescription medications to try and live with the list of symptoms and side effects that seemed to grow with each passing year, I hit rock bottom.

I was 50 pounds overweight, and I could barely make it around the block with the dogs. (Did I mention I used to run 6 to 8 miles — a day?) I looked in the mirror and had no idea who the fat lady staring back at me was. The disease and the pain had taken over and I was at serious risk of losing my battle with my disease. I knew I had to do something. Continuing to live the way I was living, going to bed every night dreading the next day, and hating myself and waking up to nothing but pain, fear, and sadness was not an option.

It took months, but I slowly came off all the medications and began exploring using marijuana and CBD (cannabidiol) products — along with huge changes in diet and exercise — to try and manage my disease and its symptoms.

The results have been more than slightly positive. It has taken time, patience, and whole lot of hard work and commitment, but I am in a much better place today, and I want to share what I have learned with others who might be experiencing similar problems to those I faced.

If you’re interested in trying products derived from the cannabis plant — such as CBD oil or edibles infused with marijuana — to alleviate your MS symptoms, here’s my advice for getting started.

1. Start Slow and Take Small Doses

You may have heard of microdosing, which is really just a fancy way of saying “take small amounts.” In addition, find a time when you don’t have places to be or things to do, and take those small amounts then. Pay attention to how you feel and write it down so you have a record of your experiments.

2. Believe in Its Ability to Help

Try cannabis with the belief and understanding that it is medicine. For me, believing it could help was half the battle. With so many years of illegality and negative stereotypes, hesitation and doubt about using marijuana are inevitable. But try and let go of all of that and believe in its ability to help you as much as you believed in the pharmaceutical drugs (if you have been down that road). If this is your first line of defense, I am happy for you and your body and wish you luck on this journey.

3. Learn What You Can About Cannabis

Arm yourself with knowledge regarding the plant and the features that give it medicinal properties. Look into cannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and terpenes, the compounds that give marijuana its distinctive aroma.

Do research and begin to understand the “hows” of why cannabis can help in so many ways so that you can apply that knowledge to the medicine as you begin to take it and focus on its helping you in the ways that it can.

4. Give Your Body Time to Adjust

Most of the people who hesitate to use medical marijuana even if they could benefit from it claim it is because they don‘t want to feel high. In my experience, starting to use cannabis products was not unlike starting to take methadone, a narcotic used to treat pain.

When I first started taking methadone, I was loopy for weeks, but over time, my body became used to it, and the drug began to help distract me from the pain without making me feel “out of it.”

With cannabis, I had to try out a number of different strains and methods of consumption to figure out what helps my body and my MS.

So if you decide to try marijuana products to help with your medical issues, give yourself time to get used to it rather than just chalking up one or two experiences of feeling high or altered as a failure.

5. Know That You Don’t Have to Smoke Pot to Benefit From It

A lot of people immediately shun the idea of “pot” being medicine because of the most common mode of consumption, smoking. Inhaling smoke of any kind is typically bad for the human lungs, and it is well-known that smoking tobacco can cause lung cancer and all sorts of other ailments. Less is known about the effects of inhaling marijuana smoke, because there hasn’t been much research on it due to its being illegal in most parts of the United States until recently.

But these days there are so many other ways to consume cannabis. There are edibles (I’ve been working on making my own), topicals, tinctures, drinks, bombs, balms, gum, and even suppositories! If you want to try cannabis, there is a way to get it into your body without having to smoke it.

If you try edibles, however, keep them away from children and pets, who are unlikely to recognize them as anything but food and can become very sick if they eat too much (as can adults).

6. Give CBD Products Time to Work

With either CBD or marijuana products that contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), give your body plenty of time to adjust to the medicine you are trying. I never took a single dose of a new prescription drug and announced that it didn’t work, yet oftentimes that is what people do with cannabis. They don’t give it time.

Build up your levels, get those cannabinoids and terpenes into your body, and let them begin to do their work. It may take a bit for them to begin to help, but they have the power to do a whole lot, if you give them time and believe in them.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Tweak, Dabble, and Mix

In the past I was ever-cautious not to take too much of any prescription drug or mix anything not previously approved of by my doctor, for fear of death. With cannabis, I know I am not risking my life as I mix concoctions together. And with experience, I can now mix CBD and THC products to maximize how they are helping me depending on what I am needing help with that day.

Having such control over my pain and symptom management has been amazing!

8. Be Open to Learning New Things

Don’t be afraid to learn and grow. Just because you thought of this plant one way for a long time, it’s okay to change your mind. That is called “growing,” and it can help in healing stuff. Learning new things and looking at things from a new perspective is healthy for our mental well-being. I like to think that challenging ourselves keeps our disease on its toes.

9. Let Go of Misconceptions About Marijuana

Because of its history, the topic of cannabis or marijuana use can often lead to people feeling awkward. It’s like bringing up sex at a family gathering. But the laws that have restricted people’s access to marijuana have also restricted their access to information about it.

Now that more information is becoming available, I hope you will open your mind to the idea that it is and has always been a medicine. It is a plant (one of many) that has things in it that can help you and your body.

10. Grow Your Own Cannabis Plants

I recommend growing your own cannabis, because that way, you know what has gone into it. Raising plants itself is incredibly therapeutic and can help in its own way with the disease and the issues it brings about. It’s also a great way to gain confidence in cannabis and help you really let go of any stigmas you might be still holding on to. If you have popped it from a tiny seed and have fed, watered, cared for, and nurtured it, you begin to have a great deal of respect for it and the power of nature.

Providing yourself with your own medicine is an incredibly empowering feeling. For the first time since I got multiple sclerosis, I feel I have a little bit of control over something.

Growing your own will also allow you to begin consuming cannabis in the most basic way: raw. I take all the leaves and trimmings from our plants and put them in my morning “garbage smoothies,” which are a mix of whatever fruits and veggies we have at the moment along with whatever dairy-free drink I am trying and a bunch of seeds and stuff that are supposed to be good for me and my MS.

I even take some cannabis leaves, if they are really fresh, and add them to my salads. I figure they’re no different from any of the other leafy green things I’m shoving in there, and without the heat, the THC is not activated, so there is no risk of getting a high of any sort. It’s just another healthy green plant that I have added to my diet —and Shawn’s and the dogs’. We all love eating pot leaves.