Stroke Survivor: Medical Cannabis Changed My Life

Stroke brain scan
Jeff Papenheim, a stroke survivor, has found significant relief from his symptoms through the use of medical cannabis. After his stroke left him paralyzed and with severe nerve damage, he spent a decade exploring various treatments, including pain pills and acupuncture, before discovering the benefits of cannabis. He has found that cannabis not only helps manage his pain and anxiety but also reduces the side effects of his other medications. Beyond his personal experience, Papenheim is committed to fostering a strong support system for fellow survivors and advocates for the potential of cannabis to improve quality of life.
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For nearly a century, Harvard researchers followed the lives of 724 men, resulting in one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies of all time. So what did $20 million teach us?

According to study director, Robert Waldinger:

The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

And for stroke survivor, Jeff Papenheim, those words couldn’t ring more true.

Ten years ago, several days after Christmas, Papenheim visited the emergency room complaining of headaches. He was diagnosed with a sinus infection and sent home.

Six hours later, Papenheim suffered a life-threatening stroke.

Triggered by carotid artery dissection – a separation of the layers of the artery wall supplying oxygen-bearing blood to the brain – Papenheim’s stroke left him paralyzed. Having suffered severe damage to the nerves that control the left side of his body, Papenheim remained in the hospital for over 40 days.

However, the real struggle began after his release.

That started my journey of okay, where do you go from here?

For Papenheim, the quest for that answer would lead to ten years of various treatments – ranging from pain pills to acupuncture – before ultimately bringing him to cannabis (a medication he calls a “game changer”). And yet, in speaking with the stroke survivor, it’s clear that through his entire “journey for relief” (a turn of phrase characteristic of Papenheim’s unwavering optimism) two themes remained constant: faith and community.

If you let yourself lay down and let yourself get defeated, you’re not doing yourself justice or the people that love you. In my case, I have to credit God, my faith, and my wife, who is my 24/7 support system.

Committed to fostering a strong support system for fellow survivors, Papenheim acknowledges the crucial role of relationships in recovery:

You have to remember, there are people worse off, there are people better off, and there are people just like you. You just have to open yourself up. Giving hope to people is the most important thing.

A current CannaMD patient, Papenheim sat down to discuss his personal experience with medical cannabis and how he hopes his words will inspire other survivors to see “there is a better alternative, life can be better!”.

Taking medicine for medicine

Papenheim is the first to admit that pharmaceutical medication can help. For ten years, he’s cycled through countless medications, including high doses of fentanyl, hydrocodone, and pregabalin (Lyrica) for nerve pain. Yet, while this cocktail of medication effectively “masks” the pain for a short period of time, Papenheim – like many other patients – soon finds himself on a “rollercoaster”.

At one point, I was taking about 30 pills a day. Taking medicine to treat medicine. I go through withdrawals every four hours if I don’t take my pills. I’m addicted to them.

It’s like a tsunami. You ride a fun ride until it hits you. Then every four hours the crash sends you back into the coral and you have to paddle on back.

Summarizing, Papenheim explains:

You feel good at first, but never just what you really need to feel. You just mask life and go through it.

Acknowledging that “there’s no magic bullet for anything”, Papenheim continued to search for alternatives. It was around this time, in a positive turn of events, that Florida passed Amendment 2, legalizing medical marijuana.

I was familiar with marijuana from when I was younger, but this medical stuff was nothing like back in the day. It was so different. No high, just a calm… Within a minute, I began to feel relief.

It wasn’t long before Papenheim became a vocal cannabis advocate.

How medical marijuana helps

Patients who suffer a traumatic brain injury often struggle with anxiety. As Papenheim explains, “your brain doesn’t work the same way it used to, your fear is amplified.” That’s where medical cannabis comes in.

Vaping settles my mind down. It helps you look and appreciate what you’re doing. The judgement falls away.

Papenheim’s comments echo recent findings published by Pharmacotherapy that suggest cannabidiol (CBD) has anxiolytic properties and “great potential utility”. As New York University psychiatrist Esther Blessing summarizes:

I think there’s good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety.

In addition to calming his nerves, Papenheim says marijuana also eases the “ups and downs” of his medication regimen.

It makes me a better me. I’m more comfortable, which makes me more lively, so I get out more and enjoy the outside.

And the benefits don’t stop there.

My muscle spasms go away. There’s more clarity in my voice. I’m able to work around the house longer and build up endurance. I’m down about 30 pounds.

But, perhaps best of all, Papenheim has been able to slowly decrease his other medications.

I’m cutting back on my opioids. With marijuana I really don’t fake it anymore, I really do feel well.

Supporting the cannabis community

Inspired by his own success, Papenheim is committed to helping those in need.

People who live in a high pain threshold, like me, need to know that marijuana can help. We all deserve a better quality of life. And cannabis can do that, it really can.

When asked what his most important lesson has been, Papenheim answers without hesitation:

You have to look at what the stroke gave you, not what it took away. It gave me freedom from alcohol, freedom to be with my wife all the time… Now I just need to figure out a new me.

Every mess in life is a message. And if I can inspire just one person, that’s what it’s about.

Editor’s note

CannaMD would like to thank Mr. Papenheim for sharing his story. We feel grateful to be part of his “journey for relief” and look forward to helping Mr. Papenheim and other Florida patients for a long time to come!

Mr. Papenheim is dedicated to building a network of support. If you have any questions or need a helping hand, he’s asked that you please reach out to him via email at jpappy68 [at]

Updated: March 7, 2024

Jessica Walters

Jessica Walters serves as CannaMD's Chief Medical Researcher. Prior to her time at CannaMD, Jessica earned her degree from Harvard where she focused on neuropsychology. Her personal research interests include psychosocial interventions for obesity, depression, and generalized anxiety disorders.


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