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Coming out of the Green Closet

Sep 04, 2018 03:09PM ● Published by Cale Finta

Coming out of the Green Closet

Seniors have joined the cannabis craze.

By Sophie Johnson


A week after finding a lump in her breast, my mom Iris and I were sitting in a Kaiser conference room with a team of doctors discussing a healing plan. Each phase of the treatment plan had harmful implications: surgery could lead to infection, radiation results in burning and fatigue, and chemo sounded terrifying. We felt like we were in skilled hands but also overwhelmed, confused, and uncertain of our choices.

Some of mom’s Rossmoor friends, who were cancer veterans, praised marijuana as a way to endure the nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy and radiation. We made an appointment with a medical marijuana doc and took the first step in understanding the powerful plant. It was a bewildering experience. As a flower child of the 60’s, Iris had not smoked pot in over 40 years. We were intimidated by the terminology spouted by the physician—THC, CBD, hybrid, sativa, indica, tincture, edible. It only got worse at the dispensary.

East Bay cannabis educator, Laura Light, shares a similar story. “When my mom was diagnosed with leukemia, she had to take 10-15 drugs a day to deal with her health issues. I decided to get a medical marijuana card, visited a dispensary, got educated, experimented, and soon my mom’s sleep apnea and pain subsided.”

Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, made California the first state in the country to legalize medical cannabis. The law allowed patients suffering from serious illnesses like AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, and anorexia to obtain a physician’s recommendation and a cannabis prescription. Light says there is a huge education gap between the world of conventional medicine and marijuana dispensaries.

With the approval of Prop 64, California voters helped bring weed out of the shadows and into the storefronts. While its stigma remains, marijuana use is slowly gaining acceptance, particularly among seniors and among women. Rossmoor, Walnut Creek’s prominent retirement community, boasts over 1,000 members in its “Cannabis Club.”

Since the passage of Prop. 64, not one city (to date) in Contra Costa County has permitted a retail marijuana dispensary to open. The Walnut Creek City Council approved a “medical delivery-only” ordinance that permits two delivery services to legally operate in the city. A budding group of medical professionals are working to educate the community.

“Cannabis was widely used for pain in pre-prohibition eras; it was a standard in the medicine cabinet,” says Radical Health’s COO Rebecca Byars. “Due to prohibition, we lost decades of research on its benefits.” Radical Health educates and treats patients with cannabis who are suffering from chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and other serious health conditions. “The average age of our patients is 76. They want to get off the pharmacology cycle and stop taking drugs with side effects. Marijuana has few side effects and a low rate of addiction. Plus, it works.”

Byars’ business partner, Eloise Theisen, MSN, RN, AGPCNP-BC, along with the American Cannabis Nurses’ Association, is leading the charge to educate health care professionals about marijuana. “Patients need expert advice on what to purchase at a dispensary from their doctor. The ‘budtenders’ at local dispensaries know the products, but they aren't clinically trained about serious health conditions and drug-to-drug interactions,” says Byar. She says the amount a patient takes, or the dose, is also critical. “Seniors don’t want to get high. Most need only 2-5mg of a CBD/THC combination in a spray or tincture for results.”   

Unquestionably there is a need for more research, but marijuana’s effects are clearly less harmful than those associated with tobacco or alcohol abuse. “I take a tincture every day to help regulate my hormones. I’m close to menopause and it helps balance my moods and fight inflammation. Now I have a life-pleasure that is my right and my joy,” says Light.

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