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Wading Through the Weeds

What Can Cannabis Do for You?

By Joyce Alla and Leslie Martini

Gina Baker, is a 52-year-old college professor and athlete who suffered a severe injury that left her with constant back and sciatic nerve pain. “I hurt when I sleep, walk, sit, and stand,” she says. The prescribed anti-inflammatory and narcotic pain relievers from her doctor helped but resulted in side effects such as itchy skin and stomach irritation. “I also take migraine meds,” she explains. “I started to feel like I was taking a bucket of pills every day.”

Eventually, Gina decided to try marijuana as a medicinal remedy. “I was coming off of six weeks without sleep. I went to a recreational dispensary and asked them what I could take for pain, and they were really helpful.” She now consumes between one and five gummies that contain 5 milligrams of THC before bed, and is grateful for some relief. “The pain doesn’t wake me up anymore so I can actually sleep,” she says, “and I don’t feel groggy in the morning.”

For Gina, using marijuana medicinally was a “game-changer.” She has been able to cut her dependence on pain killers by half. And, because she’s lowered her intake of pharmaceutical drugs, she’s not building a tolerance to them. Gina also believes the anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana have lessened the frequency of her migraines. She does, however, experience one side effect many users are familiar with. “Sometimes it gives me the munchies,” Gina admits with a chuckle.

While Baker figured out where to go, today’s cannabis is not the world we knew back in the day. It can be confusing and daunting. There are a ton of new products and technologies and places from which to get them. Not all cannabis is the same. But it is an exciting time to investigate all the opportunities out there. You just might find the right product to help reduce pain, gain more energy and perhaps even find a new sense of adventure. Just as cannabis may have put joy in our younger years, could cannabinoids be back to enhance our bucket years? 

Today’s Cannabis

By the end of 2020, it is estimated that 40 U.S. states will allow some form of legal marijuana usage. For a generation that was once familiar with cannabis, the weed of today is very different from the pot of yesterday. Modern marijuana is beginning to infiltrate the medical community, and recreational users are experiencing a weed that is much stronger than ever before.

In simplest terms, there are two main players – CBD and THC. Most commercial CBD comes from the Hemp plant, and THC is derived from the marijuana plant – both plants are in the cannabis genus. 

CBD – Is it Right for You?

CBD oil has become ubiquitous since the FDA approved manufacturing and consumption. And while the FDA will not allow any medical claims for CBD, most people agree it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The varieties available for consumers are derived from the hemp plant and defined by the amount of THC they contain. Legally, CBD cannot contain more than 0.3% of THC, so it is not psychogenic. Ella Li*,46, from Lynn, Massachusetts explains, “I could take 10 pounds of CBD and it wouldn’t get me high.”

Jeff Wentzel, CEO of US Hempcare, LLC, a family-owned, Connecticut based non-profit that delivers CBD “from seed to bottle”, says his customers use CBD to help with chronic pain, insomnia, arthritis and even PTSD and depression. Wentzel originally got into the CBD business because opioid addiction touched his family in a personal way. “I see CBD as a safe, legal, and natural alternative to opioids and other over-prescribed drugs,” he says. “It feels good to help people.”

Wentzel is happy to say his customers are satisfied and many swear that CBD has changed their lives. He knows of one customer who has finally controlled her seizures, and another who now takes joy in the small task of mowing his lawn, a chore that previously seemed implausible. According to Wentzel, CBD is helping the older generation. He says, “I couldn’t imagine anyone over 50 not taking CBD oil.”

Mary Brooks *, 61, a teacher in Cambridge recently tried CBD tincture to help her fall asleep and discovered it did the trick. “It just tastes awful,” she says.

Even our pets have jumped aboard the CBD chuckwagon. Brooks gives CBD treats to calm her dog down when the dog’s anxiety gets too high. “It’s remarkable. It helped her so much when we moved and now when she’s lonely or startled by a noise, I give her one and she’s fine,” she says.

Finding High-Quality CBD

CBD tinctures, topical ointments, gummies and CBD-related foods and cosmetics can be found online, in pharmacies, and in specialty stores. The market for safe CBD products is growing. Wentzel’s company started on a two-acre plot of land and is now sourcing from 94 regional organic hemp farms to help guarantee a quality product. “Testing the soil is critical to the process,” Wentzel says. “We are continually testing for any contaminants or heavy metals. And, all of our products are continually assessed by third-party labs to ensure compliance and ingredient consistency.”

“There is a lot of snake oil out there,” Wentzel warns. There are a plethora of news stories about inconsistent and unreliable CBD oil shipped to the US from other countries. These products more closely resemble cooking oil than CBD, and they may contain contaminants from the soil. Wentzel recommends being alert to where the hemp is grown and how it’s processed. “We can track where every seed was grown, and we use as much of the whole plant as we can.” The extraction method of the CBD can say a lot about its quality. With research, users soon become experts and concentrate on buying “full-spectrum” CBD that maintains a plant’s “cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids,” as opposed to artificial ingredients.

Wentzel is involved in lobbying and advocacy for the CBD industry. “We have work to do with the FDA and USDA,” he admits. “The goal is to expediently implement regulations for CBD in order to protect consumers and free up the industry.” Until then, customers should become educated before they go to local stores or buy online. The key is being an informed consumer who considers quality over cost.

Will Medical Marijuana Help You?

For millions of adults who suffer from chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety and insomnia–medical marijuana can be a savior.

According to Dr. Ryan Zaklin, an expert in cannabis therapy in Salem, Massachusetts, it’s all about the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). Whether you use cannabis or not, the ECS is active in all of our bodies. In fact, it is through the intricacies of the ECS that cannabis interacts with our physiology.

“The Endocannabinoid System is an elaborate collection of receptors and neurotransmitters that serve to maintain the tempo, or rhythm, of the nervous system, keeping the whole system balanced,” says Zaklin. “This system is ubiquitous, touching upon essentially every physiological system in the body. Thus, when patients use cannabis for a specific ailment, they are often inadvertently bringing other systems into balance, and unintentionally improving aspects of their health.”

 Zaklin explains it’s the nearly 500 compounds in cannabis that may have therapeutic value. He educates his patients on these restorative characteristics of cannabis and helps them navigate the process of obtaining their own medical marijuana licenses to obtain their medicinal marijuana products.

Where Do You Start?

Obtaining the medical marijuana license can be a lengthy, sometimes confusing process and differs from state to state. Some dispensaries will supply a recommended list of doctors who will help patients obtain a license. And, many doctors, like Zaklin, offer a service to guide you through the paperwork. While it once may have taken up to 12 weeks to receive a license, some states report that licensures may be completed within a matter of hours. With a prescription and medical marijuana license in hand, patients must then choose a dispensary. There are currently more than 7,490 across the country.

Revolutionary Clinics in Massachusetts, has been growing medical marijuana since 2017, and now has three dispensaries devoted to connecting their patients, as they say on their website, to “the strains, products, methods, and people that can make it happen.”  Recognizing that the process can be foreign to many first-timers, Revolutionary Clinic’s mission is to make their patients’ visits relaxing, safe and enjoyable. They provide private consultation rooms and a comfortable living room environment where patients can relax and read through their menu of distinctive products with some consultation instead of waiting in line and consulting with a person behind a counter as some dispensaries are set up. Patients are paired with knowledgeable and compassionate advocates who are experienced in conferring with people in need or even in despair.

Chief Marketing Officer at Revolutionary Clinics, Tom Schneider says, “Some pretty heavy conversations have taken place in this room.” Some patients, he says, use cannabis to aid in cancer treatments or even for relief in hospice care.

Schneider sees cannabis as a safe, legal alternative to many expensive and addictive pharmaceutical drugs. Since their inception, Schneider has seen an influx of patients over 45. “Thirty-five percent of our customers are adults who are using medical marijuana as an alternative to traditional medications. The older you get, the harder life becomes,” says Schneider. “Things don’t work anymore!” 

Finding the Experts

David Feligno is the vice president of Stem Cultivation, Inc., a company that delivers hydroponic cultivation towers that are revolutionizing the cannabis farming market. Feligno, who suffered from anxiety and insomnia in college, began using marijuana for medicinal purposes. His approach was unconventional at the time, but it incited a passion around the medical usage of cannabis. “I had a choice. I could take the pharmaceuticals, or I could find my own alternative using weed,” he says.

Feligno recommends that patients do their research. “More doctors are attending workshops and learning about medical marijuana because they don’t want to overprescribe pharmaceutical drugs,” he says. But locating medical doctors like Dr. Zaklin can be challenging. In addition to doctors, there is a community that can help navigate and create a path to wellness. “You can find support with a well-trained budtender at a dispensary, in Facebook Groups, on blogs, and even through friends,” says Feligno. There is a trial and error period for patients to find the right mix of solutions. “No two patients are the same, and no two reactions are the same,” he says. “It’s important to re-evaluate often, and change course when needed.”

The Evidence

Experts report patient success stories that skeptics might not believe. Zaklin recalls a patient in her early eighties who stopped taking four Vicodin daily when she began micro-dosing with THC and CBD tinctures to treat her cancer pain. A patient in her fifties was taking so many anti-inflammatories for chronic pain she developed an ulcer. With the help of cannabinoids and a blend of homeopathic herbs, she is off prescription anti-inflammatories and lives pain-free.

“We’ve had so many patients who’ve drastically reduced their dependency on pharmaceutical drugs and report feeling better than they have in years,” Schneider of Revolutionary Clinics confirms.

Recreational Marijuana – Is it Right for You?

Recreational marijuana has come a long way from the bongs and spliffs of yesteryear. “It is absolutely more potent,” claims James Callahan*, a 55-year-old customer at a dispensary in Lynn, Mass. “I smoked back in the day to get high for a concert or a party, but now I just like it to relax. And it doesn’t take much…”

Consuming recreational cannabis is not recommended for everyone. In fact, using marijuana daily and in large doses has been linked to psychotic episodes. And combining marijuana use with prescribed medications should be discussed with your doctor. That said, there has been a surge in recreational marijuana among the baby boomer generation, mostly due to increased availability and legality. 

“My husband and I will eat a gummy on a Friday night when we want to stay home and watch a movie,” 52-year-old Ellen Lamply* admits. “It’s very relaxing.” Of the consumers interviewed at several dispensaries, many recreational activities were described, from micro-dosing before a hike, using it to increase creativity, and even rekindling romance. One avid golfer uses a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC before playing for a relaxed, yet focused approach. 

“Micro-dosing is key,” dispensary budtender, Alan Langlois* explains, “especially with edibles. The mistake people make is not waiting an hour, or an hour and a half, to feel the effects of an edible. Becoming impatient can lead to taking too much and having a negative incident. This quickly turns people off from what could have been an enjoyable experience.”

Do Your Homework…

The legal cannabis market in the United States was projected to reach almost $14 billion in 2019 — a 32% growth over 2018. It’s no wonder there is confusion in such a dynamic industry.  Experts and users agree, the key to navigating is research.

“Find your gurus,” Feligno, of Stem Cultivation, explains. “There are people who are passionate about cannabinoids, whether they’re doctors, budtenders, bloggers, or experienced users.”

Diving into any marijuana usage is not to be done on a whim. Visit the dispensary’s website, read about products before you leave the house or pull out your credit card. Purchase through regulated dispensaries rather than an unknown dealer or the unregulated black market. All cannabis products purchased through legal dispensaries are required to go through many processes thanks to strict state regulations.

When used correctly, cannabis holds promise for those knocking items off of their bucket list.  Perhaps that long-awaited bike trip in the south of France is attainable? Maybe a good night’s sleep is possible? Keeping arthritis at bay may be a reality. This is not your cannabis of yesteryear, it’s clearly more potent and more promising.  

Any use of marijuana should certainly be approached with caution. Common sense must prevail. No driving, operating heavy equipment or talking to teenagers. But, when used responsibly, many are finding newfound pleasure and relief in “weed.” 

*Chose not to use their real name

Learn more about cannabis in our interview with Dr. Ryan Zaklin.


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About the Writer

Joyce Alla (bucket age 30) and Leslie Martini (bucket age 32) are the writing team Alla Martinis.  Please check out their website, blog and portfolio at Allamartinis.com


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