Boomers turn on to medical marijuana

(By Stephanie Hiller) For many people, “marijuana” suggests images of hoodlums and criminals crouching in back alleys or hippies with uncombed hair living on welfare. But gradually a new picture has emerged, of a plant anodyne with a remarkable ability to soothe suffering, even cure intractable diseases that have eluded the technological medicine that had once seemed the source of our deliverance.

Evidence of this shift in attitudes was well in view recently at Sonoma’s Vintage Senior Living community. Some 30 boomers, now turned seniors, came to hear a physician discuss the potential benefits of medical marijuana, also known as cannabis.

Leading the discussion was Dr. Richard Lenson is an MD from Napa who has been studying marijuana since a motorcycle accident forced him to retire from his orthopedic practice.

“No one is clear about cannabis,” he said. “There is no truth, only stories.” But then, stories have always run through medicine.

“Physicians tell stories of what they think is going on with their patients, based on their personal biases,” Lenson continued. “Many doctors will say that cannabis has no medical benefit whatsoever. But it is known to treat glaucoma. On the other hand, drugs that have been approved by the FDA sometimes turn out ten years later not to work at all.”

Stories about cannabis have turned some skeptics into believers. “You have only to see the benefits for someone you love,” he added.

One woman said she became an advocate when she saw how cannabis helped her mother cope with terminal cancer. She could tolerate the treatments, felt less pain, and “kept her weight on” due to improved appetite.

Yvonne Baginski, publisher of “Born to Age,” a directory of local senior services, has encouraged Lenson to speak about cannabis. In a phone conversation she told of an 82-year-old woman who was confined to bed due to arthritis. “In a week, she was walking around, out of pain and enjoying food.” She gave a small piece of brownie to her husband, an Alzheimer’s patient, when he became agitated, and he calmed down.

Lenson spoke about his own experience using cannabis cream for relief of poison oak, to which he is highly sensitive, saying it provided immediate relief and even alleviated the rash entirely in a few days. An asthma patient told of getting more relief from smoking pot than from using his inhaler.

Stories, true ones.

As to the alleged dangers, most of them do not appear to be real, Lenson said. Taking cannabis does not necessarily interfere with your driving, he said, and smoking it does not appear to cause lung disease. It is not addictive, and it doesn’t make you stupid, either. The 60-80 components of the plant, called cannabinoids, plug into receptors that already exist in the body to achieve their effect. One of these, TLC, is the one that makes you feel high. The other, cannabidiol, does not affect the mind but alleviates pain. Both may actually prevent or slow cancer.

“I don’t think it should be denied to anyone,” said Patty G. Willner after the meeting. “Blood pressure, diabetes, Crohn’s, it helps the body regain balance.”

No wonder the seniors in the room lit up — with enthusiasm — after Lenson’s talk


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