Imagine it’s 1967. Friends are passing a joint and listening to Sgt. Pepper, just staring and nodding to the music. Soon, they’ll gobble up everything in the house as the post-high munchies set in. It was the Summer of Love. And pot. Any of that sound familiar?
Debbie remembers that scene from her early 20s. But as she and her friends started careers, got married, and had kids, no one she knew used marijuana anymore—until a few years ago. Debbie recalls how, when pot became legal for recreational use in Washington state, people started to bring it out at parties again, noting, “All my friends are my age, and everyone is using pot products now.” Debbie, now 70, says they’re not just getting high, but also using marijuana for pain and difficulty sleeping.
Sleep problems are not included in the Washington State Department of Health’s approved uses for medical marijuana, so legalization has opened up new options for people who struggle to sleep. Debbie used sleep medication for 25 years, but she’d still often lie awake for hours. So, last summer, she went to a cannabis store for the first time. “I thought, ha ha, I’m probably the oldest person in here. And they said, ‘No, it’s almost all old people in here.’”
The surprise for a lot of baby boomers is the vast variety of product available in 2017. I visited Canna, a pot shop in West Seattle, to check out the customer experience. Supervisor Kelly Lovan, barely 30 and dressed like a Nordstrom ad, explained everything. People are sometimes nervous the first time they come into a store, she said, either because they think there’s still a stigma or because they feel awkward not knowing the current terminology. Turns out it doesn’t matter; sellers like Kelly will tell you all you need to know.
Here’s modern marijuana in a nutshell: You can buy flower (bud), oils, tinctures, edibles, lotions, creams, and lip balms. You can smoke it, vape it, drop it on your tongue, eat it, or put it on your skin. Lubrication for lovers is very popular.
There are gluten-free and vegan edibles and pre-rolled joints in dozens of strains. Some strains have more THC if you want to get high, or enhanced levels of CBD (cannabidiol) if you want something for, say, pain management. Before cannabis goes to retailers, labs test it for mold, pests, and the percentage of THC or CBD present. Last fall, Washington officials announced extra screening for banned pesticides in pot.
Ariana Ramirez, Canna’s medical and compliance manager, often advises clients about safe pot use. For example, edibles can take up to two hours to produce effects, and everyone is different, so it’s essential to start small. People who want to buy cannabis for medical purposes should ask their doctors about possible interactions with other medications.
Washington is one of 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized medical marijuana use. Patients whose conditions qualify can buy larger amounts than recreational users, and they don’t pay the sales tax levied on recreational products.
But the extent of health benefits and risks from cannabis use still isn’t completely clear, and there are research challenges since marijuana isn’t universally legal. In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released an extensive report summarizing current research on marijuana and health. Its findings for adult use include:
- Strong evidence for effectiveness in treating chronic pain, controlling nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy, and improving spasticity symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
- Limited evidence that it is not effective for dementia, glaucoma, or reducing depression in patients with chronic pain or MS.
- Not enough evidence to know if it can be effective in treating anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, ALS, Parkinson’s, or spasticity from spinal cord injury, among other things.
The report also included some risks for marijuana use:
- Limited evidence of triggering acute heart attack or stroke.
- Substantial evidence of more frequent bronchitis when smoking it.
- Substantial evidence of schizophrenia developing with frequent use.
- Moderate evidence for increased suicidal thoughts with heavy use.
Dr. Wayne McCormick sees independent, elderly patients in his clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He says “a substantial number” of them use marijuana, mostly for help with sleep or pain. He says they’re all quite confident about using it, and he’s not seen problems with those who do. Most of them rely on the expertise of cannabis store salespeople for the right products.
And if you’ll excuse me, I’m finally going to try out my purchase. I expect to get really, really hungry soon. Now where’s my Sgt. Pepper CD?
Priscilla Charlie Hinckley has been a writer and producer in Seattle television and video for 35 years, with a primary interest in stories covering health and medicine, women’s and children’s issues, social justice, and education. She also enjoys writing really light-hearted, funny pieces whenever possible.
For more information:
Medical marijuana in Washington: www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Marijuana/MedicalMarijuana/QualifyingConditions
Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: