by Suzanne Quinn
When is the last time you thought about marijuana? Well if you have a chronic health condition, you’re likely up to date on medical marijuana and have thought about trying it.
When I was a kid, the legal drinking age was 18 or 21, depending on which state you lived in but that really was no obstacle. I remember going to parties where alcohol was easy to find, but marijuana was illegal. My friends experimented with marijuana and I may have tried. But it wasn’t readily available, and you could find yourself in a heap of trouble. When I went to high school during the 70’s and 80’s, the “burnouts and stoners” smoked pot. So, if you had told me when I was 18 that I’d be going to a marijuana dispensary 45 years later and talking to a professional “Budtender,” to select my medical marijuana, I would have thought YOU were high.
And yet, here I am.
I knew from my work as a nurse that marijuana and its derivatives were being used medicinally. One of my most nagging Parkinson’s symptoms is chronic joint pain. I have heard that there were CBD lotions that could offer relief and decided to investigate. It took some time to actually get my hands on the lotion.
There is a rather involved process to secure access to medical marijuana. It’s important to understand that the byproducts of marijuana that are used in medicinal compounds, namely THC and CBD, do not make users stoned or high. And that’s a good thing! Especially for a population of patients that already experience hallucinations from some medications. It’s considered a controlled substance and there are a few hoops I had to jump through.
The PA web site walks you through the steps. First you have to register with the state. There are about two dozen conditions that qualify for a medical marijuana card and Parkinson’s is on the list. Then you have to go to an approved physician. Your primary care physician may not be on that approved list, most doctors aren’t. This part can be expensive. My visit was $200 and it only took 15 minutes. Once you are certified by an approved physician, it’s back to the state web site and a $50 payment to get your card. The card looks a lot like a driver’s license with your photo. Once you have that card, you are good to go and that’s when it gets really interesting!
My first visit was to a dispensary in a non-descript building in a shopping district. You wouldn’t notice anything exceptional except for the armed guard outside. I brought my driver’s license and medical marijuana card and showed them to the guard. I went in to find a second locked door. It was like going to a really expensive, secret jewelry store. When I pass through the second door I’m finally inside. And while it’s technically medicinal, this place does not look like a CVS. There are people standing over glass cases staring down, inspecting different types of marijuana. A budtender assures me that he’ll be right with me and shows me to a seat to comfortably wait. It was definitely an experience going for the first time.
The budtender comes over and we discuss my symptoms and options. He recommends a THC lotion for $84. It takes all of ten minutes and I’m done. Yes, it is pricey, but I am anxious to find some relief. And unfortunately, it’s not covered by insurance.
When I start using the lotion, I apply it generously. It does help with my pain, but I find it’s a temporary fix, so I apply a little less as I continue. Now, I only use it when I really need relief. I’m finding that I return to the store to replenish my supply every eight weeks or so. Doing the math, I’m spending about $8.50 a week out of pocket. So far, it’s worth it.
Now when I go back it feels like a normal, everyday experience. I’ve become comfortable with the people and the process. It was a little mysterious at first. But now it’s just another way to help manage symptoms in the fight.
Just like every case of Parkinson’s Disease is different, everyone’s experience with medical marijuana will be different as well. Therefore, as a nurse and a patient I can only recommend that you talk with your doctor about whether it’s the right step for you to try.