‘Bill’ is 56 years old, happily married for 30 years and the proud grandpa of two little girls. He has been employed in administrative management roles for most of his professional career. On his days off he swings the nine iron and during Sault Ste. Marie’s wintery seasons, Bill locks on his Rossignols and bombs the hill. At the end of the day he’s at the BBQ with a Corona or testing out a new recipe in the kitchen while drinking a glass –or three, of a good Cabernet. Bill typifies the Sault’s average medical marijuana user.
According to Koral Falldien-Walker, Clinic Supervisor at Bodystream in the Sault, their clientele is composed of every age but the majority falls within the 50 to 80 yrs. old category –about the time the aches and pains of life begin to take their toll. Falldien-Walker estimates that since opening their doors not quite one year ago, the clinic has supported 1500 local patients in acquiring medical marijuana prescriptions to manage myriad health issues. However, an accurate statistic indicative of total marijuana prescriptions is challenging as many people, like Bill, went out of town years ago to acquire these scripts.
Bill has conventionally managed his arthritis for the past 15 years or so, first using over the counter anti-inflammatories and pain killers then graduating on to steroids, voltaren and other medications. But the pharmaceuticals were often a trade-off providing short-term relief –sometimes, for a slurry of other side effects, and for Bill most predominately, stomach problems, jangling nerves and moodiness, headaches, and disrupted sleep.
“I’m not debilitated by arthritis but when it flares up it can be a few weeks before I’m fully functionally again,” remarked Bill. “It was getting tough a few years ago. I pride myself on being a pretty fit guy but there were some days at work I couldn’t make up to the third floor without the elevator.”
Bill’s condition manifests in feet and knees, and fingers and wrists. “It was kicking my ass and I’ll be honest, I was getting pretty depressed.”
A long-time friend and golfing buddy, ‘with connections’, popped over to share a cold one on Bill’s back deck one summer evening. It had been humid for a few days. Bill’s knees were aching and he had foregone their weekly round on the green that day.
“We were just sitting there and I guess it was pretty obvious that I was frustrated with everything and then he pulls out this joint,” laughed Bill. “I honestly had not seen one of those since my university days.”
Bill admits that he was a bit experimental during his post-secondary endeavors but didn’t give weed a second thought once he began his career and started his family.
“So we’re sitting there, and my wife is in the house talking on the phone or watching the Bachelor or something and he says to me ‘you know this might help’. And honestly, I was willing to try anything at that point. So I had a few puffs and honest to God it helped- a lot. I had the best sleep that night than I had in two weeks.”
With some trepidation, Bill informed his wife the next morning about his foray to the ‘wild side’ the night before. “She just looked at me and said, ‘do you think I’m that naïve. I could smell it as soon as you lit it up. You should do it more often!’ And my wife’s pretty by the book,” laughed Bill. Bill and his wife discussed pursuing a prescription for marijuana and a couple of weeks later Bill headed down south to stay with his son while he got his referral from a medical cannabis clinic in London.
Medical marijuana is being used to treat myriad health issues and Falldien-Walker shared that Bodystream clients may be diagnosed with cancer, HIV and other auto-immune diseases, bowel disease, arthritis, lung disease, and mental health issues. Bodystream is an OHIP-based, privately owned clinic that works within provincial regulations assisting individuals who seek to acquire prescriptions for medical marijuana and connects patients to provincially approved licensed producers of cannabis. There are 15 Bodystream clinics in Ontario, one of which opened in Sault Ste. Marie in 2016.
On a slow day the local clinic sees about 25 clients a day and a typical day brings in 50 to 60 people. Upon opening last spring there were wait lists from 6 months to a year but Falldien-Walker attests that wait times have been cut and clients are often scheduled within a two-week timeframe. While a doctor referral for medical marijuana speeds up the process, people can walk into Bodystream without one- and many often do.
Falldien-Walker pointed out that locally there is still some hesitancy among the medical community to prescribe marijuana. “Some doctors just aren’t educated or comfortable with it. It’s still fairly new. But within the last year we have seen more referrals coming in.”
Over decades there has been a lot of reputation built up around the cannabis plant and law-abiding North Americans perhaps have a more difficult time re-envisioning the beneficial and holistic use of the plant than recreational users. The stigma associated with pot has compelled Bill, and many other medical users, to secrecy.
“Only my close family knows about my ‘special medicine,” remarked Bill.
As mentioned in a Northern Hoot article earlier this week, at the end of the third quarter in 2016 Health Canada reported that 4,773 kg. of dried cannabis and 2,2420 kg. of cannabis oil was sold by Licensed Producers to clients. A CTV report revealed that since the Liberals took power the number of registered marijuana users has quadrupled with nearly 130,000 holding cannabis prescriptions and registered to buy cannabis with one of the growers licensed by Health Canada.
Of the explosion in prescriptions locally, Falldien-Walker remarks, “It’s really exciting.”
And for this community that seems to have an alarming and growing problem with narcotic addictions and a recently declared overdose epidemic, medical marijuana may provide an effective alternative in a resource starved community and region, where people desperate to expunge themselves of opioids and opiates are forced to seek out doctor-supervised methadone or suboxone programs as an alternative to a complete recovery from drug dependency. As many who have journeyed down this chemical road to recovery have shared –it’s a hard one to get off.
Falldien-Walker has noted that several clients have come through Bodystream’s doors in the hopes of giving up narcotics or getting off drug programs for good. “We have quite a few patients that will very slowly switch over to using marijuana only and then they don’t have to use methadone anymore. It’s a much healthier alternative. When you’re dealing with pharmaceuticals you’re dealing with a bunch of chemicals. When you use marijuana, you’re using a plant. It’s a natural product and they’re should be no pesticides.”
Using marijuana to alleviate physical and mental health symptoms definitely isn’t a new concept and it would be impossible to know how many tens of thousands using weed to self-medicate are gliding under the national radar. For those not interested in pursuing a medical prescription the inevitable though onerous task of legalizing cannabis will at least impose regulations on production and may benefit medical and recreational users alike. In the case of producers that may be ‘cutting corners’ regulating production can ensure that marijuana is free of pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides, and testing can deter the production of bunk cannabis laced with crack cocaine, PCP, mdma, and other chemical substances.
Bill, who isn’t much of a smoker, has been inspired to take up ‘baking’. Capitalizing on his gastronomic talents, he has begun making cannabutter. “I like the effect better too. It took some trial and error but I can get steady relief on the days I need it and still be productive and active. And that’s what it’s about for me.”