Medical Cannabis for Boomers and Beyond

Wait a minute, should this even be a thing? Those born from 1946 to 1964, now aged 53 to 71, are the “Baby Boomer” generation. Weren’t we the ones who turned the establishment upside down in the Sixties and Seventies with “the Pill,” with “free love,” with protesting (sometimes violently) about the Vietnam War, with cheering on the anarchy of the “Chicago Seven,” with disrupting college campuses, with tripping out on LSD? So what’s the big deal about marijuana for us?

Well, in actuality, after my own research and interviewing many of my peers, let me dispel the myth that those behaviors were universally embraced by everyone in that same age bracket. The ideals of the “Boomers” were widely adopted: embracing the need to save the planet, recycling, having fewer children, planting trees, refusing to blindly accept everything our government tells us, becoming more active in governmental policy – but reality and ideals are not the same. Few traveled the path of “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

It was easy to adopt a more relaxed dress code, challenge your parents’ attitudes and rules, and stop going to church every Sunday, but weed would have crossed a line. We knew that everything around us would have a certain smell and our eyes might give us away. We never had any extra cash and a lot of us were non-smokers to start with, so weed-smoking was hardly alluring.

Not everyone went to college back then. Ready access to drugs didn’t exist if you stayed in our own small hometown where most college students came from, a product of very conservative parents who struggled and sacrificed to give us a better opportunity. My mother had a high school diploma; my father never finished high school because of the depression. In interviews with my peers, we remember that it was the few wealthy students who were first to have a ready supply of the drugs. Their parents visited campus in fur coats and expensive cars, but mine came in a Studebaker. It was easier for the rich kids to buck the system because they knew they always had their family’s wealth to fall back on. Most of us had to get that college degree for our futures.

Because of finances, the man I married was in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), a direct path into the armed services, partially because of the draft – the government decided when you, personally, went to war – and partially because it helped pay his way through school. Yes, we felt a bit torn between that conservative commitment and the more liberal pull from some of our friends, but our goals for life were clear, predicated on the securing of a college degree. So we did not partake.

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that from 2002 to 2014, marijuana use in our age group rose from 1.1 percent to 6.1 percent, which equals a 455% increase. Now, we are collectively older: Some disabled from the wounds of Vietnam, some simply from age, and some from cancer.

In every stage of life, someone draws the short straw. My brother at 63 is completely disabled from an aggressive and unrelenting form of degenerative rheumatoid arthritis. He is in a high level of pain constantly. Nodes have infiltrated his lungs. He’s on oxygen. There’s a drug called Subsys, a more powerful form of fentanyl. It is now the only pharmaceutical that will give him any relief from his chronic, high-level pain and inability to move or even stand. The pharmaceutical company gave him the Subsys for a few months on a trial. He’s now cut off.

The irony is that, in New Hampshire, there is an opioid epidemic killing hundreds of people. What is the main black market drug? Subsys. I have contemplated standing on a street corner trolling for this drug for my brother. Recently, the state in which he lives allowed medical marijuana use. The family agreed that he should use it, yet we hesitated, old tapes playing in our heads. Would this, now, still be a betrayal of our parents’ trust?

We think in this instance, even our long deceased parents would agree that it is all right. What about any residual brain damage? My brother knows he’s near the end of his life. There will be no getting better. What if you’re not terminal? Is it still okay? What if you’re over 70: Should you use medical marijuana? Consider if, as with any treatment, the side effects will be worse than the disease you are suffering from? Not likely. You’ll hesitate due to old programming, but your aim is not to experience a high, not to drop out of society, not to abdicate any responsibility – it’s ultimately to improve the quality of your life – yet we do think about that because old programming runs deep.

Are you planning on going back to school for a Ph.D.? Planning on research, or any other activity demanding heavy thought? That’s not a slam to older people, nor is it meant as form of discouragement. Nor is it admitting that there are long lasting side effects. It’s a reality check.

Long ago we were raised to be rule followers but we readily broke many of those rules. When you age, a more reasoned approach settles back upon you. We will think about it, some of us more than others, before we act. Changes in the laws do much to assuage our concerns.

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