Oz Update

blimp

I took the plunge last summer by enrolling in my state’s medical marijuana program, and shared the experience from a variety of perspectives here, here, and here. Close to four months have elapsed since then, and I’ve learned a lot about the various products and what works for me. I’m at the point where, although I am certainly not an expert on the subject, I can share and speak intelligently about my experience. Perhaps it might come in handy if this is an option you’re considering.

Why has it taken four months? Because the volume and variety of products to choose from is vast, and I wanted to try several to see what worked best for me. I was a blank slate in the beginning, but through trial and error I am finally at the point where I feel like I know what I am doing. The bottom line for any person dipping their toe into this pool is the two most important factors you need to consider before selecting the  product you want to try is the buzz factor, and how you want to consume the product.

Each item on the menu I choose from lists how much Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannibinol  (THC) is in the product.  You can obtain products that have more of one than the other, equal or close to equal amounts of both, or all of one and none of the other. Because CBD isn’t psycho-active, it’s legal almost everywhere. In fact, my masseuse offers CBD oil as an option. Technically, weed without THC is not considered cannabis, but hemp. THC, on the other hand, is what drug tests are trying to detect, and is what creates the feeling of being high.

So, decision number one should be whether or not you want the feeling THC provides. A glass or two of wine may provide more of a buzz than items with a low THC content, but I don’t know what that amount is. In my case, I like the feeling THC provides, which I have termed “cruising with the blimp.” It makes listening to music, watching television and sporting events, specifically the just completed World Series, more compelling. Writing on the stuff is interesting too.

So yes, I enjoy the buzz, but only to a certain degree. I remembered that too much THC can create a sense of anxiety and paranoia, at least for me. This was a non starter because one of the reasons for taking MMJ was to reduce my level of tension and anxiety. I wanted something with a decent amount of THC, but not so much that it could become problematic. So I had to find that happy medium.

This is where the type of product comes in. The only item off the table from the start was the pre-rolled items that one smokes. Ours is a smoke-free house, and I have a twenty year old at home who is definitely not pro-drugs. The last thing I wanted to do was act like a felon, sneaking away somewhere to fire up a doobie. Besides, the smell lingers on clothes and skin. There was also the issue of what smoking could do to my lungs, so you can see why this option was never considered.

Instead, I have tried three categories of MMJ over the last four months: vaping products, something called sub-lingual strips, which is a small square that dissolves under your tongue, and edibles. The edible I used was honey, because it was something I could easily hide. I avoided the other edible options, (cookies, brownies and granola) because they were a lot more expensive, dosing was trickier, and I could see Nidan, who is a supreme mooch and excels in finding hidden treats, unearthing my stash and eating everything in one fell swoop. Nor did I employ the creams or topical balms, primarily because I didn’t have joint or nerve pain, and assumed it wouldn’t do anything for me.

I started with the vaping stick because it was affordable, and I could easily control my intake, and therefore the high. I tried the other products because I didn’t think there was any difference as far as my lungs were concerned between vaping and smoking, but finding the proper dose for the other product types was challenging.bitter The sub-lingual strips, which have a strong peppermint flavor and taste like shit, don’t provide much in the way of relaxation unless you consume the entire square. Since there are only ten strips to each container, that becomes expensive very quickly.

The honey, which was the priciest item of the bunch, was the most difficult to dose. A half a teaspoon didn’t do anything, and a heaping teaspoon turned out to be too much. Too much in the sense that the high was too strong, the paranoia would come and go in waves, and I often felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin.  The other issue with edibles is that they take longer to work, because the components need to be digested before they are released into the bloodstream. But once the “high” came, it took hours for it to leave. You see, when you smoke, vape, use a spray or a topical cream or ointment, 100% of the product is not consumed. That isn’t the case when you eat the product. The impact is therefore more dramatic when it hits, and it takes a lot longer for the THC to leave your system.

So I am wedded to the vaping for now. These come with a wide selection of THC content, which is nice, and I can easily control how much I ingest, which means I have more control over the effects of the medicine. The downside to this method, besides the fact that I’m putting something in my lungs, is that the effects aren’t as long-lasting, so I tend to consume more of it. But it is also the most affordable option I have tried, so it does not break the bank.

I can see myself keeping some of the honey available for future use, in addition to the strips, if for no other reason than to have a little variety. The bottom line is this is now part of a my night-time routine. I am not as uptight as before, my leg rarely twitches, I sleep better, and rarely wake up before the alarm rings. I swear it has helped relax my leg muscles too, which helps with the walking.

Why do I think that? Before I started the MMJ, my right foot did not point straight ahead when I planted the foot while walking. It stuck out sideways at a forty five degree angle instead, which would make my hip and lower back bark. I’m not back to where I was before the MS set in, but the foot is much closer to ninety degrees (pointing straight ahead) than forty five, and the corresponding back and hip soreness has disappeared.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to visit the web site that I order from so see if they come up with any new product that sounds appealing. I’m secretly hoping for THC infused ice-cream.

ice cream

A THC infused beverage wouldn’t be a bad idea either. It’s a pity the brand name Mellow Yellow is already taken.

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Program For This Important Announcement

leg

This was one of those weeks where coming up with a topic to write about was a chore, and writing about said topic was tedious at best. For the better part of an hour and a half, I fought my way through writing about something my heart wasn’t really into, and trying to make it sound entertaining and relevant. When I was done, I had my typically shitty first draft completed, and was poised to make it look pretty and shiny today.

Then the obvious hit me like a bolt of lightning.

As you know, most of my recent posts told the story of my decision to dip my toe into the medical marijuana world, and what the experience was like. A lot of readers were enthused about the journey I described and asked for updates. My plan was to go back to that subject in a month or two, but after I had closed the file on the draft I was going to polish today, I had an epiphany about something that happened within the last week.

I am walking better. Better than I have in years.

When I had my last flare, the symptoms moved from just below my knee to my lower thigh above the knee. This was a game changer because I no longer had a firm foundation below me. My leg felt like a broken kickstand, one that could easily wrench violently to one side, tearing ligaments in the process. My limp became more pronounced, my balance became infinitely worse, and the leg felt like it didn’t belong to me. Performing any physical task became more difficult and potentially dangerous, as my tales of woe about snow removal this past winter described.

But as I rose from my recliner to grab a can of seltzer from the fridge last Saturday evening, it occurred to me that I was actually bending my knee as I walked, and moving the leg in more of a normal walking motion rather than having the knee locked, and swinging the leg forward by the hip. The knee felt strong and stable, which meant the entire leg felt more controllable, and I felt steadier on my feet.

Keep in mind I was a little buzzed at the time, compliments of my PM dose of CBD oil, so I asked an impartial observer, Kim, if it was my imagination or if I was actually walking better. After watching me move around the living room and head back to the recliner, she agreed it appeared that way.

Talk about a holy shit moment!

I wasn’t going to take this as gospel though, because part of me was wondering if I was over dramatizing something because I wanted to justify taking the new med. It just so happened that I had my quarterly neurologist visit two days later, and I told Dr. G. on Monday that it felt like the leg had improved, that I had reclaimed some strength and control in the knee, and was walking a little better as a result.

He put me through the paces, and lo and behold, it wasn’t my imagination. I’m not going to bore you with the details of what the “paces” are, but he confirmed what I suspected. There was measurable improvement.

That assessment was reconfirmed yesterday, two days after I saw the neurologist, during my annual physical. My PCP put me through similar paces and drew the same conclusion. There is therefore no doubt I’ve regained some territory from my MS foe, and the functionality within my leg has improved to where it was before the last flare.

Great news, yes, but let’s not get carried away. What I’ve described represents a subtle, incremental, improvement. If I were to place a percentage on how much better I think I am, it would not exceed ten percent. I still need my cane, my balance still sucks, and I still can’t run, jump, or even consider going on a dance floor. I remain disabled.

However, walking with the cane doesn’t take as much effort, and I can actually walk faster and in a straight line with the cane instead of meandering from side to side. I can also lift the leg a little where before I had to grab it around the thigh or calf to lift it, particularly when getting into and out of my vehicle.

Most importantly, I have increased confidence in my ability to do stuff, where before I shied away from tasks for fear of falling or hurting myself. I’m actually looking forward to resuming my exercise routine, and am curious about how the leg will feel when I push myself.

After years and years of things slowly getting worse, this is the first time something sustainable seems possible. So what caused these changes?

I started taking Super Biotin about seven weeks ago, and the CBD Oil began a little less than three weeks ago. These are the only new items that have been introduced into my routine. I’m sure the CBD oil is at work here, because I was on Super Biotin once before for a longer period than the current six or seven weeks, and nothing changed at all. I don’t think it is any coincidence what I have experienced occurred shortly after I began taking CBD every day.

Is the improvement here to stay? Logic says no. In the past, I experienced improvements when new treatments or a new medication was introduced, but they were short term in nature, and faded as my body got acclimated to them. I’m therefore trying not to get too giddy about this recent development. While I would be sad, it would not shock me to see these changes regress over time, and have the weakness climb back above the knee.

Hopefully I am wrong, but I’m not dwelling on this possibility. Instead, I’m cautiously optimistic for the first time in a long time that maybe, just maybe, I’ve found something will actually help control my symptoms, and am enjoying every minute of this new feeling. I am a true believer in the benefits of medicinal MJ for MS.

As a matter of fact, I’m going back to the dispensary Saturday morning to re-load.

Oz Fest

free

When I visited the MMJ dispensary for the first time, the choices were staggering. There was stuff you could smoke, stuff you could apply topically, stuff you could inhale, drops and wafers you placed under your tongue. There were edibles ranging from cookies to gummy bears to honey. Each item had a specific THC content, presumably designed to target specific pain or anxiety levels.

After making my selection, I wandered over to the front desk to study the “menu” of items more closely, and it was like reading a foreign language. Everything was sorted by category (edibles, oils, etc.), but the actual terminology is what was so foreign. I presume that with time I’ll understand most of it, but for now I am a complete greenhorn, and wish I had asked if they had paper copies I could take home to study.

Before I arrived, the only thing I was sure about was that I was approved for 2.5 oz. of product each month. After one visit, I’ve only scratched the surface of product knowledge except for one thing: based on what I selected, 2.5 oz. is a hell of a lot of product to consume in one month.

All of the available choices, and their degrees of potency (buzz factor) made this a difficult decision. Part of me would have loved to go retro and bring an actual 2.5oz bag of agriculture home, just to see how it compares with what I remembered from back in the old days. In reality smoking the stuff was a never a consideration because it isn’t something you can do discreetly, and the aroma is unique and lingers, to say the least. The last thing I wanted to do is smoke pot in front of Shodan, or have him ask what that smell is.

Edibles and stuff that I could rub into my skin was not high on my list either. For one, it takes longer for the medicinal benefit of these products to take effect, and I could envision Shodan, who is a sneak when it comes to candy, finding a stash of gummy somethings and chowing down, so scratch that off the list. Honey didn’t appeal to me either because I thought that could get messy. Plus I know I would not want to waste a drop, and have you ever been able to get every last drop of honey out of its container?

I considered the drops that go under your tongue, but passed on that too, but don’t remember why. I gave serious consideration to a wafer type thing that dissolves under your tongue, but passed because they didn’t have a version I could take during the daylight hours (weekends only or after work) that would not impact me cognitively. The only version they had in stock had a higher THC content, which for me meant it could only be taken at night. I was also a little spooked about how strong these might be when the pharmacist suggested I start by cutting them in quarters and take them in that quantity until I was comfortable with the dosage. I can see myself revisiting this option in the future once I become more familiar with what I can tolerate, because of all the options, this is the most discreet.

My selection was the CBD oils that go into a small, cylindrical container called a “slim,” that isn’t quite the length of a number 2 pencil but is similar in width. I have two slims, one for the daylight hours (less THC) and one for night time (more THC). The containers these slims come in are marked AM and PM.

The top of each slim has a small hole in it, and, interestingly enough, the bottom of the slim shines red when you are inhaling what is inside. This process looks a lot like vaping. You place the end of the slim with the hole in it, after you remove a plastic cap of course,  into your mouth, wrap your lips tightly around it and inhale, sucking the contents into your lungs. Then you hold it for as long as you can (as least that’s what I do) before exhaling. Sometimes a little vapor emerges when you exhale, which might mean you’ve taken too much, but it is nothing like the swirling cloud you see with the electronic cigarettes. It is barely noticeable, in fact, like a fine thin mist, and it works pretty quickly.

I chose an AM and PM version because I wanted something that would address the restless leg issue and general anxiety during the day without feeling incapacitated, and something stronger at night to address the leg issue plus whatever aches and pains I am dealing with. So far it has worked like a charm.

Each container has less than half an ounce of oil in it, and the pharmacist estimated that each would provide thirty hits, which if true would last an entire month. I guess we’ll find out if the doses I give myself are correct by how soon I have to replace either slim. I did the math, and I can get three sets of these each month if I had to and still not surpass my allowance.

As far as sticker shock is concerned, there wasn’t any, which might have been the most surprising development. My out of pocket expense is higher for most of the MS meds I have and am currently taking than what I paid for both slims.

The daytime slim takes the edge off without feeling drugged. The only sensation I experience is a warm, relaxed feeling, and it definitely has calmed the leg. The nighttime version, the one with more THC, does give a body and head buzz, but it is not sloppy or heavy. I’m sure I could get supremely stoned if I took several hits instead of one, but that was never my intent.

The PM version does not impact my ability to have a conversation or function physically. Having said that, if I’m laying in bed, or watching the Red Sox on my 65 inch flat screen (headphones on, of course) on my recliner, I can really feel my body and mind completely relax. It’s almost like I’m floating on a cloud both physically and mentally. It’s quite nice!

My leg has not twitched AT ALL since I started taking the stuff. I haven’t experienced any foot or toe cramps either. Nothing prevents me from falling asleep, and I have not been waking up as often during the night. I’m asleep until the alarm beckons, and feel very fresh and rested when I get out of bed.

I believe my overall temperament has been better, but K would be a better judge of that. I feel less stressed, and am definitely in a don’t worry-be happy mode when the sun goes down.  In case you are curious, the phenomenon you might know as “the munchies” does not exist.

I’ve always believed in the medicinal value of marijuana, and my brief experience with it has strengthened that conviction. I am sure that anyone who is dealing with PTSD, high anxiety, pain of any kind or has gastrointestinal issues that qualify for its use would benefit from it. I strongly encourage anyone that lives in a state that permits this medicine for specific conditions to see their doctors, and ask them to file the paperwork necessary to get them on the program.

For now, I the only regret I have about this endeavor is that I waited so long to take the plunge.

The Land of Oz.

OZ

Once the decision was made, the first thing I had to do was select a dispensary to call my home. This was important because once the facility was selected, I was wedded to it. There aren’t a lot of locations in the state to choose from, and even fewer that are close to home, so the choice boiled down to two places. One is in a suburban area that I knew would be in a “good” location and easy on the eye, and the other in a more urban area. The urban location was fifteen to twenty minutes closer, so that’s the one I selected.

I had a general idea of where the place was located, and left home sooner than I needed to because the person I scheduled the appointment with urged me to arrive at least fifteen minutes early to complete the paperwork. It’s a good thing I did, because even though I had the address and knew the street the office was on, it was not easy to find. In fact, I drove by it twice.

The dispensary is in a non-descript brick building that I wouldn’t compliment by calling an office park.  It looked more like a square bunker with a lot of doors, and a few windows.  Actually, all the businesses at that location had the same street address and a unique unit number. There was no signage at all, nothing to announce the name or street address of the location. My GPS kept announcing that the location was on my left (then right as I passed it a second time). By then my bladder was about to erupt, so I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to heed nature’s call. As I did, Ms. GPS announced I had reached my location, and I had a WTF moment. Through my windshield, I saw the building I described in the next parking lot, and figured that must be the one. Once I finished my business, I pulled out of the lot I was in, turned left, and took a semi u-turn into the new parking lot. As I did, I spied the name of the place I was looking for on a small sign affixed to one of the doors.

After I backed into my parking spot and left the car, I surveyed the area. One of the negatives about choosing this location is that it is not in the greatest neighborhood, as it lay on the fringe of a hood that I would not want to visit when darkness falls. It was not an isolated area, the buildings aren’t decrepit, and the ground is not littered with trash or broken glass. There are a couple of large car dealerships were nearby, so I don’t want to give the impression it is in a war-zone. But the area is urban, and you can see the razor wire of one our state’s high security prisons in the distance. Better Homes and Gardens, it is not.

As I approached the building there were two doors, only one of which had an intercom, so I pushed the intercom button, and the receptionist buzzed me in. As the secure lock clicked behind me when the door closed, I walked up to the receptionist who was behind what looked like bullet/shatter-proof glass, and gave her my temporary certificate and driver’s license. She looked those over, then released another secure door that was to my left, and met me as I walked through it, handing me a clipboard in the process.

The office, which could be better described as a botique, was u-shaped, tastefully decorated, clean and modern. A high definition flat screen television was mounted on a wall in front of a variety of sofas, tables and chairs, with a rolling loop extolling the virtues of and the different kinds of medicinal pot that was available, but there was no sound. I didn’t do much investigating, so I don’t know what might have been on display.

The paperwork was straight forward and took about fifteen minutes to complete. It asked, among other things, my condition, my symptoms, and what I would consider using. The receptionist re-emerged as I was signing the last document, and I handed it over to her. She showed me where the restrooms were, a refrigerator that was filled with bottled water, and the exit, which happened to be the door next to the one I entered. Apparently, patients had to leave via that door, on the opposite side of the office, for security reasons.

Ten minutes later, as I sat pondering what would happen next, one of the pharmacists, called my name. A young, attractive woman approached, introduced herself and shook my hand as I rose from my seat, and escorted me to a private meeting room. For the next twenty minutes, this person reviewed my symptoms and the choices that lay before me.

The number and variety of these choices made my head spin. A five page color-coded laminated notebook, similar to a restaurant wine list, lay by her side. There appeared to be at least two-hundred items on the menu, and that might be a conservative guess. If this kind of thing were available in my twenties, assuming it were all legal, of course, I would have been like a kid in a candy store.

The pharmacist also had a little box with some of the paraphernalia that came with many of the options, ranging from rolling papers to something that looked like a communion wafer container. As she reviewed the choices, she removed an item in that box through which the drug was delivered. It was all very professional, thorough, and non-judgmental. She made comments such as, “I like this..,”  or “This is really nice…,” which made me wonder if they have to sample the product and delivery systems before they can meet with new clients. If that’s true, what a gig!

I asked a handful of questions, made my selection, then waited outside in the lobby while they prepared my selection. Now that the bloom was off the rose and I wasn’t on edge about the entire thing, I looked at the menu more closely and began to people-watch. I don’t think a single person in that office who wore a white coat was much older than thirty.

Clients like myself ran the gamut. Most people there appeared to be in their sixties, and a few might have been in their seventies. Nobody looked younger than the staff who worked there. Some were very professional looking, others looked old and haggard, and there was one guy there who looked like a total burn-out. Think of the “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on Taxi. I was the only one with an obvious physical disability, which made me think most of the others were either dealing with a PTSD issue, anxiety, or some other kind of pain.

The best part of the deal was the sticker shock I expected did not transpire, but I will delve into that more with my next installment, where I will share what was on the menu, what I ultimtely chose, and how it’s working so far.

Stay tuned.

 

 

The Stigma of MMJ

Fear

One of the reasons I think I took so long before deciding to take the medical marijuana plunge  is the stigma that remains attached to using this kind of medication in some circles. Why that exists astounds me, but I have to admit I worried that people might think differently of me. Then I decided that those who know me best wouldn’t give it a second thought, and that I could care less if any trolls emerged from the dung heap of closed-mindedness

Medical marijuana should never be confused with the stuff you can buy off the street. It is regulated, highly controlled, tailored to attend to a variety of symptoms, and most of what is available doesn’t involve getting high. So let’s please not confuse one with the other.

Not that it matters. I’ve always felt the stuff should be legalized. If  people can legally drink themselves into oblivion and become potential lethal weapons should they get behind the wheel of a car or truck, or become so addicted to opioids that they have to turn to heroin when the supply is cut off, ruining their lives and the lives of their loved ones in the process, pot is harmless by comparison. So why the hell not? To me, the gateway drug paranoia is a crock perpetrated by the tobacco, alcohol and drug lobbies who don’t want to lose market share.

If you live in a state like Connecticut, whose state budget has been drowning in red ink for years, you can tax the shit out of it and solve your budget woes so fast it would make your head spin. Alas, nerve and guts seem to be a missing characteristic in politicians these days.

A Date With The Wizard of Oz.

MJ

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, we’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. We hear he is a whiz of a Wiz if ever a Wiz there was. If ever oh ever a Wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one because, because, because, because, because, because……Because of the wonder things he does.

Over the last ten plus years this body has ingested or been shot up with a host of pharmaceutical products. The ones I can remember are:  Interferons (Betaseron and Copaxone); Steroids (solumedrol); A variety of pills (Low Dose Naltrexone, Super Biotin, Ampyra); Chemotherapy Agents (Cytoxan, Ocrevus). Add apheresis (plasma transfers) to the mix and you can see that I’m not shy or afraid of trying different things to try to contain this beast.

There has however been one product that I have shunned for years, and I’m not sure why. It is one I was intimately familiar with for a ten year period starting my freshman year in college, but I never pursued it because I didn’t think I needed it. Going that route would simply be taking advantage of the fact that my condition allowed me to. In other words, I’d be taking this product for the wrong reasons, and while this may not have been as strongly entrenched when I was young, I am very big on what is right and what is wrong.

But I finally relented, and will be visiting what I have coined the Land of Oz., and I don’t mean Oz as in the movie. The Oz. I am referring to is the abbreviation of ounce, or in this case, ounces. Yes, I will be visiting a medical marijuana dispensary for the first time Saturday morning.

There are several reasons for the change of heart. I ran them all  by my neurologist and got the thumbs up to proceed, otherwise I would dropped the matter. As a matter of fact, their office processed the paperwork, sent their portion in, and sent me the link for the stuff that I had to complete the next day. Those items were completed and submitted on-line within twenty four hours, along with a non-refundable $100 payment, and I received my temporary permit via email last week. The entire process took about two weeks.

Why am I doing this? My restless leg is becoming increasingly annoying and uncomfortable, my back and hip are aching constantly, my leg foot and toes often cramp, I think I am more anxious, and K has repeatedly said my level of crankiness and intolerance is increasing. That was news to me, but when she pointed this out I began paying attention to my moods, and wouldn’t you know it? She was right. So we will give this a whirl and see if any of these things improve.

I’m looking forward to the visit, primarily to see what these places are like. I have no idea what to expect, no idea if the “product” will be displayed, and have only a rudimentary understanding of the options available to me. If I’m not mistaken, there will be a lot of items to choose from, which will be fascinating. The last time I was involved in this kind of purchase, it was over thirty years ago, an ounce of the “product” was in a baggie, and the cost was $40. That seems like a lifetime ago.

Now I can legally purchase two and an half ounces of the stuff every month without any felon’s guilt. From what I understand, many of the options don’t even produce a buzz, which is probably the way to go. But there is a part of me that would like to get the product that has the highest THC content so I can once again go cruising with the blimp, an expression from my college days, and completely tune out. Maybe I can get a little of this, and a little of that, something for any occasion.

Having said that, I really don’t know what is or is not allowed. What I do know is that I will be meeting with one of the pharmacists when I arrive for what I presume will be an orientation, a review of what they have, and what might work best for what I am trying to address. I wasn’t even sure if would walk out the building with anything, or have to wait and come back when whatever they ordered is received, but the person I spoke with made if very clear that I was to bring cash, a debit card or a checkbook. No credit cards are accepted. From this I have drawn two conclusions.

The first is that I will be bringing a month supply of something with me when I return from the visit, and the other is that I am in for sticker shock.

To be continued….