Have you ever seen a newborn baby hold on to your finger with a vice-like grasp of determination? That is our job when we are born and as we age the task at hand is to learn to let go gracefully. Letting go is often a difficult lesson for us to learn.
In my years of being a hospice nurse, I had occasion to talk with patients and families about the use of marijuana. The use of medical marijuana was not approved during that time. I was forced to let go of being able to offer assistance with providing something that would help my patients be more comfortable. There are many kinds of caregivers, but for this article I am going to focus on medical marijuana caregivers.
Marijuana has been used to treat illnesses for thousands of years. Medical use of marijuana has won voter approval and is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
In Maine, the state licenses medical marijuana caregivers to provide legal medical marijuana and counseling to certified patients who benefit from this herbal treatment for numerous debilitating conditions.
Some conditions cannot be adequately treated with pharmaceutical drugs and some patients have difficulty with the side effects of those medications. Some examples: Medical marijuana can be useful in combating severe nausea from chemotherapy, reducing the agitation of Alzheimer’s, reducing eye pressure from glaucoma, alleviating chronic pain while reducing or eliminating the need for opiates, reducing persistent muscle spasms, seizures, and the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
“We work with patients to help them find the right marijuana medication for them,” says one licensed caregiver in the Greater Portland area. “Every person’s body chemistry is different and their needs are different. They may need a strain that will help them sleep at night or to be alert during the day. Many people are surprised to find that there are many ways they can use medical marijuana. Besides smoking, they can vaporize, use tinctures, edibles or rub it on their skin as a balm or lotion. It’s important for patients to be able to control their dose depending on their symptoms.”
Marijuana breeders have been developing many different strains to have different effects, including strains that have little or no psychoactive effect. Some of these strains have been very effective in dramatically reducing epileptic seizures in children, literally saving their lives.
While most medical use of marijuana is for relief of symptoms, there is promising early research showing shrinkage of tumors in glioblastomas and metastatic breast cancer. Unfortunately, it is currently difficult to get adequate funding for research because the federal government is not yet willing to recognize marijuana as having medical benefit. Many politicians have been unable to let go of their preconceptions.
Fortunately, millions of patients have let go of their preconceptions to find help with their illnesses.
This is a transitional and challenging time for government, researchers, physicians, patients and caregivers. For example, caregivers must declare all income and pay taxes to the IRS from legal caregiving but cannot deduct legitimate business expenses. Current laws and regulations make it difficult, if not impossible, for Maine patients living in nursing homes, hospice facilities or subsidized housing to use medical marijuana even if they have physician certification.
Maine medical marijuana caregivers are only allowed to have five patients and must pay the state $300 a year for each patient. They are bound by very strict regulations and have yearly background checks. The economics of being a medical marijuana caregiver are difficult. Yet for those who do it, the rewards are great.
“Knowing you are helping a person relieve their suffering in a way they can’t get anywhere else is a privilege and very rewarding,” says the licensed caregiver. “It’s amazing when a family member who is ‘dead set against marijuana’ completely changes their opinion when they see their loved one get so much benefit.”
Letting go of our preconceived notions about the use of marijuana opens us to new possibilities and potential for growth. Often managing symptoms with this proven alternative gives us more independence and capabilities without the side effects of powerful pharmaceutical drugs. It can even help us tolerate those pharmaceuticals that we need to take.
Right now in Maine there are more patients than there are caregivers available. The laws are changing, though not quickly enough for many patients. If you meet someone who is a licensed medical marijuana caregiver, be nice to that person. He or she working to help your debilitating symptoms go up in smoke.
Here are a few FAQs about Maine medical marijuana:
Q: How do you become a legal medical marijuana patient in Maine?
A: You must have a written recommendation from a physician saying that you have a qualifying condition.
Q: What are legal qualifying conditions in Maine?
You must have:
• A “Debilitating medical condition,” which means cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, nail-patella syndrome or the treatment of these conditions.
• A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces intractable pain, which is pain that has not responded to ordinary medical or surgical measures for more than six months. The chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment produces one or more of the following: cachexia or wasting syndrome; severe nausea; or seizures, including but not limited to those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including but not limited to those characteristic of multiple sclerosis; or post-traumatic stress disorder, inflammatory bowel disease, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders and other diseases causing severe and persistent muscle spasms.
Q: If I am a medical marijuana patient, will I be on a list somewhere?
A: No. Your physician’s paper recommendation on tamper-proof paper is your legal certification. Although not necessary, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will provide you with a card certifying your status as a medical marijuana patient if you wish.
Q: If I am certified, how do I get medical marijuana legally?
A: You have three options: 1. You may grow your own plants. 2. You may sign up with a state licensed medical marijuana caregiver. 3. You may purchase it at one of the eight state licensed dispensaries. Your recommending physician or the websites can provide you with information on dispensary locations and licensed caregivers with openings for new patients.
Q: How much does medical marijuana cost and will insurance pay for it?
A: Costs range generally between $200-$400 per ounce. Unfortunately, at this time, no insurance will pay for it.
For more information, contact Compassionate Caregivers of Maine (www.mainemedmarijuana.com), 1-866-327-4559, or Maine Medical Caregivers of Maine (www.mmcm-online.org ), 596-3501
Lenora Trussell, R.N., is an end-of-life tour guide. She is available for presentations, workshops, and as a travel planner for that pesky end-of-life journey we are all destined to take. If you have questions, comments, suggestions about this article, email firstname.lastname@example.org.