MARIHUANA: THE FORBIDDEN
MEDICINE (REVISED AND EXPANDED EDITION)
Order the Revised and Expanded Edition (1997) of the book on-line!
To give you some idea of what we have discovered and what we are looking for, we are posting several excerpts from the revised and expanded edition of Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine. Here are several accounts of medical marijuana use from our book, in the words of people who have experienced its value.
Early in 1972, after the death of Sidney Farber, the Harvard children's oncologist for whom the Sidney Farber Cancer Research Center was named, my wife and I were invited to dinner at the home of a fellow Harvard Medical School faculty member. He wanted me to meet Emil Frei, who had arrived from Houston to serve as Dr. Farber's successor.
At dinner, Dr. Frei told me about an eighteen-year-old Houston man with leukemia who had become more and more resistant to cancer chemotherapy because he could no longer tolerate the nausea and vomiting. His doctors and his family were finding it increasingly difficult to persuade him to take the drug on which his life depended.
One day, to Dr. Frei's surprise, the young man willingly agreed to take the drug and from then on offered no resistance to chemotherapy. He eventually revealed that he had been smoking marijuana twenty minutes before each session; it prevented all vomiting and even the slightest hint of nausea. Dr. Frei asked me whether this property was mentioned in the nineteenth-century medical literature on cannabis, and I told him that it was. On the way home my wife Betsy, who had listened with great interest, suggested that we obtain some cannabis for our son Danny.
Danny was first given the diagnosis of acute lymphatic leukemia in July 1967; he was ten years old. For the first few years he was good natured about his treatment at Children's Hospital in Boston, and even about the occasional need for hospitalization. But in 1971 he started taking the first of the drugs that cause severe nausea and vomiting.
Danny was one of those patients in whom these reactions were uncontrollable and not sufficiently alleviated by standard antiemetics. He would start to vomit shortly after treatment and continue retching for up to eight hours. He vomited in the car as we drove home, and on arriving he had to lie in bed with his head over a bucket on the floor. Still, I was shocked when Betsy suggested that we find cannabis for Danny. I objected because it was against the law and because it might embarrass staff members at the hospital, who had been so remarkable in their commitment to Danny's care. I dismissed the idea.
Danny's next treatment was two weeks later. When I arrived, Betsy and Danny were already in the treatment room. I shall never forget my surprise. Normally my wife and son were in a state of great anxiety before the treatment began, but this time they were completely relaxed, and, what is more, seemed almost to be playing a joke on me.
Finally they let me in on the secret. On the way to the clinic that morning they had stopped near Wellesley High School, and Betsy had asked one of Danny's friends to get her some marijuana. Once he recovered from his disbelief, the friend had run off and reappeared a few minutes later with a small amount of marijuana. Betsy and Danny had smoked it in the parking lot of the hospital just before entering the clinic.
My surprise gave way to relief as I saw how comfortable Danny was. He did not protest as he was given the medicine, and we were all delighted when no nausea or vomiting followed. On the way home he asked his mother if he could stop for a submarine sandwich, and when he got home he began his usual activities instead of going straight to bed. We could scarcely believe it.
The next day I called Dr. Norman Jaffe, the physician who was in charge of Danny's care. I explained what had happened and said that while I did not want to embarrass him or the rest of the medical staff, I could not forbid Danny to smoke marijuana before his next treatment. Dr. Jaffe responded by suggesting that Danny smoke marijuana in his presence in the treatment room.
Danny did that the next time. When he was given the chemotherapeutic agent, Dr. Jaffe could observe for himself that he was completely relaxed. Afterward he again asked for a submarine sandwich. From then on he used marijuana before every treatment, and we were all much more comfortable during the remaining year of his life.
Doctor Jaffe asked me to join him in reporting our observations to Dr. Frei, who was sufficiently interested to perform the first clinical experiment on the use of cannabis in cancer chemotherapy. [Sallan SE, Zinberg NE, and Frei III E. Antiemetic effect of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy. New Eng. J. Med 293 (1975): 7975-797]. (TOP)
Osteoarthritis is the most common of all joint diseases, affecting sixteen million people in the United States alone, including two-thirds of those over sixty-five. It usually develops slowly over many years as the layer of shock-absorbing cartilage that protects the ends of bones breaks down, exposing them and allowing them to grind together. The breakdown of cartilage probably results from poor joint alignment or an accumulation of everyday minor traumatic injuries. The main symptoms are joint stiffness, swelling, and pain, especially in the morning. As the loss of cartilage progresses, irritating the soft tissue around the joint, pain may become constant and interfere with sleep. The disease occurs equally in both men and women; men are affected especially in the hips and back, women in the hands, and both sexes in the knees.
The following account is by Kay Lee, an osteoarthritis sufferer who uses marijuana:
I am fifty-one years old. I have raised five children to productive adulthood pretty much single-handedly, and now have four happy grandchildren. I just completed my third year of study toward a BSOP [Business Operations] degree, while living alone most of the time. I rather enjoy the challenge. Three years ago I began researching the subject of marijuana as a medicine for a term paper. I chose this topic because, after nearly thirty years of recreational, creative, and therapeutic use, I now relegate most of my cannabis to the medicine cabinet -- exactly as my grandmother did before the politicians just said "no."
During my five-year bout with migraines, marijuana replaced Demerol injections many times; for PMS and cramps, it replaced Mydol and aspirin; for colds, it replaced expectorants, suppressants, decongestants, antihistamines, and analgesics. When I had to pull myself out of depression after my oldest son drowned, marijuana substituted for Valium and lithium. And now I use it for the chronic pain of arthritis.
Until you or someone you love tries to deal with arthritis, you cannot understand how destructive it is to the quality of life. My mother died at the age of sixty-three, physically much older than her biological age. Doctors couldnt agree on whether she had Alzheimers or severe depression, but no one misdiagnosed her arthritis. In the last ten years of her life her hands became crippled, deformed, and nearly useless. Hot wax gloves, ace bandages, creams, and pain medications were of no avail. Her tiny, misshapen fingers twisted and curled over each other, some facing the wrong way; her pain was constant and merciless.
For the last couple of years my own hands have begun to take a central place in my life. Doctors tell me an injury triggered a propensity that was already there. I have lost most of the strength in my left hand, and pain in both hands is a loud reminder to limit my movements. The ache involves the knuckles, middle joints, and wrists; cold weather or the slightest injury makes it worse. It is getting hard to lift things and open cans. My fingers become stiff from inaction, from too much action, or from the wrong actions. My sleep is disturbed.
When I smoke what I call "kind medicine", it's never more than three or four minutes before the ache begins to fade. Although it is still there, it seems to have moved into the distance. The physical relief lasts hours longer than the actual high. I try to get a lot done while I am still feeling it.
The ideal dose for me is a half joint every four hours. Since I can't always afford to buy that much, when I have some I limit myself to a half joint twice a day -- once in the morning to work and once at night to sleep. When I run out, I simply suffer until I can afford more, and then take on the unpleasant and dangerous task of trying to find cannabis of medicinal quality. I used to worry about people knowing I was high, but no one notices, so I have stopped worrying.
My mother died in despair, robbed of this gentle medicine by politics. She refused to try marijuana because of the misinformation spread by the government and anti-marijuana groups. Once my aunt complained to my mother that her son, my cousin, had dropped out of school and was smoking pot. My mother replied, "You know, marijuana makes people stupid." Later I asked her, "Do you think Im stupid?" she looked at me with astonishment and said, "Of course not." I told her I smoked marijuana. Trembling with fear, she said, "I often thought I would try it if a doctor would make sure nothing went wrong." But no doctor would have helped her, and anyway, my father, with his snapped-shut mind, would have turned us all in. I should have educated her anyway, but I didn't know what I know now. Im sorry its too late for her. As for me, I have decided to spread the word for the sake of everyone who needs this medicine or cares about someone who could benefit from it.
Chronic pain such as the pain of osteoarthritis is usually treated with opioid narcotics or various synthetic analgesics, but these drugs have many limitations. Opioids are addictive and tolerance develops. The most commonly used synthetic analgesics -- aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen -- are not addictive, but they are often insufficiently powerful. Furthermore, they have serious toxic side effects, including gastric bleeding or ulcers and, in the long run, a risk of liver or kidney disease. Stomach bleeding and ulcers induced by aspirin and other NSAIDs are the most common serious adverse drug reactions reported in the United States. These drugs may be responsible for as many as 76,000 hospitalizations and more than 7,600 deaths annually. Heavy drinkers (more than six ounces of alcohol a day) are especially sensitive to the gastrointestinal effects of NSAIDs. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is increasingly prescribed instead because it largely spares the digestive tract, but it can cause liver damage or kidney failure when used regularly for long periods. Medical researchers have estimated that patients who take one to three acetaminophen tablets a day for a year or more account for about 8-10 percent of all cases of end-stage renal disease, a condition that is fatal without dialysis or a kidney transplant. Given the limitations of opioids and the non-addictive synthetic analgesics, one might have expected pain specialists to take a second look at cannabis, but the medical literature again suggests little reconsideration. (TOP)
The symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which occurs in the week before menstruation, include anxiety, sadness, irritability, fatigue, moodiness, difficulty in concentrating, and various physical discomforts.
Cannabis was commonly used in the nineteenth century for the treatment of symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. J.R. Reynolds, Queen Victoria's physician, prescribed it to her for premenstrual symptoms and menstrual cramps. In 1890 he wrote in The Lancet, England's premier medical journal, that "When pure and administered carefully it [cannabis] is one of the most valuable medicines we possess." Although there is no twentieth-century medical literature on the topic, many women with premenstrual syndrome say that they find cannabis useful.
Judy Fix is a thirty-five-year-old administrative assistant to a Wall Street broker:
I have used marijuana for many years to alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome -- bloating, headaches, mood swings, and anxiety. I also use it to relieve cramping and fatigue during the menstrual cycle itself. I have tried conventional medicines such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Only ibuprofen has any effect; it eliminates cramping, but only in a triple dose that causes increased bloating, drowsiness, and constipation. When I start to experience the confusion, anger, and hypersensitivity that signal the onset of a premenstrual mood swing, smoking a joint is the one remedy that works immediately to soothe my nerves. It is as if my whole system has been slowed to put everything in order. My thought processes are less jumbled; I react less impulsively and become more rational. If I smoke half a joint at night, I sleep better. My husband of six years has attested to these effects many times.
For the last five years I have worked in a fast-paced and tense environment that requires me to keep a clear head and make important decisions. On a normal day smoking pot might be detrimental to my performance, but when I'm premenstrual it becomes necessary if I am to function at my usual capacity. I'll go outside and take a few hits off a joint, and by the time I return I feel much more in control. I'm able to organize my work and think each task through. I usually smoke at two-hour intervals. My employer and some of my co-workers are aware of the situation, and they support me fully, even though they do not smoke marijuana themselves. I recently gave a woman at my workplace a joint during her menstrual period, and she came in the next morning raving about how it eased her cramps and decreased her anxiety.
Recently my husband was charged with possession of marijuana. He had just bought some at a local grocery and we were stopped by undercover cops as we drove away. The police drew their guns, put us up against a wall, and threatened my husband with a beating. After speaking with us and seeing we were reasonable people, they told us they had to arrest him to help close down the store. We were told that he would be held a few hours and then issued a summons, which they said would probably be thrown out of court.
The whole experience made me angry. Both we and the officers were put in a compromising position. If pot were legal, the police could concentrate on more serious issues. Meanwhile, I still have to worry about losing my job if the wrong person sees me smoking. I am not a menace to society but a productive person seeking relief from a very real medical problem. The benefits of marijuana greatly outweigh the risks; I have found nothing else as effective and non-irritating. I hope the medical community will grow more assertive in supporting the legalization of medical marijuana.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac) have been shown to be an effective treatment for severe PMS, but they often have side effects, including loss of sexual desire, that limit their use, and they may not work for all women with the disorder. Further clinical investigation of cannabis is warranted. (TOP)
BIPOLAR OR MANIC-DEPRESSIVE DISORDER
In bipolar or manic-depressive disorder, the inconsolable misery of major depression alternates with mania or uncontrolled elation. In the manic phase people with bipolar disorder are cheerful, gregarious, talkative, energetic, and hyperactive. Their spending is often extravagant and their behavior reckless. They may imagine that they have extraordinary talents and are or soon will be rich and powerful. This reckless, restless cheerfulness and expansiveness can suddenly turn into incoherent agitation, irritability, rage, paranoia, or grandiose delusions.
Antidepressants alone are not a good treatment for bipolar disorder and may even make it worse. Lithium carbonate, introduced into medicine at about the same time as tricyclics, has revolutionized the treatment of bipolar disorder. It prevents mania and to a lesser extent bipolar depression. Although lithium takes several weeks to start working, its success rate is about 70 percent and 20 percent of patients are completely freed of their symptoms. Patients generally require long-term maintenance treatment, and because lithium can be toxic it must be used carefully. Chronic use may endanger the heart, kidneys, and thyroid gland. Usually the dose is gradually increased until the drug begins to work and then periodically readjusted according to the patient's age, medical condition, and psychiatric symptoms. The amount of lithium in the blood must be checked regularly because it is ineffective if too low and risky if too high. Some side effects are weight gain, hand tremors, drowsiness, and excessive thirst or urination. Patients often cannot tolerate lithium either because of the side effects or because it takes some of the joy from their lives along with the manic episodes. It has been described as a "loose-fitting emotional straitjacket." Only 20 percent of patients with bipolar disorder take lithium alone. Other drugs used in the treatment of bipolar disorder are the anticonvulsants carbamazepine (Tegretol) and valproic acid (Depakote), which may be used either alone or in combination with lithium.
Thirty to 40 percent of patients with bipolar disorder are not consistently helped by conventional treatment. For some of them cannabis may be useful in ameliorating the symptoms, reducing side effects of lithium, or both.
The following accounts are by a forty-year-old software engineer and his thirty-seven-year-old wife, who suffers from bipolar disorder. He speaks first:
My wife and I and our two boys live in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. My wife was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1982 and has been taking lithium since 1992. She also uses marijuana for her symptoms. She has had six psychiatrists in the past fourteen years and has been interviewed by many more. I have always told them that she uses marijuana regularly, and not one of them has told her to stop. They do not even seem to care or pay attention.
I posted a question about this to the alt.support.depression.manic newsgroup on the Internet. I asked whether doctors knew something about marijuana but could not recommend it because of its illegality. The responses were varied, but most people who were manic-depressive said marijuana helped them, and one said that some doctors considered it effective in controlling mood disorders.
My wife functions much better when she uses marijuana. When she is hypomanic, it relaxes her, helps her sleep, and slows her speech down. When she is depressed and would otherwise lie in bed all day, the marijuana makes her more active. When she runs out of marijuana and can't get more, she becomes more irritable and hard to live with. Lithium is also effective, but it doesn't always keep her in control during seasonal mood changes.
Our dilemma is that our thirteen-year-old has been through the DARE program and has learned about the evils of drugs and alcohol. He opposes all substance use, legal or illegal --- and I want it that way. But he knows that my wife uses marijuana and it "eats" at him, although he also knows about her illness and how marijuana helps. Understandably, all this confuses him.
I believe that marijuana could help some people if it were made available as a prescription medicine. Certainly there are other health and social issues involved, and I can't decide what would be right for the country as a whole. All I know is that in this family it has relieved us all of much suffering.
Now his wife:
I am thirty-seven, and I have been using marijuana for twenty years. I was diagnosed bipolar in 1982. I take lithium and Wellbutrin [bupropion], although I dislike these drugs. I've gained about forty pounds since I started taking lithium, but otherwise there are no side effects.
My thirteen-year-old son knows about my illness. He has also known about my marijuana smoking for about five years. He realized what I was doing after he participated in the DARE program in school. It bothers me when he comes home and says they talked about drugs and he was thinking that his mother is "one of them". He doesn't want anyone to know his mother is a "druggie," and until now we've kept it as our secret. I don't think he would tell anyone, but I'm still afraid something might get out. Sometimes these programs use tricks to get kids to inform on their friends and relatives. They say, "If you really care about this person, the only way you can help them is to report them." My husband has talked to him about it. He has explained that lithium and the other medications I'm taking are drugs. He also explained that many legal drugs are far more dangerous than marijuana and that no one has ever died from using marijuana. But my son insists that if it is illegal, then it is wrong. This bothers me so much that I have considered stopping.
The trouble is that at times when I feel tired and run-down, just a couple puffs of marijuana bring me back to life. Sometimes I think it brings me to a level of normalcy that everyone else achieves naturally. At other times, when everything seems to be going like a whirlwind around me and I can't keep track of what I'm thinking about or saying or feeling, the marijuana just seems to slow the world down a bit. When I have trouble sleeping, it helps zonk me out, but if I have trouble waking up it brings me to life. I don't like being thought of as a "drug-abusing mother," but I actually think I'm a better mom when I'm feeling in control because of marijuana. (TOP)
Pseudotumor cerebri is an uncommon disorder characterized by abnormally high pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Either the fluid is being produced at an accelerated rate or its outflow is being slowed; the underlying cause is unknown. The symptoms, which may include headaches, nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances, resemble those of a brain tumor -- thus the name. The patient's vision may be endangered by papilledema (swelling of the optic disk). The disorder is three times more common in women than in men, and it may last from several months to a lifetime.
None of the available treatments is especially effective, and the high rate of spontaneous recovery makes the evaluation of treatments difficult. Patients are sometimes given corticosteroids and high doses of diuretics to reduce fluid pressure. Frequent lumbar punctures (spinal taps) may be required to drain off CSF. In serious cases surgery is performed to insert a tube to shunt fluid from the brain into the abdominal cavity. As a last resort, when vision is seriously threatened and other treatments have failed, a surgeon may make an incision in the sheath of the optic nerve to relieve the pressure of papilledema.
Lori Horn is a twenty-nine-year-old woman with pseudotumor cerebri who has used marijuana recreationally since the age of eighteen. Here is her story:
About four years ago I decided to quit using marijuana because bills were becoming hard to pay. After five months of abstinence I began to develop severe headaches and disturbances in my vision (spots before my eyes). I went to see an optometrist, thinking I might need glasses. He sent me to a hospital ophthalmologist, who found acute pressure behind my eyes and three pinprick hemorrhages. I was rushed to an emergency room, where a neurologist said I might have a brain tumor. Fortunately, X-rays, CAT scans, blood tests, and a spinal tap all came back negative. At that point I was given the diagnosis of pseudotumor cerebri. The doctors prescribed Motrin [ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug], prednisone [a powerful steroid], and Diamox [acetazolamide, a diuretic].
The prednisone made me extremely moody; my face swelled up and I gained an enormous amount of weight. The Diamox caused muscle cramps and made my leaky bladder worse. Motrin did almost nothing for my headaches. I was told I might need surgery (which didn't always work) to prevent blindness. I began to live in fear of losing my sight; I had nightmares and cried for hours.
By now it had been eight months since I'd last used marijuana, so I decided to smoke a joint. It was almost magical. For the next two weeks I had no headaches, no disturbances in vision. Doctors even said my eyes looked better (the papilledema had disappeared). When I told my neurologist, he didn't seem very interested but said, "If it works, use it."
Although it was against doctors' orders, I quit taking all the prescribed medications and began smoking a joint once every few days instead. Now I find that I get headaches and visual disturbances if I go more than a week without a good joint. The more potent the marijuana, the longer my eyes remain healthy. They look so good now that all talk of shunt surgery and spinal taps to relieve pressure has ended.
My family has watched the miracle of my marijuana use, and they know it helps me. I thank God it was there as an alternative to the knife and to drugs like prednisone. I only wish I had a doctor to back me up, but the hospital where I was treated offered me no support, not even written documentation of my self-medication and its miraculous effects. When I heard about you I decided to tell you my story. It touches my heart to find that there really are people who care about people like me. What can I do, where can I go? I've been charged with possession once already. I pray it doesn't happen again. (TOP)
One long-term effect of diabetes, especially the kind that begins early in life (sometimes referred to as juvenile or Type I diabetes), is damage to nerve fibers of the autonomic nervous system. This system controls, among other things, the gastrointestinal tract, and three-fourths of people with diabetes have gastrointestinal symptoms. One common syndrome is diabetic gastroparesis (the word means paralysis of the stomach), a disorder in which food remains in the stomach because of a failure of peristalsis, the natural contraction and relaxation of muscles that moves it along. The resulting symptoms include bloating, belching, nausea, vomiting, a sense of fullness, and appetite loss. Some serious consequences are malnourishment and loss of control over blood sugar levels. Patients are advised to avoid foods that slow gastric emptying and given prescriptions for agents that speed it up, such as metoclopramide (Reglan) and cisapride (Propulsid). In the most severe cases surgery is attempted. None of the standard treatments works particularly well.
The following account was written by a thirty-seven-year-old man who suffers from this syndrome:
In 1963, when I was five, I was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus after falling into a three-day coma. By the time I was hospitalized, my blood sugar was so high that all the veins in my body had collapsed. I have been dependent on insulin ever since, and it is a miracle that I am alive today to write this. My purpose is to inform other diabetics about a treatment for one particular diabetic complication.
I am one of those diabetics who is regarded as "brittle" because our blood sugar fluctuates wildly and almost uncontrollably. The resulting poor blood circulation and nerve damage (neuropathy) affect every part of the body, causing a myriad of symptoms. The one that concerns me here is the loss of function in the gut that occurs after many years of nerve and circulatory damage. The muscles of the GI tract, especially the stomach, are unable to move food through my system. It's called diabetic gastroparesis. The food sits in the stomach and causes bloating, acid buildup, and nausea, which may lead to vomiting. If this goes untreated, it can be life-threatening. Blood sugar quickly rises to dangerous levels, and the resulting dehydration almost always leads to hospitalization for as much as a week.
This condition must be fairly common, since the pharmaceutical companies make two medications specifically designed to treat it, Reglan and Propulsid. Reglan is effective but very sedating. I used it for eight years, and I feel almost as though I slept through those years. It also caused me to lose equilibrium and contributed to a loss of sexual functioning. Propulsid, which I have been taking for about two years, does not have these side effects, but it doesn't move food through my system nearly as well, even at the double dose I am taking now. Another drawback is the cost of $160 a month, which is a real hardship for someone living on a fixed income.
I take my medication as prescribed, but in addition, when I can, I have begun to smoke a small amount of cannabis twenty minutes before each meal, usually just a couple of hits from a pipe. This outlaw drug makes the prescribed medication more effective. The bloating, the nausea, and the feeling of fullness go away, with practically no side effects. For the first time in years I can sit down to a meal and actually feel like eating (to see what I mean, try eating a full meal when you are already full from having just eaten).
The only problem I have with cannabis is that the supply is unreliable and street prices are just ridiculous. Most of the time I cannot find it or cannot afford to pay the going rate. And I am made to feel like a criminal for seeking an effective treatment for a potentially life-threatening condition. Someone who is dying from a chronic degenerative disease should not have to face incarceration because an effective medication for that disease has been made illegal by the government. I am only asking to be allowed to raise a small patch in my own yard for my own personal use. Who is harmed by that? Meanwhile, I hope I can help improve the quality of life for others suffering from gastroparesis by sharing my experience with cannabis. (TOP)
Largely by historical accident, marijuana in late twentieth-century America is regarded as exclusively a habit of the young. But it has not been so closely associated with youth at other times and places, including the United States in the nineteenth century, when cannabis was used mainly as a medicine. More than three decades have passed since marijuana first became popular in the United States, and members of the generation that learned to enjoy it then are moving toward old age. Many of them will probably discover that cannabis can ease the burdens of age as well as enhance the pleasures of youth. The people who tell their stories below may be pioneers. One such pioneer is Del Brebner who is 78:
In old age it often seems that everything is depressing. "Try not to get old," I advise young checkout clerks while I'm fumbling old-lady-like for the grocery money. Sometimes I think I'm not really joking. I may make an offhand remark about the funeral of the week, but that's no joke either. At seventy-eight you attend too many funerals. The daughter of an old friend calls and you know the instant you hear her voice that she is going to tell you that your old friend has succumbed. Of course I am reminded that I'm going to die in a minute. After all, my father died at seventy-nine.
I get an $8,000 bill from my dentist. I remember when dentist bills were around $20. My knees hurt. Why doesn't my son call? Last night I trumped my partner's ace. I've been playing pretty good bridge for sixty years! And I did that? Pension! Who wants a pension!
It is increasingly painful to observe political chicanery, corruption, and cynicism. Sophie, my best friend for seventy years, calls and we sputter together about these things. We send newspaper editorials and columns to each other. We despair of the world.
Oh, and I forget names I have known forever. The names of friends, writers, actors, names I used this morning. I hate myself. My husband hates me too, I guess. I listen to him muttering baby talk to the cat, and I crawl into myself and feel sorry for the lost woman I was.
In short, sometimes old age seems to present a daunting parade of gloomy displeasures and discomforts. And when all these natural burdens accumulate, help is hard to get. Well, it may be easy to get Prozac or lithium. Hard to get is what may be the best medicine -- marijuana. I'm trying to exercise restraint, but this is an issue on which I am tempted to moralize and preach.
An occasional hit on a simple little dried leaf in a pipe or rolled into what looks like about a third of a tobacco cigarette takes me on a small but restorative ego trip. I enjoy this three or four times a week, using about a tablespoonful of the weed altogether. The quality of the pot varies, and so do the results, but almost invariably I achieve some release from the emotional and physical burdens of a "ripe old age."
I have happy thoughts about the person whose funeral I attended recently. What fun we had together at the 1939 World's Fair! What a good life she had! All those adorable grandchildren! My father died at seventy-nine, but my mother is one hundred and two years old, and anyway, if I die I won't know it. And meanwhile I have this fabulous book to read, putting it aside now and then to prolong the pleasure. I dip up a handful of mixed nuts and munch contentedly, enjoying all those expensive bridges I paid for. My knees don't hurt. They will, but right now I don't have to go down any stairs, and anyway they're not so bad. Look at all the people who need knee surgery and hip replacement. All I have is a little discomfort. I can handle it.
I call my five-hundred-month-old baby and we share a few jokes, some news. He keeps me on the phone, and we plan a weekend. He will bring some friends I particularly enjoy. So what if I trumped my partner's ace? Don't we all do that once in a while? I'll do fine next time I play. That pension check is just dandy. It's paying for my dentist, and I don't have to put on tight shoes with heels and go to work in the morning. But boy, wasn't I good? And couldn't I do it now? (Thus speaks marijuana.)
Thank heaven I have Sophie to sputter with about political opportunism. We actually have a great time lashing out at our leaders. Yes, I forget names, but I almost always do well playing Famous Names, even against much younger people. And between us, my husband and I can usually come up with a name we are looking for. Hey! How can he not love me? I go over and kiss him, and together we smile down on the best cat in the world as we snuggle for a while.
I am basically an optimist, but I would have more persistent negative feelings about heading into my eighties and extinction if I did not have the pleasure of my marijuana-induced ego trips. And that's not all. I also find it helpful for insomnia, itchy skin, boredom, loss of appetite, indigestion, and -- name it. Sometimes, to be sure, I recall that using the forbidden medicine is a crime, and I wonder what kind of ego trip a women's prison would provide. (TOP)
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