Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Using cannabis to treat health problems

By Adam Baer

Adam Baer
Adam Baer at the Sunset Junction Organic Medicine dispensary

There was a time when I despised the smell of marijuana; inconveniently, it coincided with my college years. So it would probably surprise those who knew me then as a violin-playing, straight-A student to discover that today, at 33, I cruise the streets of Los Angeles with a pot prescription. Then again, maybe it wouldn't. But it surprises me.

As the child of pianists who took trips to Carnegie Hall while others tripped out to The Doors, I always thought of marijuana as a "gateway drug", a bad weed that could only lead to suicide or, worse, failure in the arts. When I gave it more of a chance in my late twenties, it wasn't to boost "creativity". In fact, I don't even know if I like cannabis yet, given all of its strains and forms. Late last year, I simply began to experiment with it in search of relief for some vexing medical symptoms.

I was living in the right city at the right time, to be sure, but I lacked the positive – and extensive – marijuana history that so many of my peers enjoyed. In 1999, I took my first hit as a college junior from a pipe that belonged to my younger brother. At the time, I was feeling even more invincible than other young men: I had recently survived Hodgkin's disease and a stem-cell bone marrow transplant, following sub-lethal chemotherapy and a failed romance with an engineer. If I could endure such objective toxicity, I reasoned, something natural couldn't cause too much harm. I was right, but all I remember is coughing like an emphysema patient and obsessing about (imagined) cockroaches on my walls. A few years later, I tried pot again, while working in Manhattan as a music writer. But after a similarly bad experience at a Radiohead concert, with my undead pal the Maharishi, I ended the relationship.

Then my life changed dramatically: in 2005, after I moved to Los ­Angeles, I began to experience the onset of mysterious after-effects from my "cured" cancer, including peripheral nerve damage and a potentially malignant lesion in the base of my skull, something that few doctors could make sense of, much less treat.

Fortunately, California life proved to be therapeutic in itself: I found solace in the sylvan hills, the surf, the Pacific dolphins. My new crowd included more creative, fewer type-A people. And of course drugs were every­where. The first day in my new apartment, I "lunched" at a neighbouring rocker's pad. In a scene like something out of Annie Hall, he offered me a dent out of a miniature Matterhorn of cocaine. Later that winter, I attended a Christmas party at the home of a wannabe-dancer-turned-television production assistant. Instead of the usual ornaments, her Christmas tree dangled bags of weed, joints and hash. "How'd she get all that stuff?" I asked a studio musician. "She goes to one of those, like, medical places. She's 'sick' with 'insomnia'."

Medical marijuana in a jar
At the Sunset Junction Organic Medicine dispensary

"Opposite world" is how my New York-based brother described my new dimension. He was on to something. Not only did everyone seem to survive in this city without a job, but the green crosses on storefronts with signs reading "Compassionate Care Collective" weren't advertising chemists. It was a new century, and these were a new breed of "legal" medical ­marijuana dispensaries – stores that sold medically approved weed in California even though the drug was proscribed under US federal law.


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