Q: My mom lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s 68 years old and has very limited mobility due to multiple sclerosis. She also has glaucoma and is a breast cancer survivor. (She was only given a 50/50 chance of surviving by her doctor’s sbut today she is cancer free.) My mom is a medical marijuana patient. She believes marijuana helped her survive cancer, and she says it helps immensely with her MS and glaucoma. Her doctor says that if she weren’t using marijuana she would need 18 different pharmaceuticals instead of the 5 she requires now. She has been living in her house with help from me and other family members who drop in on occasion, but she really needs assisted living. As she is medical marijuana patient who smokes three to five joints daily, can you tell me if assisted living communities accept her?
Senior Living Medical Marijuana Policies are Ad Hoc
The issue of medical marijuana (also referred by it botanical name, cannabis) is one that that assisted living providers are just beginning to grapple with. The medical value of marijuana is now widely recognized, and it can be used to alleviate many of the ailments associated with old age. While still formally illegal at the federal level, medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and the federal government has said that they will not interfere with state’s medical (and even recreational) marijuana programs if they are regulated responsibly.
The New York Times recently wrote about this very issue, suggesting that providers are generally doing their best to accommodate medical marijuana patients, but are handling the matter on a case by case basis. There are some practical problems providers have to deal with when considering the needs of a resident medical marijuana patient.
The Smoke Problem
First of all there is the matter of smoke. Smoking is not permitted indoors at assisted living communities, and it’s unlikely that an exception would be made even if that the smoke was the by product of a prescribed medicine. If the community permitted it, outdoor medication may be possible at some communities, but it would likely be impractical for your mother to go in and out at all hours of the day, especially with the damp Portland weather, and with her mobility and vision problems to boot.
Alternatives to Smoked Medical Marijuana
But that doesn’t mean she can’t medicate with cannabis. There are alternatives to smoking. She may be able to use a vaporizer, which heats marijuana to a point where the primary active ingredients (THC, cannabidiol) within are vaporized, while the plant matter itself is not burned or even charred. It is possible that the community would allow your mother to use a vaporizer to medicate inside her apartment. While vaporizing produces no smoke, it can create a faint odor which other residents may find unpleasant or disruptive.
Another possibility is that she could switch to cannabis edibles such as marijuana “magic brownies”. Then the issue of smoke and odors is out of the picture entirely. Some medical marijuana patients swear by edibles, but others do not like them because they cannot control (or titrate) their dose as easily with smoked marijuana.
Finally, she could also talk to her doctor about switching to synthetic pharmaceutical THC (Marinol), but medical marijuana patients often find this to be too strong, and have the same issues that some patients report with edibles – that they cannot control their dose so that they have just the right amount instead of too much. Another reason medical marijuana patients have not been keen to switch to synthetic THC is that the combination of active compounds in marijuana work together to provide a synergistic medical affect that is lacking in when THC is ingested in isolation. For example, much of the benefit of medical marijuana is said to be from a secondary active constituent, cannabidiol (CBD) rather than THC. Cannabidiol is not present in Marinol.
Medical Marijuana Patients Should Talk to Staff Before a Move
When you are exploring assisted living communities, you or your mother should talk about your needs straight away. Bringing the issue up after your mother has already moved in would not be a good idea. While the staff at some communities may be more accommodating or open minded than others, it’s quite likely that your mother will be able to find a community where she can use the medicine she finds so effective, although she may have to compromise on the route of administration and give up her joints and switch to brownies or a vaporizer.
Don’t hesitate to call us for help finding an assisted living provider that meets your family’s needs.
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