Photo Credit: Jewish Press

As of July 1, 2018, among the many ways Canada will celebrate its birthday, the sale of marijuana will become legal.

Now, there is a huge difference between decriminalizing the use of pot (which would mean you will no longer be arrested for using it) and legalizing it. Once it is legalized, you will be able to go into your local pot store and purchase marijuana in all sorts of varieties: chocolates, pastries, candy, smokes etc.

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Legalizing a substance like pot requires a lot of thought and brings with it many problems. What is the legal purchasing age? Are you considered under the influence if you drive while high? How does one determine if you are high? Is there a device, like a breathalyzer, that determines your level of high? What level is dangerous?

Using marijuana for medicinal purposes has existed for a while. As of now, in Canada, once one fills out a mountain of paper work and gets a doctor to do the same (many of whom have refused), you can purchase medicinal marijuana for the relief of pain and anxiety. Chronic pain is debilitating and eating or smoking pot has given many people relief. Most people see it as a benign way of dealing with pain, but is it benign?

Shani thought it would be.

Shani was in her sixties and had chronic pain. She lived alone. She had tried many combinations of painkillers prescribed by her doctor, but the pain persisted. Her quality of life was being altered and she was miserable all the time. Her relationship with her family was suffering, as was her ability to work. She was desperate for relief. A colleague offered to obtain some chocolate for Shani that contained marijuana. He suggested she try it and felt it would surely relieve her pain. Shani readily agreed, desperate for relief. She was not interested in becoming high; she just wanted to be pain-free. What could a bite of chocolate hurt? Pot, she felt, must be benign or Canada would not be making it legal. After all, she had a friend in LA who told her that she took a bite of a tootsie roll laced with the drug every night and as a result was able to cut her pain medication in half.

When Shani’s friend delivered the chocolate bar, he warned her it was potent and she should only eat about a ¼ or ⅓ of the bar. Shani waited a day and then, when she was ready to go to bed early, took about a third of the bar and retired, hoping for a pain-free, relaxed evening. At first she noticed no difference; the pain was still there. Suddenly, however, very negative thoughts popped into her head. She felt as though she were losing control over her thought process and her mind was sending her in a direction she didn’t want to go. She was on a merry go round of negative and frightening ideas and couldn’t get off. Then her pulse started to race. She had never experienced her heart beating this fast. Shani felt that it was impossible for her pulse to go any faster. She had a blood pressure machine that she used to monitor her heart rate and blood pressure. Thinking that perhaps it was all an illusion and that her heart rate was not as fast as she imagined it to be, Shani tried to use the machine. However, it could not register any readings. The blood pressure cuff just kept bursting open as her pulse was too fast.

At first, Shani thought she might be able to sleep it off; it was only marijuana. But, her symptoms were showing no sign of slowing down. Shani began to think that at her age, if she did nothing, she could easily have a heart attack or worse. She called Hatzolah. They came immediately and, after checking her vitals, insisted they needed to call an ambulance and get her to the hospital immediately. Shani told them and the ambulance driver about the “chocolate.” She was concerned that she could get arrested, but felt everyone had to know. The first thing the ER doctor did when he approached her bed was look around and then whisper, “No more…” and pantomimed smoking. Fortunately, ten hours later, Shani was released from the hospital. The drug had finally worn off. The doctor reminded her again about staying away from “candy land” and Shani readily agreed. She never wanted to experience that loss of mental control or those physical symptoms again. However, as Shani told the doctor, she had been pain-free during all those hours and would continue to be pain free for another day.

Many people with chronic pain are looking for a way to get relief. And yes, Marijuana has been very successful in helping many cope with several negative symptoms. However, one can never assume that it is safe and that taking it will be a pleasant experience.

There are two parts to the marijuana plant. I am told it is possible to separate the pain-relief part of the cannabis from the hallucinogenic producing part. However, a lot of what is being sold on the market in the legal stores, as well as illegally, is a combination of both. That combination may not be as benign as many people believe. Different people react differently to all medication, including this one.

If you are trying marijuana for the first time, don’t be alone. Your experience may be less pleasant than you think and more like the story above. Be informed of all the possible side effects and be careful of the amount you smoke or ingest, just as you would be with any medication. Though the drug may be legal where you live, until you know the effect it has on you, don’t assume it is as benign as Tylenol for pain.

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