Mom Goes to Pot

Therapeutic cannabis is in the house



The author's vape pen

Photo by Wendy E.N. Thomas

I am a writer, an executive director, a teacher and a wife, and I have six kids. To look at me, you’d never guess that every few hours I take a cannabis product to keep my chronic pain under control.

The Problem

I was hit by a car when I was 16. I was on a bike, the driver of the car didn’t see me — it was never a fair fight. Since then, I’ve had close to two dozen orthopedic operations. When you’re young, you tend to pop back from surgeries, but, when you’re older, the pain is worse and the recovery longer. Put chronic Lyme disease with its related arthritis and neurological damage on top of all that, and you’ve got someone for whom being alive constantly hurts.

I’ve tried physical therapy, copper and magnet jewelry, yoga, meditation — you name it. When all that failed, I turned to prescription drugs. For two years, I relied on narcotics to help me move, especially during our cold New Hampshire winters.

When the side effects from medication became too much, I stopped narcotics and switched to over-the-counter medication. These got me through for a while until last summer, when an event had me taking two to four Motrin tablets every six hours for nearly a month. I got relief from my pain, but messed up my gut so badly that I still suffered almost a year later. 

I spoke with a friend who has back pain and who had recently visited Colorado, where marijuana is legal. He told me about using cannabis gummies, saying he took half a gummy and it gave him pain relief for hours. “I wasn’t high,” he said, “I just didn’t have the pain.”

That’s what I wanted. Pain relief without the side effects. I decided to look into New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis program.

The Process

It’s not easy finding medical providers in New Hampshire who are willing to certify patients for therapeutic cannabis. I first searched on Google, and then I combed through local cannabis-related Facebook pages. After a while, I heard whispers of offices that were willing to help.

I made an appointment with Lisa Withrow, a nurse practitioner at Palliativity Medical Group in Bedford. The state dictates that you must have a relationship with a medical provider for at least three months prior to certification. Even with my road-map scars and swollen joints, I would still have to go through that waiting period.

At my first appointment, vitals and a history were taken. I signed a request to get a copy of my medical records. Withrow gave me a series of brochures which explained therapeutic cannabis, its components and how it is used. “I’ve certified many with chronic pain from all causes, and I’ve seen my patients experience phenomenal benefits,” she told me that first day. “I’ve even been able to help wean them off of their muscle relaxants, opioids, benzodiazepines and psychotropics.”

Could cannabis really be that magical? I was still a little leery — my hopes of relief had been dashed many times before.

Six weeks later, I had my second appointment. Great news! My medical history had come back with a lumbar stenosis diagnosis, which meant I had a definite qualifying condition. Withrow gave me more information about cannabis, the dangers of smoking, potential side effects and references where I could get more information.

At my third and final appointment, I arrived with my completed application form and a .jpg passport photo. It felt like a graduation — I made it! I mailed my papers, and four weeks later I got my card from the state. My program card is good for one year, at which point I’ll need to apply for recertification.


photo courtesy of prime atc
An insider’s peek at one of the state’s five “alternative treatment centers.”

The Dispensary

With card in hand, a medical cannabis patient must decide which of the state’s five dispensaries to use. Fortunately, one of the five is in my town. Prime ATC (Alternative Treatment Centers) is a nondescript storefront with darkened windows in a strip mall — you’d never look twice. To enter, you need to hold your ID card up to a camera. You are then buzzed into a waiting room. No card, no entrance. After giving your ID card and another photo ID to the receptionist, you are buzzed into the back room, a clean, spacious area with soothing colors and modern lines. It is here where you purchase your cannabis products.

Your first visit requires a consultation appointment where a patient liaison (in my case, Cathy Sanderson) goes over your history and makes suggestions for what to use. I was completely against smoking or vaping, but when I heard about the products and how they’re used, I changed my mind and decided to try vaping.

“During the day,” Sanderson advised, “you’ll probably want something with high CBD that acts as a non-psychoactive anti-inflammatory, and then something that’s higher in THC to relax and act on pain at night.” She also told me about a cannabis-infused salve that could be rubbed into arthritic hands and sore backs. 

Once I had my initial consultation, I was free to stop in at any time to ask questions or buy product — within limits. The dispensary carefully monitors the state-mandated maximum amount of product that can be purchased in a 10-day period.

The Results

I am now a few weeks into the program. My kids constantly ask me if I “took some.” It’s not that they are checking up on me; it’s that they can’t tell if I’m using or not. This is not about getting high. This is about having a therapeutic low level in your body at all times to fight inflammation and help your body heal.

As for my daily routine? First thing in the morning, I vape and then take a gummy. I vape and take another gummy in the afternoon. About an hour before I go to bed, I take another edible. I also apply the salve to my lower back and my hands. While this might sound like a lot, it’s far less than what I would be taking if I took narcotics or even OTC medication on a regular basis.

My overall pain level has been reduced about 90 percent. I’ve even started going on three-mile walks — something that would have been difficult, if not impossible, before this program. Since I’ve started, in addition to the pain reduction, my blood pressure has gone down 29 points. My 10-month eye twitch has disappeared and my leg muscle tremors have stopped. My gut has even calmed down.

The first night I took therapeutic cannabis, I slept through the night, and I’ve been sleeping through the night ever since. After years of insomnia and restless sleep, I can’t tell you how remarkable that is.

As the mother of young adults, I’m careful not to glorify the use of cannabis. My kids saw how I hobbled around in the mornings, how I paused when getting up from sitting, and how I stumbled when I walked a distance on uneven ground. After seeing the positive changes in me since starting this program, they’re all more than fine with their mom using pot.

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