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  • Darci E McConnell

NOT HIGH, BUT BETTER    CBD is a life-improver, ailing adults say

For Debra Stefanik, the list of ailments was long and so was her suffering. The Fenton, Michigan resident had her gallbladder removed when she was 18, and for 20 years she’d suffered from a hiatal hernia - “it’s where your stomach lining comes through the diaphragm,” she explained. Then, in December of 2020, Stefanik was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her husband Greg had it worse. He suffers from spinal stenosis, arthritis and high blood pressure, and has undergone 20 surgeries.

Worried that she was becoming too dependent on the prescribed remedy for her hernia and now facing the fallout from chemotherapy, Debra Stefanik was receptive when her son connected her with self descibed cannabis medicine maker Tucker Jasso, who steered her to cannabis to quell her symptoms.

“She put me on the tincture. It’s like a drop or squirt that you put under your tongue once a day,” Stefanik said. It diminished the side effects she’d experienced with Xanax and also eased the discomfort that comes with chemotherapy.

Without taking the tincture, “I would have never been that active,” Stefanik said. “I didn’t feel nauseous all the time. It was really nice that I had opportunities to change the way I was able to medicate myself going through all that.”

Debra and Greg Stefanik, who are 56 and 73, respectively, are among a growing number of older adults turning to cannabis or medical marijuana to ease symptoms associated with various health challenges. A December 2023 study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation found that 1 in 8 older adults use cannabis products. Marijuana usage has been on the rise as 24 states have legalized its recreational use. But is it safe as a treatment?

At the time of the study’s release, lead researcher Anne Fernandez, Ph.D., an addiction psychologist in the U-M Addiction Center and Department of Psychiatry advised older adults interested in trying cannabis to first consult with a doctor or pharmacist. She said to ensure that alternative mediine doesn’t cause metal health issues and to determine how it will interact with their other medications. The study also cautioned about the potential for addiction, and at least one other study documented an increase in emergency room visits due to cannabis use.

Jasso, who steered the Stefanik family to the medical alternative, owns and operates a Lyndon Township-based medical marijuana business, For the Love of Charlie. She became a cannabis convert after her neighbor was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Marijuana candies allowed her friend to have a better quality of life during the late stages of the disease, she said.

Jasso has spoken at more than two dozen senior homes across Michigan over the last year touting the benefits of medical marijuana — after previously thinking the drug would be bad for her. 

“For all these years, I was raised on, ‘this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs,’” said Jasso, referencing the popular 1980s TV spot featuring the fried egg analogy put out by the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

To better understand the alternative, older adults need to know the different types of remedies. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is derived from the hemp plant. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, which typically induces a “high” feeling among users. Most of the products Jasso recommends for seniors utilize CBD, she said. Those products include tincture, edibles, and topical gels.

The reception has been positive during her senior home visits, Jasso noted.

“They’re seeing more and more of their friends who are having positive results. It helps with all types of pain, tremors, it helps with gastro problems, it’s just the greatest thing,” she said. “I don’t understand why more aren’t  rushing to use this.”

For those considering CBD or marijuana use, “the first thing is to educate yourself.” In addition to consulting with a physician, older adults should review peer-to-peer studies and consider starting with a low dosage remedy, such as edibles.

Other resources that can be consulted include Project CBD, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Debra Stefanik says older adults should keep an open mind.

“I say, ‘don’t knock it until you try it.’ If you’re using it properly, in moderation and for medication, that’s what you’re going to get,” she said. “If you’re using it to get high, then that’s what you’re going to get.”

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