My late mother was 90 when she first tried THC. It began after a simple laparoscopic procedure to remove a cyst on her liver led to full-on abdominal surgery. She lost her appetite post-op during the month she spent in the hospital and, once home, recovering, still had no interest in eating.
You need proper nutrition to heal a wound — protein, in particular. When none of the standard appetite stimulants made my mom feel hungry again, the surgeon prescribed dronabinol, aka Marinol, a synthetic version of a naturally occurring cannabinoid known as delta-9-THC. Used to treat anorexia in people with HIV and the nausea and appetite loss in patients going through chemotherapy, it's basically a prescription for the munchies.
Dronabinol is also a controlled substance, a Schedule III drug. The CVS pharmacist in Rockville, Md., explained this to me as if I were buying heroin. Medical marijuana had been legalized in Maryland four years prior, but the young man in the white coat didn't appear to be embracing it. Stammering, I explained that the meds were for my mother — who was too sick to accompany me — in hopes that they might stimulate her appetite.
I remember the cannabinoid was expensive — like, $300 for 30 capsules — and there was some question of whether Medicare would pay for it. But, in the end, none of that mattered. A few minutes after she popped the first red oval pill, my mom asked for ... cookies.
Words I'd been waiting for. While a nurse came almost daily to manage her "wound vacuum," I cooked whatever she would eat: omelettes, spaghetti, shrimp. It took three months, but the incision finally healed.
Mom didn't like the way dronabinol made her feel — "loopy," as though she were having an "out-of-body experience" — and never told anyone else that she was taking it. She weaned herself as soon as she could.
But it kept her from dying in 2017 and allowed her to move from Maryland to Vermont, where she enjoyed two and a half more years of life. The "out-of-body experience" opened her eyes — and mine — to the powerful medicinal properties of cannabis.
My mom qualified for the Medical Marijuana Registry here, but we never had to go that route. Getting dronabinol in Vermont was easy, via an online drug-supply company called HealthDirect. Greater access is the trend, according to this week's cover story, which anticipates the statewide countdown to legalized recreational marijuana.
Vermont is trying to avoid some of the problems other states experienced while rolling out retail stores for pot, but it's still a risky business. A lot of people are betting their bongs on it.
Will enough customers — young and old — come out of the woodwork to partake? That's the question. Never in a million years did I imagine my own mom would be one of them.