Settling down into the circle of chairs, I watched to see who would come in. It was my first time in the Center for Mindful Use, and I was awaiting the beginning of the monthly Marijuana For Health support group.

It is not a gender-specific group, but tonight we were mostly women, in a wide range of ages and abilities. All were coming from different points on their medical cannabis journeys. Some were quite new, with questions on how and where to start. Others have been medical users for decades.

The Marijuana for Health meeting was moderated by Mia, a certified medical consultant with Satori, and Barbie, a retired nurse and medical cannabis advocate. Photo credit: Hannah Zoe

It was clear, as we moved through introductions and stories, that there were common threads.

It began with pain, in both bodies and minds. From Rheumetoid Arthritis to PTSD, pain was a daily adversary that wasn’t being met by the panacea of standard medicine.

In her own origin story, our organizer’s voice captured what many go through on their journey with cannabis. Barbie is a retired nurse, and has endured chronic pain for 15 years. For most of that time, she found relief with a handful of prescribed narcotics. Her body would build a resistance to the dose, so her doctors would increase it.

Barbie saw that she wasn’t on a sustainable track. “I ultimately wanted to wean myself down and off of the narcotics. So, I started doing my own research into medical marijuana,” she recounted. “I feel empowered now that I have control over my dose, and my doctors are amazed that it is about the only thing that works for me.”

Certified Medical Consultants at local cannabis retailers are there to help guide medical users through the variety of products available today. Photo credit: Hannah Zoe

Barbie’s entry into medical cannabis wasn’t without trepidation. The first time she bought a product, she hid it in a cupboard for weeks. She ended up seeking the support of her adult children to get the confidence to use it. When she originally went to her doctor to discuss cannabis, she feared what he would think. To her surprise, he was incredibly supportive, and shared that he wished there was a resource he could refer her to that could help her get started. That interaction planted the seed for tonight’s meeting.

After seeing a need for a place where good information can be shared and questions answered, Barbie approached Satori about starting a medical cannabis support group. Satori’s medical consultant, Mia, was a co-moderator at the meeting. Her role provided context through fact-based information to the personal stories being shared around the group.

In the group, there was a collective respect of the medicinal properties of the plant that extend beyond its recreational uses. Photo credit: Fairwinds Cannabis

One voice in the group has had a decades-long relationship with cannabis. They made the choice to manage their rheumatoid arthritis without prescription medication. Cannabis is just one part of their holistic approach to their own healthcare, with a focus on healthy living, diet and exercise. “I think it’s the most amazing plant, one that humans have been using for thousands of years. And all the years that I have, I was feeling guilt and shame for using it.”

Around the group, there was a collective desire to bring attention to the shame many had felt around using cannabis. “When I started, I was surprised how many people were still afraid, and in the same place that I was — in chronic pain, filled with shame and guilt about using marijuana,” said Barbie.

Despite the long strides of legalization, its use can still be culturally taboo. For those in the circle, there was a more emergent attitude. They didn’t want to feel shamed for taking care of themselves, and doing what feels right for their bodies. For taking actions that research supports as being a safe and effective alternative to allopathic medications when used responsibly.

The meeting is hosted on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Center For Mindful Use, adjacent to Satori. Photo credit: Hannah Zoe

Responsible use and research were definite overtones to the meeting. “Educate before you medicate, start low and go slow,” was one woman’s mantra. The plant’s medicinal properties extend far and beyond its recreational effects, and that’s where the focus laid.

While the meeting started with a fairly organic and open discussion, it closed with a brief, moderated presentation. Tonight’s was on THC, CBD and the endocannabinoid system in the body. I felt I got answers to questions that I didn’t know how to ask. Having time set aside to share research is a chance to educate, and education goes a long ways towards empowerment.

Whether you’re just starting out with cannabis, or simply need some guidance navigating the products on the shelves, it can be helpful to talk with an expert. Many retailers, including Satori, have a medical endorsement from the state of Washington, which ensures that there is a medical consultant available to sit down privately and discuss the client’s needs.

Doing your own research and talking with a medical consultant are good places to start. From there, the support group offers encouragement and information that builds on the tools you have. Join them on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the CMU. “I can use what I need, for me,” said one participant. “That’s what’s so special about this medicine.”

Photo courtesy: Satori

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