Derek Gentile: Medical marijuana about the medicine, not the high


PITTSFIELD — Marijuana is in the news these days.

In Lee, the Select Board is considering a proposal to open a medical marijuana facility in town. Statewide, the Supreme Judicial Court this week allowed the inclusion of a ballot question supporting the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

For several years, I was indifferent about the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This was in large part because I didn't understand how it worked.

I think, like a lot of people, I assumed the general scenario involved individuals with chronic pain who smoked it to relax, which in turn would at least partly alleviate their pain.

I have since learned that this assumption is, at best, only partly correct. Over the years, I've met a half-dozen people who use marijuana medicinally. They range in age from their late 20s to mid-70s. In four of the six cases, I found out accidentally.

This is in large part because of the stigma of the use of medical marijuana. Most people do not believe marijuana has any real medical value. That the people who use it are just trying to get high and have their insurance companies pay for it.

The interesting aspect of that is that all the folks I know who use medical marijuana don't actually want to get high. They all have chronic medical conditions that the marijuana treats.

They usually smoke marijuana with the THC bred out, or at least largely bred out. (THC is the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the feeling of euphoria, or "high.")

There is a very basic reason for this. The medical marijuana users I know ingest marijuana not to get stoned, but to function in their everyday lives. They are parents, spouses and working professionals.

These people want to be clear-headed to carry out their duties. They need to be clear-headed.

An older man I know who now uses medical marijuana resisted using it for years out of the fear of its potential consequences. He had never used marijuana as a young man, and (as many of us did) saw those weird propaganda, anti-drug films that were shown to elementary and middle school students in the '60s.

He was terrified of what would happen to him, despite assurances from his physician.

For the record, he has been using medical marijuana for about a year now, and has not had any urges to chew glass or pull out his eyes. And he has never been high.

These people, by the way, have to drive to Northampton or beyond to actually purchase their medical marijuana. I suspect they would be happy to have a facility closer to home.

Derek Gentile is an Eagle staffer. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter, @DerekGentile. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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