Medical cannabis is replacing prescription drugs for Connecticut's middle-aged, elderly
Since the Thames Valley Alternative Relief medical marijuana dispensary opened in Uncasville in 2014, the pharmacists who run it always have seen a diverse bunch coming to the door. The conditions initially approved to qualify people to access medical cannabis products then ranged from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can affect young and old, rich and poor.
“We’ve always had a good mix of people,” owner Laurie Zrenda said.
As of this week, 26,652 Connecticut residents are registered with the state’s medical marijuana program, which allows them access to one of nine licensed dispensaries and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis at a time. The law that created the program protects any information about participating patients — including their average age and which diagnoses on the list of approved conditions are most common — from public information requests.
But doctors, dispensary owners and state officials say medical marijuana is becoming less of a novelty and more a last-ditch effort for older patients with cancer or painful debilitating conditions who are fed up with the side effects of opioids and other prescription medicines.
“They’re in pain and they don’t know what to do, and it leads them here,” Zrenda said.
Joann Church, 68, was prescribed opioid painkillers after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma left her in such extreme pain that she rarely left the armchair in her Montville living room. At one point she was taking multiple narcotic drugs, which caused side effects that required multiple surgeries and left her bloated, still often unable to leave the house and on antidepressant medications.
“I needed to get out of going around this revolving door,” she said. “I was just not doing anything. I did not want to live my life that way.”
Her oncologist suggested medical marijuana; a physician at his practice, Eastern Connecticut Hematology and Oncology, was registered to certify her