OCTOBER 24, 2010 5:49AM

99 HIGH ART COLLECTIVE

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I have a friend who is 89 years old. I call her Miss E. She has scoliosis, among other health problems. Her twisted body is filled with tiny, excruciating fractures. In the few years I’ve known her, she has been in constant pain. “My back is killing me,” is something I heard her say pretty much every day.

She also has sundowner’s syndrome, meaning that in the afternoon she gets confused; can’t finish a sentence, can’t remember what she wanted to say; can’t figure out what’s going on around her. She would weep with pain and frustration and end up just going back to bed. Visiting her was agonizing because there wasn’t a damn thing I could do, except give her Vicodin, which didn’t completely kill the pain, but did make her a fall risk.

Cut to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California: The 99 High Art Gallery, a medical marijuana collective that boldly crossed the line into the fun zone. In fact, I found out about them in ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE.

Every Friday at the 99 they had Get Happier Hour. Trust me, that was a scene. And it was a lot of fun. But aside from all the amazing people I met there, especially the lovely 99 herself, I got turned on to something far more important than a cool scene and fun new friends. Someone was kind enough to lay out some bowls of edible marijuana treats. They came in tiny goldfish type crackers and mini pretzels, as well as coco puffs. They were very tasty and great fun. The energy of the party went through the stratosphere.

But something else happened. I decided to try them on Miss E the next time I went to see her. They are considered medicine, after all. Following the long, painful process of getting her to the table, I put a small bowl of pretzel snacks in front of her. Although she can barely see, there is nothing wrong with her appetite and her frail fingers quickly found those pretzels and popped them in her mouth. Mmmmm, she said. These are good!

I sat back and waited. About a half an hour later she looked up at me with her blue eyes, smiled brightly, and said, “I feel marvelous. I feel like I could do something with my life.”

I couldn’t believe it. I watched her while she wolfed down a big breakfast and instead of crawling tearfully back into bed afterward, she sat there and hung out. After a little nap in the afternoon she perked right along through dinner. No Vicodin. We visited until 9:30 or so, occasionally refreshing her snack bowl with two or three mini-pretzels. Finally she announced she was ready to call it a day.

The next morning, when she normally would have said, My back is killing me, I found her brushing her teeth and washing her face, and then slowly, carefully folding her hand towel when she was finished. When I asked her how her back felt, she said, “Fine.”

Just like that: Fine. I never heard her say that before. Ever.

A few minutes later, she said her back was beginning to hurt. I gave her four tiny goldfish and suggested she rest for an hour longer, which she did without her usual morning anxiety attack: too much pain to stay up, too agitated to stay down, painfully getting up and laying back down until the Ativan kicked in. But not this time. She just lay back down, smiled, and went back to sleep. No Ativan. For once, she looked relaxed. An hour later, she woke up wanting to know what was for breakfast.

Journal entry:

I’m not sure but I think I’m ready to say I’m witnessing a miracle in terms of what medical marijuana has done for Miss E. She was present at dinner, aware that she was present, and aware of pleasure while not complaining of pain. I have never seen that before, regardless of how much Vicodin she took. Both the Vicodin and the pain took her away from the present moment. But with a handful of cannabis-infused pretzel snacks, she had a fun night, stayed up until 9:46, went to bed and slept through the night, got up in the morning and walked into the bathroom, washed her hands and brushed her teeth and toddled back into bed with nary a complaint.

Miracle? Why not? In the few years I’ve known her, I have not seen that before, even on her best days.


I saw this with my own eyes. I do think it's a miracle. And even if certain politicians consider it a crime, I’d do it again. I will do it again. Seeing Miss E go from excruciating to “marvelous” would be worth the price.

I expected medical marijuana to help me. But never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d hear Miss E say her back feels fine. And that, your honor, is because of the happy scene created around medical marijuana at the 99 High Art Gallery and Medical Marijuana Collective on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California.

But the story isn’t over. One day, a friend suggested I try the edibles for my own pain. I was dumbfounded. It hadn’t even occurred to me to use them for pain. I munched on them at Get Happier Hour, and definitely got happier. Which, by the way, I have a constitutional right to do. I wonder why that isn’t brought up more often in this context. Just yesterday, at a rally at USC in Los Angeles, President Obama made a point of mentioning our constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of our own version of happiness. Thank you, Mr. President. I love you back.

But up until my friend suggested I try the edibles, I’d only smoked marijuana for pain control. My previous experience with edible marijuana was that it either did nothing at all or too much. Too much is very uncomfortable for me. As a recovered alcoholic (also thanks to cannabis) eating too much marijuana feels a little too much like being drunk – a feeling that scares the crap out of me.

But what I never realized was that with edibles there is the exact right amount. Like Goldilocks, you need to get it just right. If you’re in it for medicinal purposes only, you don’t want to take so much that you actually notice it. You just want to notice your pain is gone and you’re back in the world again.

You just want a simple, everyday miracle. And that’s what it’s been for Miss E and me. Yes, it did kill my pain. When I got my dosage right, I found myself completely without pain for hours at a time. I often even woke up pain-free. That is something I’d like to share with others, without breaking the law or going through the whole rigmarole of getting them legal, or worse, putting them in legal jeopardy. Especially someone who is old, sick, in pain, or all three.

On November 2nd, California may well pass Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize marijuana for adult use. It will be close, but it could really happen. Every person I have spoken to, whether they have tried marijuana or not, is voting for it. I think we are going to see a massive outpouring of quiet support for sensible drug policy and simple compassion.

When that happens, I can’t wait to say, without guilt or fear, Here, try some of this. It’s not for medicinal purposes only.

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First published 10-23-10, on my other blog:

http://cynthiajohnston.blogspot.com/2010/10/99-high-art-collective.html

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