Almost every day around 4 p.m. the fun begins. A nagging, burning pain and numbness on my left side spreads from my lip to my foot— the result of scar tissue left behind by the tumors that once set up their nasty housekeeping in my brain.
I’ve been on neuropathy pills for the last eight years or so, which dulls the pain to tolerable, but on a scale of one to 10, I never get much below a five, even on the best of days. So, about a year ago, my oncologist, Dr. Norden, informed me that as a brain tumor survivor, I would qualify for the use of medical marijuana, which he thought would “do wonders” for my neuropathy.
It took me six months to get up the guts to fill out the paperwork on line to apply for the State ID card that would grant me admission to one of the certified and secure MMJ dispensaries in our area. Bear in mind that although I was a member of the hippie generation of the sixties and seventies, I never smoked— not cigarettes, or the little twisted up white things that we then called “grass.” I was a goody two shoes, a nerd, and un-cool in just about every way.
Then one night at a sleazy bar in Cambridge, I met a guy in a brown leather jacket and granny glasses. He was the keyboard player in a rock band, and let’s just say he knew his way around the “joint.” His name was Al, and I ended up marrying him three years later, but I never joined him and his pothead friends in their love affair with marijuana.
It wasn’t that I didn’t attempt to do it—once. On a steamy August night in the summer of ’73, Al brought a “water pipe” to the drive-in with us and I agreed to try it. I mean everyone our age smoked pot, and maybe I was being ridiculous not to. He handed me the thin rubbery tube that extended from a bulbous container and I sucked in—three times.
I sat back on the red leather seat of Al’s ’69 Cutlass Supreme and announced, “I don’t feel anything.” And I didn’t…until I did… I suddenly became two people—one looking down at the other in her pink peasant blouse—and both paralyzed with fear and unable or afraid to move a muscle. I couldn’t have walked from the car to the snack bar if my life depended on it.
“Al, I’m scared,” I said in a panic. “I’m looking at myself. When will it end? When will I be normal again?”
I don’t remember how long it took, but at some point while watching The Legend of Hell House on the Meadow Glen movie screen, the two Maries merged into one again, and my personal hell ended.
The aftermath of that experience was that I resolved never to imbibe in the happy flower of hippiehood again. And I never did. And yet now, 42 years later, out of desperation, I was ready to take another stab at the pain-free promise of the cannabis plant.
On a recent Saturday—rated 8 for pain—I drove to a medical marijuana dispensary in Quincy and pulled my white Nissan into the parking lot in front of the low-slung, unmarked building. The minute I turned off my engine, I could smell the strong, skunky odor that I recognized from my sweet, pot-smoking niece who once lived with us.
I called my son from the car to see if he might want to talk me out of it. “Do you think I should do this, Jay? The whole area reeks. Am I doing the right thing?”
He was laughing on the other end of the phone and said, “Just go in, Mom, you’re on doctor’s orders to get the stuff. You’ve come this far, try it out.”
Reluctantly, I got out of the car and walked up to a door looking for a bell. Within seconds, a voice came over a speaker, “Please hold up your Medical ID card.”
I held up the card with its hideously unflattering selfie of me against a blank wall and was buzzed into a small holding area. After handing the ID and my license to a man behind a window, I was granted admittance to the showroom of the dispensary. Glass cases housed paraphernalia of every imaginable kind, but I barely looked at anything. I told the thin, middle-aged woman who waited on me my whole story, trying to justify my appearance there.
“I’m a brain cancer survivor, and I suffer from a lot of neuropathy pain,” I said, looking for acceptance in her dark brown eyes. “That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to get high or anything.”
She nodded knowingly and steered me away from the high-ticket items like designer “vape pens” and toward a purchase of a $4 glass pipe and $15 worth of marijuana. As she was packaging my goods, a young, heavily tattooed guy in the line next to me leaned over and whispered into my ear,
“Hey lady, have you tried the dark chocolate covered cherries?” he asked. “They’re amazing.”
“Actually, I haven’t,” I said with a nervous laugh, moving away from him and making a beeline for the door.
I left the building with a small purple bag that made my car reek like fresh roadkill during the entire ride home. What happened to the sweet smelling herbal aroma of the grass of the seventies?
When I arrived home, Al seemed surprised as I held up my aromatic booty. “You actually went through with it,” he said with a smile. “You bought weed?”
“It’s medical marijuana,” I said defensively.
He examined the contents of the purple bag like a kid in a candy store. He wanted desperately to share in the stash, but as a professional truck driver, he was randomly drug tested and wouldn’t dare risk it.
There was no way I was going to ignite the stinky bud inside my house, so I decided to do it out on the deck. It was raining, so I put on a blue hooded slicker and Al came with me to demonstrate how to use the tiny pipe. “Ok, when I light the bud, you suck in and hold the smoke in your mouth like this,” he said, imitating the desired behavior.
“But why do I have to suck in at the same time you light it?” I asked, seriously concerned about the proximity of the flame to my nose. “Can’t you light it first while I hold the pipe out and then I’ll inhale it?”
“No, you have to suck it in while I light it or it won’t stay lit.” He was getting wet and quite clearly wanted this little act to end.
“Ok, ok, go ahead and do it,” I said, as a spitting rain threatened to make the whole experiment moot. Al picked up the long yellow automatic lighter that we use to light the fireplace and hit the button. I saw the flame and sucked in with as deep a breath as I could muster.
What followed was nearly as unpleasant as my out-of-body experience four decades earlier. I couldn’t hold the throat-scorching smoke in my mouth for longer than a second before coughing, wheezing, and sputtering my way back into the house, shedding my rain coat on the kitchen floor.
“Okay, that was horrendous,” I said, downing a glass of water from the sink. “I’m never doing that again, and it didn’t even help the pain.”
“That’s because you barely took it in your mouth,” said Al with a tone of annoyance. “You need to smoke more of it.”
“No way, I’m done.”
Coping with the burning pain of neuropathy suddenly seemed preferable to taking one more puff of the toxic substance in the little purple bag. And just like on that hot August night in 1973, I resolved never to smoke marijuana again. And I never will.
Of course—I have heard the dark chocolate covered cherries are amazing.