Could it work for you?

Medical marijuana might be a new treatment option for chronic pain that comes with aging.

A stretchy trellis net allows for the top of flowering cannabis plants to receive the majority of light energy. — Courtesy Ben Zachs

Chronic pain and other ills of advancing age have a new treatment option available on the Vineyard: medical marijuana. It’s been available off-Island both recreationally and medicinally for years, but can now be purchased locally at the Fine Fettle dispensary in West Tisbury. But be prepared: Federal laws make accessing medical marijuana more complicated than picking up a bottle of pills at Leslie’s.

Six years ago, recreational marijuana possession became legal in Massachusetts. Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, however, presenting particular problems for the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. Cannabis cannot be flown in for fear of being busted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Bringing in this Schedule 1 substance by boat risks falling afoul of the Coast Guard. And sadly, federal law limits scientific research that could lead to safer, easier access to the medication. 

Enter local businessman Geoff Rose, the entrepreneur behind the Island Card, which offers discounts at local businesses. He saw the need for locally sourced cannabis, and having learned of the benefits of medical marijuana while caring for an elderly relative, Rose embarked on a long journey through a thicket of state, local, and federal regulations. The journey culminated in Rose acquiring the rights for a marijuana operation, then selling his licenses and location to an off-Island company. With this, the Fine Fettle dispensary opened last July. The business now operates out of a log cabin-ish building on State Road near up-Island Cronig’s. Rose also has his own marijuana dispensary, called Island Time, which purchases products from Fine Fettle. 

What to expect from Fine Fettle

Orders need to be placed online, before heading to the dispensary. As a recent startup, inventory at the moment is limited to prerolled joints, packets of flower, plus hard candies and chewables. Also on the menu is something listed as “Book an Appointment.” It’s free, and unless you are a seasoned consumer of pot, it’s “always best to schedule this private consultation,” according to general manager Jay Deyette. “For patients who haven’t used cannabis before, or in many years, it can alleviate fear and diminish stigma surrounding cannabis. Simply learning how it works can assist in patients’ specific ailments. We discuss the science, how to administer, and stress the importance of documenting usage: how they felt and so forth, so that they can find the optimal dosage.”

Fine Fettle’s future plans include workshops on how to roll the perfect joint, medicinal uses for cannabis, cooking with cannabis, and cleaning your equipment. “We are putting together information requested by Hospice,” Deyette said. “I’d like to get connected to the hospital as well, to speak with doctors to either convince them of the natural medicinal purposes of cannabis ,or urge them to offer alternatives to prescription medications.”

Massachusetts medical marijuana card

In order to purchase medical cannabis, one needs a state-issued medical marijuana card, based on approval by a qualifying physician — available online and through Dr. Terry Kriedman, the only Island doctor registered with the state as a certifying physician.

Kriedman, long an obstetrics and gynecology specialist affiliated with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, was prompted to obtain certification by the suffering of a young relative who died of cancer. “I saw how she was able to be present longer with medicinal cannabis than when she was totally knocked out by other medications,” Kriedman said.

Unlike many of the less personal online marijuana-card mills, Kriedman spends a considerable amount of time with a patient initially, and is available for follow-up. “We spend an hour together initially, reviewing the patient’s medical history and discussing possible side effects. I am available for follow-up as needed. I make fairly specific recommendations, depending on what we are treating and who the patient is,” Kriedman said. Among the medical complaints brought to Kriedman for treatment are pain, insomnia, and anxiety.

In Kriedman’s ideal world, scientific researchers would be allowed to perfect cannabis medications, making prescriptions available at pharmacies. “Instead we have a situation at dispensaries akin to someone going into a drugstore and telling the pharmacist, ‘Give me something for high blood pressure,’” Kriedman said.

Fighting marijuana’s ‘stoner’ image

Kriedman added that a lot of patients have been taught that marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to other drug use. “They require a lot of education so that their fears can be discussed, and they know that I will be with them on this journey to help, should they have any questions or concerns,” she said. 

Marijuana as medicine has the endorsement of respected organizations running the gamut from the Edgartown Council on Aging to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

The Edgartown Council on Aging is seeking to “remove some of the stigma surrounding medical marijuana,” according to COA staffer Maris Keating. An informational session on the natural benefits of cannabis use for a variety of ailments was conducted via Zoom on Jan. 28.

The AARP board of directors approved a policy in 2019 supporting the medical use of marijuana for older adults in states that have legalized it. The decision was based on the “growing body of research suggesting marijuana may be helpful in treating certain medical conditions and symptoms,” according to the policy. AARP also supports further clinical research of medical use of cannabinoids to help alleviate both the symptoms of disease and the side effects of the treatment for diseases. The policy adds that “AARP believes the DEA’s [Drug Enforcement Administration] classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance deters the medical use and scientific study of cannabinoids.”