8 July, 2012
Reporter: Mike Amor
Producer: Dale Paget
Across America grandmas and grandpas in their golden years are on the ganja.
But they're not simply getting high, they are smoking marijuana to help with the problems of old age.
In California and 16 other US states it’s legal to smoke cannabis if a doctor recommends it - and they do for everything from cancer to nausea.
Once considered the drug of choice for a younger generation, the new face of pot smoking in America is now looking a little older.
Teenagers like Lonnie Painter who lit up in the swinging 60s are now in their 60s.
When Lonnie's mother became terminally ill, he says he realised that marijuana could be much more than a cheap high.
"She was in pain all the time and finally she just decided she didn’t want to live anymore," Mr Painter said.
"We really thought if we could get her to smoke some marijuana that it would help her, both make her hungry and maybe help with the pain. and we got her to smoke it a couple of times."
"It made her hungry, relaxed her, you know, she ate really good but she wouldn’t do it again because it was illegal."
Three years ago Lonnie began helping seniors treat their pain with cannabis.
"We had one member who planned on killing herself until she got the relief that cannabis provided for her, so it saves lives," Mr Painter said.
Lonnie lives in Laguna Woods, a retirement town with 18,000 residents south of Los Angeles in the United States.
It has its own bus service, seven community centres and even a hosptial next door.
Fellow resident Margo Bauer is a retired nurse with multiple sclerosis. She first tried marijuana two years ago to overcome severe nausea.
"One night in the middle of the night I woke up vomiting and I couldn’t stop," Margo said.
Later a carer at Laguna village offered her marijuana as a solution.
Now Margo's nausea has "gone away".
Joe Schwartz, another Laguna resident and a World War 2 veteran, had surgery in 1948 to remove three-quarters of his stomach. For more than five decades he suffered from nausea and pain until his son convinced him to try marijuana.
"I found that if I take a smoke of cannabis it takes 10 seconds for that nauseous feeling that I have from eating [to go]. In 10 seconds it’s gone," Joe said.
Around the corner from Joe lives 81-year-old Sally. Arthritic pain in her hands led Sally to marijuana five years ago.
An accomplished cellist, she’s now playing again thanks after the herb relieved her arthritis. Instead of smoking marijuana, Sally uses a vaporizer which creates cannabis steam.
But the medical use of marijuana does not come without warning.
Evan Miller, the clinical director of a drug addiction clinic, says the addiction rates of medical marijuana are rising.
"I’d the say the number one thing is it’s not the marijuana of the 1960s and 70s," Mr Miller said.
"It’s much more potent, causes and array of impairment, cognitive, mental, emotional, things like hallucinations and memory impairments."
"It can affect your judgment, you’re driving obviously, these are all things you want to be very very clear on before using it for any kind of medicinal purpose."
The medical use of cannabis is not permitted by law in Australia.
The federal law regarding drug use places marijuana in Schedule 1 – this means that it has no medical use and cannot be prescribed by a doctor.
Cannabis users that claim to use marijuana for medical purposes will be treated the same as anyone else using the drug. There are no exemptions.
- Family Drug Support national number 1300 368 186
- Family Drug Helpline 1300 660 068
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