Seniors Situation Room by Dawn Ford – Thoughts on Medical Marijuana March 24, 2014

DawnFord_SSR_YouthfulCFN -To go to ‘Pot’ or not : that is the question. No offense to our immortal poet but it is the question of the day. Having worked for 14 years at Mount Carmel House Treatment Center in St. Raphael’s, ON which was an Inpatient Treatment Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse , I am often asked what I think of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.


I am retired in the addiction field although I am still active in some areas. I don’t want to get into ‘Addictions 101’ here since I am not actively working in it but “Addictions 101’ has been played out on TV lately on the news with some of our celebrities for all to see.

I have listened to the experts, medical doctors and addiction counselors on TV and they are saying ‘don’t open that door’. I would agree with that. We already have enough problems with alcohol and it is legal. Do you want to see someone ‘high’ flying down the highway, even more than we have now? If you go on Google and type in ‘marijuana’, you can find all the latest information about this highly addictive drug. The Addiction Research Foundation has many interesting and informative sites. One of my favorite sites is Dr. David Ohlms, a well known Addiction Psychiatrist and researcher in the addiction field. He did a fascinating analysis some years ago of the 1969 movie, ’Easy Rider’ which would be still interesting for you to read.

The other question is about whether or not pot is a stepping stone to using other substances. In my experience the answer is yes and no. Users will tell you that they found a drug of choice. Having done many many admission medicals on the incoming residents at the treatment center and having talked with so many others over the years, some told me that they started their chemical use with alcohol because all they could afford was the price of a beer. However, that often led them to places where other chemicals were available. Some liked other drugs, some liked to get high, some preferred the sedative drug alcohol and it became their drug of choice. However, many did tell me they started with pot. A good place to hear these stories is at an open AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting or NA (Narcotics Anonymous )meetings…they are the live experts; they have been ‘there’, done’ that’ and miraculously, have lived to tell the tale.


df bishops house

The above photo is the old Bishop’s Palace where Mount Carmel House was located in St. Raphael’s .

There were always lots of interesting and unusual things happening at the center. Just when I thought I had heard about it all during the admission medical sessions, I would get a surprise. One day ,while doing an admission medical on a new resident, I had to write down a whole list of drugs he had consumed over the years, a list he called ’every drug known to man’. While I was writing all his history down, I was thinking that it was a miracle he was still above the earth and not six feet under it. Suddenly he said ’But I never touch salt.’ Incredulously, I looked up at him and said, ‘You never use salt????? He replied very seriously, ’No! Salt is bad for your blood pressure.’ I kid you not.

I am ok with the medical use of the drug in its synthetic form which is called Marinol (Dronabmol) but I don’t like the idea of’ toke-ing’, ie; inhaling the marijuana smoke. Some call it ‘smoking a joint or ‘smokin’ up’. I also don’t agree with the patient using pot to be able to grow their own in their home. How do the doctors control how much the patient is using?? The use of Cannabis for medicinal purposes is being used to treat chronic diseases, help the terminally ill and apparently for severe pain that is not eased with other meds. Recently, on March 12 th., CNN presented a program on this subject that were very informative. You may be able to pick it up on You-tube or the CNN web site. Doctors talked about the pros and cons and how they are working to help the side-effects and long term effects. In the meantime, as a controlled, medicinal substance it appears to be helping some people who are suffering from severe medical problems. .

Some years ago I attended an Addiction Week at McMaster University, the theme was on disabled people and addictions. At that time, this group was considered to be one of the most addicted group of people because they were already probably on some medications and then added alcohol and /or other addictive drugs. Seniors and disabled people to-day are still at high risk. The Canadian Mental Health /Addictions and the Addiction Research Foundation of Canada web sites offers lots of the latest information.


I was fortunate to have a huge window sill outside my office window at MCH facing west to Frog Hollow Rd. and to fields in the distance. Ah, the country life. I had a birdfeeder on it and another one in a nearby tree. The Finches loved to come and have lunch. The window sill and tree would be sparkling with their wonderful colors. Often a Blue Jay would steal a shelled peanut I had put out for the squirrels and chip monks who also visited. The Jay would soar across the fields with it in his beak. We had an elderly resident who had been using alcohol for many years. Once he discovered the birdfeeders and all the wonderful birds who came for a snack, he took it upon himself to make sure I kept the feeders well stocked. He told me that he hadn’t noticed for over 40 years that there was even a bird on the planet. He had found a Power Greater than himself through the 12 Step spiritual program and now was basking in awe and wonder of being ‘alive’ again. Sometimes he was out there with the birds and feeders before breakfast. That is what love can do.

One day, I had been doodling as I spoke with an irate family member on the phone, trying to draw this old Black Cap Chickadee which frequented my window sill. He used to come often and just sit for awhile. Doodling help keep me calm and focused when I was being yelled at by an unset family member. Most of the time, I doodled daisies because I couldn’t really draw a straight line. But that day, I was sketching this lovely old bird sitting contentedly on my sill. I thought maybe the old bird was an angel in disguise because he came so frequently and just sat, sometimes looking out onto the fields, sometimes looking at me…or so I thought.


df chickThis wonderful photo of a Black Cap Chickadee was taken by Stu Thompson, a well know local photographer. He and his wife Su are friends of mine. Su is a talented and gifted oil painter.

On that particular day, Jean McCormick came into my office as I am drawing this bird. Jean is a well known and beloved local artist. She had been at MCH to donate one of her beautiful paintings as a fundraiser and had learned about the now famous bird feeders. She saw my drawing and said: ‘What a nice duck.” I said:’ Jean, it’s a bird!’ I was crushed. She just laughed and told me to come back to her studio and they could teach me what the paint brush does and that I didn’t even have to know how to draw. Thus began a love affair with oil paint for me but I still can’t seem to paint very nice birds…yet. They still somehow look like ducks. But, nice ducks. Jean’s daughter Bonnie taught me to paint and I am grateful to both Jean and Bonnie for bringing so much beauty and awe into my life and the lives of many people.

Here’s a bit of humor for you:

Three old guys are out walking. First one says, ‘Windy, isn’t it?’ Second one says, ’No, it’s Thursday!’ Third one says, ‘so am I. let’s go get a beer…’.

Have a good week, Dawn

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  1. I consider myself an artist, albeit a poor one. Art is one of the ways I pray. I feel a contact with my Higher Power during the process. It’s been satisfying a need within me since the sixties and it’s been a good friend.

    My position on mood altering drugs is that they should be controlled. I believe alcohol and tobacco to be a mood altering drug as well. It’s not so much that I worry about the addict but that the damage done to families and society outweigh the freedom of the addict to hurt himself.

  2. I am an artist not by trade or profession but hobby and yes I too feel close to God working on my quilts and other things that I like to do.

    About mind altering drugs I am against it entirely. I use only what the Good Lord gave me and anything that is chemically induced is taboo.

  3. So, if a small percentage of the population develop drug/alcohol addictions, nobody should be allowed to enjoy a few drinks or tokes on occasion? That’s like saying that if my neighbour drives like an idiot, I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

  4. It’s ridiculous how one who has worked in addictions for 14 years cannot access any statistics on cannabis use, and relies on useless anecdotes. For instance it is less addictive, habit forming, and causes less of a dependence than caffeine (Henningfield & Benowitz, 1994).

    Come on.

  5. @ Nah. It’s more of a moralistic judgement based on personal beliefs rather than factual evidence. The vast majority of people who enjoy the odd joint or glass of wine have happy and productive lives.
    @ Jules. What’s with your “Good Lord” turning water into wine? That little caper (miracle) is well documented in your bible. Maybe it was just a youthful indiscretion on his part?

  6. Yes the Good Lord did turn water into wine and I bet the best wine on the whole entire earth.

    I don’t need any mind altering drugs of any sort to be artistic. I use what the Good Lord gave me and that is all I need.

  7. ( it is less addictive, habit forming, and causes less of a dependence than caffeine) that being said, pot is addictive. People have justified alcohol legalization using that type of argument.
    You can’t argue that some people addicted to pot have not ruined their families life.
    My position on mood altering drugs is just what it is. Feel free to enjoy your beliefs… until a drunk driver hits your kid. Then you might rethink your position.
    BTW, I believe handguns should be controlled as well. The vast majority will use them responsibly, and some will shoot themselves and I don’t have a problem with that. Unfortunately some will hurt others.

  8. jack b….or until a high driver hits your kid and then attitudes will change.

    Marijuana and alcohol to me are the same, they need to be regulated.

    As for guns they need to be controlled, not outlawed. If they are outlawed the only people with them will be the cops and the bad guys. And that’s not a good thing. We should be able to defend ourselves and families if a threat arises.

  9. @ jack b. I lost two family members to a drunk driver about ten years ago. I’ve also lost two friends to drunk drivers. What does that have to do with me enjoying a drink or toke in my own home if I want to?

  10. Judgemental? Moralistic? No. I never met an alcoholic or drug addict who wanted to be one or who set out to become addicted. Some of the nicest people I have ever met were in treatment at MCH, and their families as well . If someone was ill or got hurt at the center, the residents were the first ones there offering to help in any way they could. Everyone at MCH were treated by the staff as we would want our loved ones to be treated, with respect and dignity as well as friendship. Today when I meet them, they give me a hug and I hug them back. It is so wonderful to see them. again. I learned so much from our residents and I am so grateful that I had the oportunity to go to the center everyday and have the job I had. As a staff, we were grateful to play a small part in their recovery and benefited from having known them. It doesn’t get any better than that.

  11. Dawn you are one of the most amazing people that I have been blessed to meet. A true angel. Recovery is a life long road.

    John MacDonald
    Niagara Falls

  12. @ Dawn Ford. With sincere respect, there is a huge difference between addiction and psychological dependency. There is absolutely no credible evidence that marijuana is addictive. As an older (66 years and counting) person, I know all kinds of people who have enjoyed the weed, on and off, all their lives with no problems. I also know people who have gotten into serious problems with addictive opioids and alcohol.
    In short, lumping marijuana in with addictive drugs like heroin or Oxycodone is nuts.

  13. Addiction is part of societies problems. The downside is the impact on the person and their immediate family and friends and the upside is the massive employment created to deal with the problem. Drinking and driving, other drug use and driving, obviously not good but for those that pay attention the real problem is cell phone use while driving which caused 40% more deaths than drunk drivers did last year. Everything is under control though now that fines have doubled, right. Just waiting for a new category of professionals to be announced, cellphone dependency councilors.

  14. For once we agree David. You know a person has a serious dependency problem when they can’t drive without using a cellphone.

  15. “Cellphone dependency councilors”, I think they’re called sledgehammers.

  16. I would like to offer a friendly word of advice to anyone who might consider disclosing the fact that they smoke marijuana (or have tried it in the past) in this or any other forum. People these days are being refused entry to the U.S. for simply admitting to personal consumption. It’s completely at the discretion of the agent that interviews you at point of entry. Scary stuff! Loose lips sinks border access.

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  18. Most people start with alcohol and drugs like marijuana or hashish in an innocent way and then overtime get hooked to the substance. Nobody can tell me that marijuana or hashish does not do harm. It is harmful like alcohol and when you no longer get what they call “the buzz” then they go to harder drugs and they can’t get off. They even steal to get those drugs. There used to be a bank where I used to live here in Ottawa and it was always robbed by the same person. The cops knew who he was since he was a heavy drug user and this lady who used to work at the dry cleaners had a fancy car back then and the user rammed into her car escaping from the cops. Thelma had to come good for the damage on her car. If someone was in the way that day they would have been killed on the spot. The same with driving in that condition. My husband knew a man who drove taxi under that condition and is now dead – the year we came back to Ottawa he died. My husband told me about the cops and RCMP on the drugs as well and you would all be shocked. Just lately in the Citizen paper there was a write up about a cop with all of his paramours if you can get my drift and how he was getting them. The cops themselves are as corrupted as the public. Drugs and alcohol does kill and if it isn’t sooner it is later. Life is a wheel like I have always said and what goes around comes around and it never fails.

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