Nearly a year after Connecticut’s six medical marijuana dispensaries opened, patients are changing their habits.
For quick relief, they are smoking marijuana less and inhaling its vapors and therapeutic oils more, those in the industry say. Others are eating cookies or placing strips with the various active ingredients into their mouths to alleviate pain, nausea and seizures associated with the growing list of ailments.
And prices that a year ago were markedly more expensive than the underground market have dropped sharply and are now competitive, according to dispensaries, state officials and market analysts.
“When I started having success, I took the oil,” said William McDonald, 42, of Monroe, referring to CBD extract, which does not induce a high.
McDonald has had cancer as well as complications from a 2008 bite of a brown recluse spider that included a staph infection and heart failure.
His daily regimen starts with a strip of marijuana oil under his tongue first thing in the morning. He will inhale the vapors of a Cannabis Sativa strain during the day to elevate his mood, then the Cannabis Indica strain to relax and help bring on sleep in the evening.
“I was giving up because none of the medicine was working,” McDonald said, noting marijuana has helped him. “My depression stopped,” he said. “My anxiety about death has stopped.”
Angela D’Amico, owner of the Compassionate Care of Connecticut dispensary in Bethel, says the shift away from smoking is the result of a widening array of treatment options.
“The absorption is that much greater when you vaporize rather than burn with a match, with the puff of a joint or smoking a pipe,” D’Amico said.
A pharmacist at the dispensary recommends treatment depending on the patient’s condition.
Cancer patients vaporize marijuana with high percentages of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in the plant — for quick relief of the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy.
“It’s a very designated dose,” D’Amico says, adding that her company obtains products from all four of the state’s licensed growers. “But with an edible, the onset varies per person. At a minimum, it takes an hour.”
Those with neurological and inflammatory conditions, however, are given marijuana with lower amounts of THC and higher percentages of CBD, D’Amico said.
Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance.
When the first marijuana was delivered to the dispensaries last year, it cost up to $450 an ounce. But supply has increased, even as the number of patients in the program has grown to 4,914, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection, which runs the program.
Now the price per ounce is $320, competitive with the underground recreational market. High Times, the magazine of marijuana culture, reported last month that average prices in Hartford were $350 per ounce. Leafly, a marijuana website that chronicles the medical and underground markets but does not follow Connecticut, indicated that in Boston, indoor-grown marijuana was selling last month for $300 an ounce.
“We’re now the same price as the black market,” D’Amico said. “Medicinal grade on the black market, I think, is even higher than what we’re selling it for, by the ounce.”
About 100 of Compassionate Care’s patients get either free or reduced-price marijuana products under a program funded by the business.
Bonnie Miller, 53, of New Milford, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 30. She swallows a syringe full of marijuana oil with higher concentrations of CBD twice a day for inflammation.
When she first became a patient at Compassionate Care, Miller needed a wheelchair or power scooter to get from the handicapped parking spot to the front door. But now, she navigates a walker.
“This has resulted in a decrease in the doses of my other drugs, including anti-spasticity medication,” Miller said, recalling that while her neurologist did not favor her joining the medical marijuana program, her general practitioner did. A former buyer of marijuana from the underground economy, she says the quality of the state’s medicinal drugs is important.
“Every step for me is a challenge,” she said. “Moving about the house makes me tired. Edibles help relax my muscles, so I can get six hours or so of peace. It seems to work well.”
Each patient’s monthly legal allotment of 2.5 ounces — or 70.87 grams — is tracked by computer, which tabulates the number of grams purchased in each 30-day period, whether it’s flowers, edibles or oils.
Growers and dispensaries across the state are seeing the shift away from smoking marijuana. The medical marijuana program recently approved for New York state includes no flowers at all.
“Initially when we put together our business plan, we thought that 90 percent of our product would be flowers and 10 percent would be other forms,” said David Lipton, managing partner of the West Haven-based Advanced Grow Labs. “I would say it’s 50-50 at this point. It’s a much-larger percentage of our sales than we ever envisioned, but I think that bodes very well for the pharmaceutical side of the program.”
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