WBUR

Mass. Patients Seek Relief At Medical Marijuana Clinics

While state regulators sort out who will get licenses to run medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts, many patients — probably thousands — are already using medical marijuana here.

To find out how they’re getting it and which doctors are recommending it, WBUR visited both a clinic and marijuana provider. Here’s our report from a newly opened clinic.

Dr. Thor Agustsson, medical director of Integr8 Massachusetts, says many patients come to him because they’ve “failed” a lot of pharmaceutical treatments. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)

Dr. Thor Agustsson, medical director of Integr8 Massachusetts, says many patients come to him because they’ve “failed” a lot of pharmaceutical treatments. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)

BURLINGTON, Mass. — At the front desk of Integr8 Massachusetts in Burlington, office manager Elizabeth Stockbridge answers a steady stream of calls from patients seeking relief — from pain, nausea, seizures and all sorts of other medical conditions.

“How long have you had the migraines and the headaches? Are those documented?” Stockbridge asks a prospective patient.

People coming to Integr8 are asked to provide medical records. But many of them have been self-treating their medical conditions with marijuana for years. And because most hospital groups are steering clear of medical marijuana right now, patients are coming here. And they’re not seeking help just for physical ailments.

Twenty-eight-year-old Danielle Page, of Marblehead, says she came to Integr8 for mental health reasons. But she’s not new to psychiatric treatment — or marijuana.

“I’ve been using marijuana since I was 13 years old — that’s on and off,” Page says.

She realized long ago that marijuana helped ease her anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder, she says, and she never wanted to have to take pills every day. During her $200, 45-minute initial appointment and after a review of her medical records, she received a doctor’s recommendation, or certification, for medical cannabis.

“I feel vindicated that, like, something that I’ve been doing for a very long time, I finally feel vindicated that I’m right,” Page explains.

Dr. Thor Agustsson, medical director of Integr8 Massachusetts, says many patients come to him because they’ve “failed” a lot of pharmaceutical treatments. Agustsson is an osteopathic physician trained in psychiatry. He opened the clinic in October and has since recommended medical cannabis for hundreds of patients. About half of the facility’s clients are treated for psychiatric conditions.

“I think it is better long term to be on cannabis than it is [to be on] a lot of benzodiazepines,” Agustsson says. “A lot of antipsychotics, a lot of mood stabilizers are a lot more harmful to the body on a whole.”

Psychiatric illnesses are not on the approved list of conditions Massachusetts doctors can treat with medical marijuana. But Agustsson says the law gives doctors discretion in determining what qualifies as a “debilitating condition.”

“I ask them everything I would normally ask them in a psychiatric evaluation and then apply the appropriate treatment — if it’s cannabis, if it’s pharmaceutical medicines, if it’s herbs or vitamins,” Agustsson explains.

He acknowledges he has to walk a fine line between determining who wants to get high and who really needs marijuana as a medical treatment.

But some mental health patients don’t have medical documentation because they may not have been comfortable reaching out for medical treatment before. In that case, Agustsson says he relies on his training in psychiatry. Sometimes he recommends cannabis and prescription psychiatric medicines simultaneously.

Joey Rottman is the other osteopath at Integr8. He specializes in treating chronic pain.

“We do a full history, we do a full physical examination, including an osteopathic examination of their spine and other possible trigger points,” Rottman says. “And we have to have medical records that show six months of care.”

The Massachusetts Medical Society recently released a statement expressing concern about these clinics, calling them ”certification centers” for patients seeking marijuana. The society says the clinics appear to “sidestep” the Department of Public Health regulation requiring an “ongoing physician-patient relationship.” But Agustsson says he does establish a relationship with each patient, which includes follow-ups every six months or sooner.

Asked how often Integr8 denies a patient a recommendation for medical marijuana, Agustsson says it has happened, but he can’t say how many times.

Susanne Greelish, 55, of Watertown, uses pot to treat chronic pain. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)

Susanne Greelish, 55, of Watertown, uses pot to treat chronic pain. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)

But once a patient gets a recommendation for medical marijuana, where do they get the drug? Doctors are not responsible for where a patient obtains marijuana.

Susanne Greelish, of Watertown, gets hers from friends or dealers – instead of growing it herself or getting it from a caregiver, as state regulations require.

“I don’t have time to grow it myself right now, and I would like to, because I’d like to be able to get a real nice blend,” Greelish says. “But as soon as the dispensaries open, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Greelish, who is 55 years old, uses pot to treat chronic pain. Before it was legal, she used it to ease severe nausea from chemotherapy. Now, so she doesn’t have to take prescription drugs, she says, she smokes a small amount of marijuana three to four times a week.

“I usually do just, like, two puffs, and it really helps me, and I can loosen up and kind of stretch and, you know, breathe a little bit,” Greelish explains. “It’s really good for connecting my mind and body together, so I can kind of focus where the pain is.”

Page says she smokes before – but not during — her workday, to alleviate her anxiety. She works with kids in a residential mental health program. She insists that it would be debilitating if she took prescription drugs.

“I would be on the floor,” Page says. “I mean, I wouldn’t even be able to drive or function at work, where I can wake up, smoke in the morning, go to work, and know that I’m safe, the kids I’m working with are safe, and the people around me are safe, and, you know, I’m fine.”

Page now gets her marijuana from a caregiver. That’s someone who can supply marijuana for a certified patient. Tomorrow we’ll have more on why there’s a shortage of caregivers in Massachusetts and why some of them are blatantly violating state regulations.

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  • Joe

    “I’ve been using marijuana since I was 13 years old”
    And no one has ever suggested that maybe her pot use is not the solution, but the cause of her problems?
    We are doing these people a disservice by participating in this ruse… pot causes problems? the solution: more pot!
    Crazy…

  • Pete Fuzzie Jenkins

    For those interested, the first marijuana commercial on a major network will be airing next week. Here is a peek: http://adage.com/article/media/marijuana-service-highlights-perils-street-sushi-tv-ad/291911/

  • Storm Crow

    So what conditions does cannabis treat? ADHD, addiction to other drugs, the aches and pains of just Aging, ALS, Alzheimer’s, Anorexia, Arthritis, Asthma (use a vaporizer!), Atherosclerosis, Autism, and it has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-oxidant properties. That is just a partial listing of the more common conditions from the “A” section of “Granny Storm Crow’s List”! The List has over 1000 pages of links to all sorts of medical studies, and news articles about the studies, and they are all on cannabis and the cannabinoids. Find a copy and just start reading! There is SO much more to cannabis than just “getting high”!.

  • Storm Crow

    Joe, it is NOT “snake oil”! Here’s a challenge for you- run a search for “Granny Storm Crow’s List” and just read the titles you find. I’m not asking you to read a single complicated medical study, or even one short news article- just the little one and two-line titles! When you are done, come back and we can talk.

    And “Big Pharma” won’t be making much off of cannabis- it is just too easy to grow your own! If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow cannabis- they take much the same care! My 2 x 5 “very well-lit” closet supplies by disabled hubby (72 years old) and myself (mugraines froim a head trauma) for about $35 per month for electricity (Love those big CFLs!). The cannabis replaces his addictive pain pills, the blood pressure pills and more! LEGALIZE IT!

  • Storm Crow

    Joe, run a search for “Cancer the tumors are really shrinking” and learn what cannabis can do! Or run a search for “Dravets cannabidiol”! THAT is what this is all about!

    Stop being such an uneducated fool! Learn the FACTS!

    • Joe

      Stop being a pawn for the pot industry. Learn the FACTS. All the FACTS. Not just the one that justify your abuse and self medication.
      And stop spreading the drug to others. Pretty evil.

    • kevin_hunt

      You can’t count on ‘Joe’ to stop being an uneducated fool. He will take his stupidity to the grave with him.

      • Storm Crow

        kevin, I know there is little hope for Joe, but Joe is NOT the only person who will read my comment. A few of the the more open-minded or curious will run the searches and learn. I USE the “joes” as educational platforms! lol

        • kevin_hunt

          ‘Joe’ is a good training dummy…to be sure.

  • kevin_hunt

    Wake up, joe. Cannabis has 10,000 uses, including food, clothing, and plastics. 100 years of prohibition did not have any effect on availability of marijuana and has not reduced use rates.

    Find another lost cause to champion, you ignorant fool.

    • Joe

      Thanks for being another great example of the pot industry snake oil salesman.
      It has 10,000 uses! but wait there’s more!
      You should be on TV!
      Probably will be once the pot industry gains power, deregulates everything and the mass marketing free for all begins.

      • A Freedom Fighter

        I really feel sorry for folks that have to constantly criticize and judge others. This type behavior usually stems from low self esteem. loosen up, go forth and enjoy life and try to contribute something positive. I hope you’re feeling better soon!

      • kevin_hunt

        I have already been on TV talking about the benefits of industrial hemp which has 10,000 uses and the DEA still claims is a ‘dangerous drug’. If you have ANY proof that ANYONE has ever been harmed by industrial hemp; I would like to see it.

        What do you know about the nutritional benefits of foods derived from hempseeds? I guessing NOTHING.

  • kevin_hunt

    Wild marijuana grows in the streets of Yunnan Province, China.

    You know nothing about this subject. Reefer Madness scare tactics like yours are totally ineffective.

    • Joe

      >Wild marijuana grows in the streets of Yunnan Province, China.
      Who cares. That’s like saying wild poppy grows in Afghanistan, so lets have Heroin Stores on main street.

      • A Freedom Fighter

        I’ve seen all your posts Joe and it’s pretty clear that you’re suffering from low self esteem. You try and make yourself feel bigger by criticizing things you know little or nothing about. Please try and get an education and quit making a fool of yourself hope you’re feeling better soon your friend freedom fighter

      • kevin_hunt

        You were claiming that to allow ‘legal marijuana’ would be like ‘handing the keys to China’…which apparently has no problem with marijuana growing wild in the streets. In other words, you have failed to make a valid point with your comparison.

        Way to outsmart yourself, chump.

  • kevin_hunt

    Go run a search on the downsides of aspirin, tap water, peanuts, guns, or 1000 other things. You can cook up scare tactics based on ANYTHING.

  • kevin_hunt

    “Pick it up at the pharmacy.”?

    That’s impossible to do when the government insists that marijuana remain in schedule I.

  • kevin_hunt

    “The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as well as the continuing controversy as to whether or not cannabis is of medical value are obstacles to medical progress in this area. Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”

    Source: Medical Marijuana: Clearing Away the Smoke

    Open Neurol J. 2012

    • Joe

      >”Clearing Away the Smoke”
      I’m sure this is an objective source. LOL.

      • kevin_hunt

        Yes it is…it’s the Open Neurology Journal. Their articles are published at the US National Library of Medicine
        (National Institutes of Health)

      • A Freedom Fighter

        More Joe low self esteem nonsense!

  • kevin_hunt

    The REAL “snake oil big money business” is the business of marijuana prohibition. How else could the government legally rob, rape, and torture citizens unless they had minions like you to spread lies that support the drug warriors unconstitutional campaign against a non-toxic weed?

  • MikeParent

    Without using lies and propaganda prohibitionists would be mutes Even the DEA said marijuana can be used for medical purposes safely and effectively.

    • Joe

      So get FDA approval and put it in a pharmacy.
      But no, it is not about that eh? You want the free for all so you can profit from the abuse.

      • kevin_hunt

        The FDA won’t approve it because the FDA is run by pharma and Monsanto execs that haven’t figured out how to make money from it yet.

  • MikeParent

    Joe you’re playing ostrich or are prohibitionist parasite. It’s one or the other because you’re not touch with reality.

    • Joe

      The only people who have lost touch with reality are the pawns of the pot industry like you who refuse to see the business of pot for what it is.

      • A Freedom Fighter

        Only fools have to constantly criticize and judge others. This type behavior usually stems from low self esteem. loosen up, go forth and enjoy life and try to contribute something positive. I hope you’re feeling better soon!

    • kevin_hunt

      ..and ‘Joe’ (SuperBenny) is outnumbered 5 to 1 here. It must be lonely for him.

  • MikeParent
  • A Freedom Fighter

    Joe, Is life really so bad for you that you have to go find places to criticize others. this type behavior is generally a sign of low self esteem. Cannabis is the safest mind altering substance on the planet. Not a single overdose death and all medical history. If people are going to use a substance don’t you think it would be better if they use a safe one? Alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs KILL over 400,000 people per year in the United States alone. Cannabis kills 0, not one person. Stop the lies and legalize! now here’s a big hug for you Joey. Now go out and try and get some help with your low self esteem. Your friend freedom fighter

    • Joe

      Is life really so bad you need to smoke chemicals into your brain for a fake high.
      Live naturally. Without the need for childish fake highs from THC.

      • kevin_hunt

        Are you ‘SuperBenFranklin’?

      • A Freedom Fighter

        Ever have a beer or glass of wine Joey? LMAO

        • kevin_hunt

          ‘Joe’ starts his day with a martini enema…shaken not stirred.

  • A Freedom Fighter

    It’s estimated that 50 million cases of beer are sold to Americans for consumption on a typical Super Bowl Sunday. Every year some of those people will end up driving impaired. There will be accidents. There will be deaths. There will be fights & domestic violence. There will be people puking, people passed out, and some folks who end up doing things they will regret the next morning. Someone might even die from an alcohol overdose. Cannabis, not so much.

    One person is killed every half-hour in the US due to drunk driving. Each year over 16,000 are killed in alcohol related crashes. Alcohol is a factor in about half of all traffic fatalities. Every 2-3 minutes a person is seriously injured in an alcohol related crash. Cannabis traffic statistics are almost nonexistent by comparison. Which is safer? The answer is obvious. Cannabis with never an overdose death in all medical history, and no statistical record of traffic accidents is clearly safer! Which begs the question: why has the government been lying? End the lies and legalize.

    • Joe

      Too funny. I guess you ignore the damage pot is doing to kids’ brains nowadays?
      Is that just a cost of doing business for you?
      Saddest thing I see is when a kid gets hooked up to pot in early teens. They never really recover.

      • kevin_hunt

        A teen who consumes alcohol is likely to have reduced brain tissue health, but a teen who uses marijuana is not, according to a 2013 study.

        “Researchers scanned the brains of 92 adolescents, ages 16 to 20, before and after an 18-month period. During that year and a half, half of the teens — who already had extensive alcohol and marijuana-use histories — continued to use marijuana and alcohol in varying amounts. The other half abstained or kept consumption minimal, as they had throughout adolescence.

        However, the level of marijuana use — up to nine times a week during the 18 months — was not linked to a change in brain tissue health.

        The study was conducted by researchers at UC San Diego and was published in the April issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.”

      • A Freedom Fighter

        Please show links, sources or studies to support your nonsense! LMAO at your blatant stupidity!

  • kevin_hunt

    Federal Government Reports Marijuana Effective in Combating Certain Cancers

    In a 2013 report, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the Federal government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated that marijuana “inhibited the survival of both estrogen receptor–positive and estrogen receptor–negative breast cancer cell lines.” The same report showed marijuana slows or stops the growth of certain lung cancer cells and suggested that marijuana may provide “risk reduction and treatment of colorectal cancer.”

    • Joe

      You pot lobbyists are amazing at the copy and paste. I guess you don’t have your own thoughts eh?

      • kevin_hunt

        It’s called ‘citing sources’, numbskull.

        Are you “SuperBenFranklin”?

      • A Freedom Fighter

        Poor Joey! How’s your low self esteem today? Still ignoring the facts to help you feel bigger? Try and get help Joe! Here’s a big hug for you now run along and see your nearest mental health professional! Your friend freedom fighter!

  • Ocean Sprayz

    In this related video we find a brief introduction to the very first victim of the vindictive, vengeful Obamacare apparatchiks: http://youtu.be/Sl6QRZmCo64?t=1m18s

    • kevin_hunt

      Off topic

  • kevin_hunt

    Quoting Barack Obama: “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources.”

    — August 21, 2007, event in Nashua, New Hampshire

  • A Freedom Fighter

    Just a few of the Sports Superstars that use cannabis: Ricky Williams, Michael Phelps, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Josh Howard, Tim Lincecum, Doc Ellis, Bill Walton, 75% of the NBA, 55% of the NFL and 98% of all pro snowboarders…
    Famous cannabis users: Carl Sagan, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Richard Burton, Margaret Mead, Louis Armstrong, John Denver, Willie Nelson, Don Ho, Smokey Robinson, Pink, Tom Petty, Benny Goodman, Michael Phelps, Rick Steves, Michael Bloomberg, Ted Turner, Montel Williams, Stephen King, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Murray, Art Garfunkel, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Thelonious Monk, Steve Martin, Sir Paul McCartney, Rudyard Kipling, Ray Charles, Peter Sellers, Newt Gingrich, Neil Young, Larry Hagman, Julia Roberts, Johnny Cash, Jesse Ventura, Jennifer Aniston, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Duke Ellington, Drew Barrymore, Dionne Warwick, Bing Crosby and many many more!

  • A Freedom Fighter

    Try this little Joe!
    The commission created by Richard M. Nixon concluded the following about marijuana:
    The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (a.k.a. “the Shafer Commission”), formally made its recommendation on March 22, 1972 advising Congress to remove criminal penalties on the possession and nonprofit distribution of marijuana.
    “Neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety,” concluded the report’s authors, led by then-Gov. Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania. “Therefore, the Commission recommends that the possession of marijuana for personal use no longer be an offense, and that the casual distribution of small amounts of marihuana for no remuneration, or insignificant remuneration no longer be an offense.”
    Despite the commission’s recommendations, Nixon and Congress ignored the report. Since then nearly 100 million Americans have been arrested on simple possession of marijuana charges for nothing. FBI statistics indicate that one marijuana smoker is arrested every 37 seconds in America. End the lies and legalize.

  • Storm Crow

    Tell your line of BS to the parents of the kids with Dravets syndrome! Tell it to GD’s wife who should be long dead- “Cancer the tumors are really shrinking”. Heck, tell it to me- 14 years without a migraine- except when I quit for a while when I began a new job! (No withdrawal) Wake up Joe- modern medicine is passing you by!

    • Joe

      You want medicine? Use your energies to get FDA approval, doctor prescribed, in pharmacies.
      What? no? Oh that would mean you can’t abuse it? Or sell it to profit from the abuse?
      Yeah, thought so.
      You guys are typical. Don’t want to do the real work to help people, just like any other medicine, you just want your pot so you can sell and abuse. Has nothing to do with “caregiving”

      • kevin_hunt

        Are you “SuperBenFranklin”?

  • kevin_hunt

    He’s goin’ down to sh00t his old lady…he caught her messin’ around with another man.

  • kevin_hunt

    New Mexico Man Subjected To Repeated An al Probes After Routine Traffic Stop

    David Eckert was shopping at Wal-Mart. As pulled out of the store’s parking lot, City of Deming police noticed that he did a rolling stop at a stop sign.

    They asked Eckert to get out of his vehicle and noticed that he appeared to be clenching his but tocks. The police arrested him and took him to Gila Medical Center.

    The first thing they did was X-ray Eckert’s abdomen. They found no drugs. Next, a doctor stuck fingers into Eckert’s an us. Again, no drugs. So they probed his an us with their fingers again. Still nothing.

    So they forced an enema on him then made him defecate in front of doctors and police officers while they watched. Still nothing. Then they did it again. And again. Three enemas, three times Eckert was made to evacuate his bowels in front of officers and doctors.

    No drugs turned up. So they x-rayed him again. Nothing.

    The doctors sedated him and performed a colonoscopy, searching Eckert’s rec tum, colon and large intestines with a camera. They found no drugs.

    The Gila Medical Center charged Eckert for all of these procedures — none of which were done with his consent — and is threatening to sic a collection agency on him if he doesn’t pay.

  • Mark

    Hi Joe,

    Can you please provide actual evidence supporting your “arguments”? They are based in unsupported, reactionary, and inflammatory rhetoric, the very definition of the propaganda machine against which you claim to rage. Show some respect for yourself and the other intellectual stakeholders of this very complicated process and support your claims. You seem to have great fun degrading the intellectual stances of your constituents by presenting yourself as an uninformed flamer, a word I use in the context of internet interaction exclusively. I would suggest refocusing your energies; you clearly have nothing to say about this topic.

    By the way, I assume you take issue with FDA-approved drugs marketed to treating chronic pain, mental health issues, restlessness, etc. You do write to the manufacturers of drugs like Abilify and Ambien, of course, right? You are not that big of a hypocrite, are you?

    Regards,
    Mark

    • kevin_hunt

      ‘Joe’ is most likely the same lunatic that goes by the name ‘superbenfranklin’ at Huffington Post. If you want some laughs, Google the phrase ‘marijuana superbenfranklin’.

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